Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Harper Hall Trilogy

Anne McCaffrey
Fiction, Science Fiction

These two novels deal with the saga of Menolly, a girl who is extraordinarily talented musically. In her home of Half-Circle Seahold on Pern, the traditional roles are highly defined, and music is not a suitable occupation for a young girl. However, since the position of Harper is highly regarded, they allowed old Petiron to teach her as he wished.

The problems occur shortly after Petiron dies. As a fishing hold, there is no one but Menolly to teach the children (because fishing is hard on the hands, making instrument playing difficult.) Her parents - the Lord and Lady of the hold - allow her to teach but forbid her to "tune", their derogatory term for playing the songs she writes. When her father catches her at it, he beats her and takes away her teaching privileges. And when the new harper arrives, they forbid her to tell him of her work, and even to sing. And then, to make matters worse, she gets an infected cut from gutting fish and all but cripples her left hand.

Hope comes for Menolly when she spots some "mythical" fire lizards and rescues the queen's eggs from the approaching tide. After one too many humiliations she decides to leave her hold and goes to the cave when she stashed the eggs - almost having to outrun the deadly Thread that threatens Pern and burns and consumes organic material. The rest of the tale deals with how she learns to live alone, and after her rescue, how she can learn to get over her fears and finally grasp the happiness that life has in store for her.

Some people may have difficulty in understanding Menolly; most people do not have one thing in their lives that brings their lives meaning. And most of those that do do not have that thing unequivocably denied them. This book is both about growing up - Menolly is only fourteen at the start of the novels - and about overcoming personal fears. When she finally gets to Harper Hall and is told to "tune", she has to get over her fears that her work is inadequate (as she has always been told by her parents). More to the point, she has to get over the feeling that she is inadequate, as she has been surrounded all her life with comments about what women are supposed to do - things she's not particularly good at - and what they should never do, such as music. She also has to deal with a large amount of envy, as her natural talent and years of practice mean that she is musically superior to many of the apprentices at the Hall.

This is a good book for teenagers and has long been considered a "back door" entrance to the Pern series. Menolly is a thoroughly realistic character whose ultimate triumph is well-deserved.


Anne McCaffrey
Fiction, Science Fiction

This is another coming-of-age story, featuring Piemur, the young Harper apprentice with the beautiful soprano voice. Or, in this case, not so beautiful - puberty heralds its appearance with a spectacular voice-cracking episode right in the middle of a rehearsal for the upcoming Spring Festival. Piemur's severe disappointment is lessened by the Masterharper enlisting him for some basic spying, with the first test of discretion being his assignment to the drum heights, to learn the communication patterns that serve as Pern's telegraph system.

However, they can't hide everything, and the other drum apprentices resent Piemur's blessings - he gets picked for interesting assignments, goes to Gathers and Hatchings, and in general gets out of the drumheights far more often than they do. Their pranks on him increase in severity while he doesn't tell anyone, afraid that this is a test of his discretion. However, when events take him to an unexpected Gather, his audacity takes him farther than he'd ever dreamed.

This is a companion book to Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, and the first to feature Piemur as a major player. It didn't grab me the way those first two did because it seems comparatively thin. If you read this, I suggest you follow through with more books featuring Piemur, such as The White Dragon, for a more thorough picture of this engaging young scamp.


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