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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Great Moments in Fantasy: The Hatching

Title:  Dragonsdawn
Author:  Anne McCaffrey
Published: 1989

As discussed in yesterday's post, Anne McCaffrey is a major contributor to the genre, and while her Dragonsdawn reeks of science fiction, it remains a major work of fantasy literature.  I read this book as a preteen, and knew that there was a great moment here.  However, reading through it, I had some difficulty selecting the right one. 

SPOILER:  I was first tempted by the moment in which Andiyar Tarvi, the ship's geologist, realizes that his wife is going to perish aboard the Yokohama, after valiantly sneaking aboard the hijacked ship, to stop one of the books villains, Avril Bittra, from sneaking off with much needed resources.  Having been somewhat of a romantically cold fish, when he realizes his wife was about to die he goes beserk:

"Sallah!" Tarvi had managed to get his voice under control.  "Get out of here, all of you!  She's mine now.  Sallah, jewel in my night, my golden girl, my emerald-eyed ranee, why did I never tell you before how much you meant to me?  I was too proud.  I was too vain.  But you taught me to love, taught me by your sacrifice when I was too engrossed in my other love--my worklove--to see the inestimable gift of your affection and kindness.  How could I have been so stupid?  How could I have failed to see that you were more than just a body to receive my seed, more than an ear to hear my ambitions, more than hands to--Sallah?  Sallah?  Answer me, Sallah?"
"I do love you, Sallah.  I do!  Sallah?  Sallah!  Salllllaaaaah!"

Despite some awkward, and some over the top language, it is a really beautiful moment, set up really nicely through fairly marginal interactions between the two throughout the book.  Ultimately, I decided not to use it as my great moment.  There's no fantasy here, just love.  That's important in fantasy, but not as important as the fantasy itself.

Another great moment was when the Dragons have their first battle against Thread.  But its too brief, and really, its the culmination of the entire book and the explanation for the entire Dragonrider series.  Reproducing that moment would be typing the entire 363 pages here.

The moment I selected was the hatching of Pern's first dragons.  To recap briefly, the dragons were genetic creations, based on a flying warm blooded lizard indiginous to the planet.  With any genetic modifications come a great deal of risk, and a great deal of error.  Added to that the Pernese are just about to run out of resources to combat Thread, silvery snake-like devourers of carbon based life that fall from the skies like rain.  The dragons are their only hope.

By midnight Pol and Bay decided to examine the remaining eggs and slowly did the rounds.  Wooden platforms had been brought out for the candidates to rest on, since the heat in the sand was enervating.  None of the chosen was willing to forgo the chance at impressing a hatchling by leaving the Ground.  When the two biologists returned, Pol was shaking his head and Bay looked drawn.  She went immediately to Wind Blossom and touched her arm.
     "The rest of the group show no signs of life.  But already the outcome is better than projected.  We detected viable signs of life in the others.  We can but wait.  They were not all conceived at the same time.
Wind blossom remained an unmoving statue.

Sean nudged Sorka in the ribs to wake her up.  She had fallen asleep against him, her cheek against his upper arm.  She was instantly alert and aware of her surroundings.  Sean pointed to the biggest of the eggs, which sat almost directly in front of them.  He had taken that position at the outset, and finally, after his long vigil, the egg was rocking slightly.
     "What time is it?" she asked.
     "Nearly dawn.  There's been no other movement.  But listen to the dragonets.  Listen to Blaze.  She'll have no throat left!"
They had noted their own dragonets early during that long day, and Sorka had taken heart from their constant choral encouragements.
     "That egg over there has been moving spasmodically for the last two hours," he said in a quiet tone.  "The one beyond it rocked for a while, but it's stopped completely."
Sorka tried to contain a yawn, then gave in to the compulsion and felt better for it.  She wanted to stretch, but another candidated was draped over her legs, fast asleep.  Beyond, the other candidates began to wake. 
At some point while Sorka had been dozing, the admiral and the governor had left.  Pol and Bay were leaning into each other, and Kwan's head was on his chest, arms limp in his lap.  Wind Blossom had apparently not moved since she had taken up her watch.
      "She's uncanny," Sorka said, turning away from the geneticst.
A single great crack startled everyone, and the egg before them parted into two ragged halves.  The bronze hatchling walked out imperiously, lifted his head, and made a sound like a stuttering trumpet.  Everyone came to attention.  Sean was on his feet, and Sorka pushed at his legs to urge him on.  She need not have worried.  As he locked eyes with the hatchling, Sean gave a low incredulous groan and moved forward to meet the beast halfway.  Their fair was bugling with triumph.
     "Meat, quickly," Sorka called, beckoing to a sleepy steward.  Hoping that the heat in the building had not soured the meat, she ran to meet the man, grabbed the bowl and returned to thrust it into Sean's hands.  She had never seen that utterly rapt look in his eyes before.
     "He says his name is Carenath, Sorka  He knows his own name!"  Sean transferred food from the bowl to Carenath's mouth as fast he could shovel it.  "More meat.  Hurry, I need more meat."
Everyone in the Hatching Ground was awakened by his vibrant voice.  Then the other egg broke open, and a golden femail sauntered forth, chittering and looking about urgently.  Sorka was too busy passing bowls of meat to Sean to notice until Betsy tugged at her arm.
     "She's looking for you, Sorka.  Look at her!"
Sorka tugged her head and suddenly she, too, felt that indescribable impact of a mind on hers, a mind that rejoiced in finding its equal, its lifelong partner.  Sorka was filled with an exultation that was almost painful.
My name is Faranth, Sorka!

One of the reasons this moment is so beautiful is that McCaffery's dragons, "impress" on their human partners at hatching.  This impression is made more forceful by the fact that unlike the Dragonets, who merely form attachments based on who first fed them and cared for them, the Dragons, larger and smarter, can actually speak to their partners on the first day of their birth.  This was a shock to the reader, though we had ample evidence to suggest it might occur.  But mostly it's the fact that we all struggle in our lives to find that great partner, the one who really and truly understands us.  But despite our love for our partners, we can never really and truly understand what is going on in their minds.  If we did, we would never fight, or be hurt, or be jealous, or callous.  We see only the evidence of their thoughts and feelings, the effect, never the cause.  McCaffrey's dragons are empathically linked to their partners.  In fact, they often know better what the human is thinking than the human himself.  And that moment of impression is beautiful, and hopeful, and inspiring, and wondrous, and is the very heart of fantasy.

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