★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey | Originally published 1968 | Originally published by Ballantine Books, now an imprint of Random House | Trade paperback (2005, pictured) $15.99
To the nobles who live in Benden Weyr, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise — and take back her stolen birthright.
But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world….
What, exactly, counts as a “classic” when a certain genre, as currently defined, has been around for barely more than a century and a half or so (depending on whom you ask)? When the bulk of works that fit this genre have been published since WWI, or even since the 1950’s? And what about “modern” classics — how old does a book have to be, really, to be considered truly classic?
People who are much smarter than I have attempted to answer these questions. I tried to keep things simple for the sake of my Classics Club picks. Essentially, for my purposes, the book has to be widely considered a must-read and can’t have been published in the past 20 years. I think most of the books I picked are much older than that, but I knew if I wanted to focus on SFF and YA, I’d have to try some relatively recent stuff.
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey is one of those relatively recent books. It was originally published in 1968. I was surprised to find that it was published in the same year as Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (previously reviewed for Classics Club as well). I think that’s because Wizard fits my idea of “old” style fantasy, but Dragonflight seems more like the “new” style to me — see my review of A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea for more discussion on this topic. Wizard is also much more commonly included on lists of “classic” fantasy novels — for good reason, I think, but that’s not the point.
I think I read this book for the first time when I was in middle school, a bit over a decade ago. I read most of the rest of McCaffrey’s Pern series over the next several years. I think the last one I read was All the Weyrs of Pern as an undergrad. I remember curling up with it on our shitty futon in our shitty apartment after a shitty organic chem class followed by a shitty swing shift, being transported to another world and taking comfort in the fantasy.
It’s always a little bit of a risk, returning to previously-beloved books after several years’ worth of life + reading experiences. A book that spoke to you at a certain point in your life may have lost some of its appeal with age (yours or its). Thankfully that was mostly not the case for me with Dragonflight.
I love, love, love all the thought that went into building the world of Pern. It’s not just a nice map and a complicated political system — although those things are certainly important. The entire world has its own backstory. How did dragons come to exist and how do they function? What is Thread and how does it work? Why is there a whole extra abandoned continent and what sort of undiscovered stuff is going on over there?
McCaffrey didn’t just plop down some random dragons and dream up an extra-dangerous version of acid rain; pretty much every aspect of Pern is well-planned and I am SUCH a sucker for a unique, detailed setting. I can usually forgive a few undercooked characters or predictable plots as long as the world in which those things are happening is a really interesting place that provides for lots of fruitful daydreaming. The more I read, the more I realize that a so-called high fantasy with a really fantastic setting is my genre kryptonite (to borrow a phrase from Book Riot).
That’s not to say that certain aspects of Dragonflight aren’t problematic. It’s very obvious by the way women are portrayed and treated — even the best, “strong” main women — that this book was written in the 1960’s (and it’s worse in the next book in the series, Dragonquest, which I’m reading again right now). As a middle schooler who hadn’t yet thought much about feminism or any other social issues, much less about how those things might apply to the books I was reading, this didn’t phase me. Now, though, certain character descriptions and scenes (the hero of the story actually shaking his leading lady several times like some kind of naughty child?!?!) were jarring enough to snap me completely out of the story. If I was reading these books for the first time as an adult I think I’d be much more irritated.
- The Worlds of Anne McCaffrey
- Pern Museum & Archives
- Obituary at Tor.com for Anne McCaffrey, 1926-2011
Publication information: McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonflight. New York: Ballentine Books, 2005. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal collection.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.