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Dragonriders of Pern

The Dragonriders of Pern books are written by Anne McCaffrey. The earlier books written have a fantasy slant to them (low levels of technology, firebreathing telepathic dragons, and a feudal society), but in later written volumes the series moves more towards science fiction as the colonists rediscover their links to the past and develop much higher levels of technology.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Pernese Worldview and Society
3 Important Characters


In the earlier written books Pern is a medieval society with lords, swords, duels, bards and serfs. Dragonriders are an elite of society, chosen for their ability to communicate with the giant sentient dragons, bred by the early Earth-colonizers of Pern to chew firestone and burn in the air the deadly mycorrhizoid spore threads that periodically rain down on the planet. The riders have a telepathic bond with their dragons, formed by impression at the dragon's hatching. Later books deal with the initial colonisation of Pern and the invention of the dragons.

The series has fourteen books and counting, and while characters drop in and out of the stories the major players are repeated in most of them in smaller or lesser roles. This is partly because some of the books feature overlapping timeframes, describing the same events from different viewpoints, while most of the others are closely chronological. When reading for the first time it's generally recommended to go in the order they were written, as the details change slightly over time. On repeat reads, a chronological order may be preferred.

The series of novels (arranged in chronological order) is:

Chronology is inexact, as some books take place at the same time. For example, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger occupy roughly the same timeframe as Dragonquest.

Short stories include:

The first appearance of the Dragonriders was in a novella entitled Weyr Search, published in 1967. This story later became the first part of Dragonflight, the first novel published. Another novella, Dragonrider was published later the same year. Weyr Search won a Hugo Award and Dragonrider won a Nebula Award. Dragonquest,The White Dragon, Moreta:Dragonlady of Pern and All the Weyrs of Pern were all nominated for Hugos.

Pernese Worldview and Society


Anne McCaffrey writes in this series an admirable effort to portray a society caught between its attempt to build a utopian dream and a grim and inescapeable reality, which from the start forced exceptionally hard choices. The creation of the Dragons so that they were bound, without true free will, to aide humanity, was certainly morally questionable--but they were also created from non-sentient beings, to preserve the lives of the sentient, and we cannot presume another situation existed. Pragmatism can forgive many things, and this reality is one that we often learn on Pern, where proclaimed utopian traditions fall against the reality of simple day-to-day survival.

McCaffrey does allow a more utopian and progressive outlook to win out in the end, though at current the future of this society could be considered somewhat in doubt. Before this occurs, however, Pernese society was largely static and many of its functions and features are open to review as an interesting case of a utopia trying to survive in conditions where it cannot thrive.

Societal Considerations

Pernese society exhibits the usual organizational characterists of feudalism, but shows a certain specific leaning towards utopianism which is worthy of some review to understand the series context. The social structure on Pern is strictly divided between Hall, Hold, and Weyr--broadly comparable to the medieval triune of Church, Nobility, and Guild--and is considered by the Pernese themselves to be an ideal organization specifically meant to avoid the violence and excess of their terran ancestors. In this there is perhaps a similar Platonic foundation for both societal influences. One remarkable feature of Pern is the duration of the society nearly unchanged--Pernese society has lasted approximately 2,500 years with little change.

The agrarian idealism of Pern, however, is marred by the constant reality of the Thread. Fighting the Thread requires a considerable concentration of societal resources. Suspending disbelief and focusing on the necessary supply of material to the Weyrs to sustain the dragons, and the populations (a Weyr, exceeding two thousand persons, compares to some medieval cities) leads one to conclude that a principle part of the available agricultural and industrial productions of the planet would be devoted to this quasi-War Effort during the Pass, and a considerable fraction during the Interval.

This has created interesting possibilities in the development of Pernese society, both in how it is developed in the series and how it is popularized in the online fandom. A constant repetition of Passes and Intervals leads to the tantalizing prospect that Pernese outlook in general may be cyclical rather than progressive; this similarity with Egypt under the Pharaohs would go some ways to explaining the extreme duration and rigidity of Pernese culture which is seen in the series. However, the end of the Thread and rapid technological progress at the end of the Ninth pass has thus been speculated by some fans to possibly result in severe social disruption.

Religious Considerations

Pern creates an interesting problem in that it is an agrarian society portrayed without considerable organized religion. Fortunately, however, the latest short-story, Beyond Between, showed that the Pernese do in fact have a highly developed belief in the afterlife, generally firming up the science fiction aspects of Pern in establishing Pernese society as a fleshed-out and agrarian construct where religion has been shown through history to provide the central societal fabric. This also provides important support for the incredible exertions of the Pernese in supporting the Weyrs economically: one could speculate on the defence against the Thread being cast in a holy light by the Harpers, providing a greater cohesive bond for the society. Religious considerations may also explain the disdain that Pernese women have for contraceptives.

Economic Considerations

Dragons are very large creatures; the largest to record, Ramoth, has been measured at the minimum forty-two feet in length, and possibly considerably larger. She would be the largest flying being, and among the largest predators, ever known. The massive amount of food which must be consumed by several thousand such creatures, constantly flying--particularly at the height of a Pass, flying thread at close interval--is staggering. The area of grazing land required to support the dragon and population of Pern each consuming a single cattle (or herdbeast) a week has been compared to the whole Mississippi basin, albeit with a sustainable herd.

The economic strain on an agrarian society by the Dragons is thus nearly unsustainable and can only grow worse when the requirements of the sedentary and usually luxuriously sustained Weyrfolk are included. However, Pern has been able to meet this strain during each Pass successfully, though the Ninth Pass saw considerable discontent, and a full record of all passes is not provided.

During the Long Interval before the Ninth Pass, however, unpopularity with the only remaining inhabited Weyr, Benden Weyr, had grown to such a point that the nobility were willing to risk combat on highly disadvantageous terms to end the tithe of materials which traditionally supported the Weyrs. This is a further suggestion of the general strain and potential unpopularity of the severe burden inflicted by the Weyrs--a burden that ultimately remains entirely necessary until the end of the Ninth Pass.

According to anecdotal evidence from the Dragonlover's Guide to Pern, by Jody Lynn Nye with Anne McCaffrey, the Pernese economy, based upon the Mark, appears to be a command economy. The Mark is made of wood and has no inherent value; prices across Pern are fixed by a yearly meeting of Traders, Craftmasters, and Lords Holder, suggesting an attempt to either maximize economic gain with slim margins from the tithe, or direct price-fixing in support of the quasi-War Effort which the Pernese economy might generally be said to resemble during the Pass. Unsurprisingly many Pernese individuals resort to barter in the face of such economic tactics.

Important Characters

From the Weyrs

(Rider first, dragon second) The apostrophes in the names are due to the fact that male dragonriders (but not for some reason female ones) abbreviate their names when they impress a dragon, replacing the first syllable by only its first consonant, in both speaking and writing. Thus Felessan became F'lessan at his impression.

When asked why so many dragons have th in their names, Anne McCaffrey replied: "Dragons have forked tongues. They lisp.".