Dragons, the fantastic mythological creatures of legend, have been brought to life by author Anne McCaffrey in her series of books about the planet Pern. Starting with the novel Dragonflight, she has continued to produce stories that enthral fans and new readers alike. The relationship between dragons and humans is uniquely and beautifully portrayed, and quite breathtaking to read.
Here is the story of Pern's dragons and how they came to be.
In the Beginning
Far into the future, on a planet not so very far away, a species of creature came into being: the dragonets of Pern. These creatures had certain abilities that they had learned as survival skills against an airborne enemy - Thread (a network of fungal fibres, similar to harmless Earth mycota or fungi). They had learned that when they ate a certain phosphine-bearing1 rock it would mix with internal acids to produce flame. This flame could be used to char the Thread from the skies. Another skill they learned was Teleportation (instant transport across space and distance), which allowed them to dodge any Thread that their fire missed. The dragonets also learned to communicate with each other via a limited telepathy. These were all abilities that colonists from Earth came to appreciate when they made Pern their home.
The colonists soon realised that to protect themselves from Thread they would need bigger creatures than the dragonets. So they set themselves the task of genetically altering the little dragons, creating a larger and far more imposing creature.
When colonists first came to Pern they found the small dragon-type creature which they called dragonets. It was found that the creatures could be imprinted upon hatching from their eggs. This meant that the infant creatures would bond telepathically with the first being that fed them, whether dragonet or human.
The dragonets came in five colours - gold, bronze, brown, blue and green. The gold dragonets were the largest and most intelligent. The green ones were the smallest and, some would say, the least intelligent. Both gold and green dragonets were female, and laid eggs, but only the gold (or queen) dragonet could produce another gold dragonet egg. The green's eggs tended to be smaller and produce the smaller dragons. A newly-hatched dragonet is only a handful in size, but grows quickly, and at adulthood it has grown to the length - from nose to tip of tail - of the average arm.
It was determined that dragonets could live for centuries, barring accident or illness. This was thought to be yet another survival mechanism against the insidious Thread. A long life could help a species from becoming extinct, for while the death of many was a daily hazard, one fertile female could repopulate an entire planet over time.
The first alterations the colonists performed on the dragonets were to increase their telepathic potential and also make them bigger. The next enhancement was to the dragonets' pincer hands. It was found that it would be possible to create four fingers and a thumb, making the dragonets' 'hands' more efficient. The bio-engineered dragonets bred true, and became more popular than ever. People began to call them 'fire-dragonets', and finally 'fire-lizards'.
From Fire-lizards to Dragons
When it became clear that fire-lizards were not going to be able to protect the colonists from the threat of Thread, it was decided that it was time to genetically engineer a larger creature. After several attempts to alter the dragonets, finally a batch of 18 eggs was produced that the colonists hoped could do what the colony wanted them to do.
The experimental eggs were given the gene equation for five-digit claws. The forelegs would be shorter, more arm-like, and the endoskeleton (or internal skeleton) was made stronger so that the dragon would be comfortable standing upright. The rear legs would be far more muscular than a fire-lizard's, and it was also decided to increase the telepathic potential further, to make them imprint easily and become more intelligent. It was decided not to interfere with the natural abilities of the new dragons: breathing fire was a must, and they would still be able to teleport from place to place. The dragons would grow large enough to carry a human passenger, and hopefully protect human habitations from Thread.
The First Hatching
It took a day and a half for the 18 one-metre-long eggs to hatch and imprint on their young human companions. The humans discovered that at the moment of imprinting, each new dragon-mate was suddenly aware of the dragon's mental voice as it named itself to him or her.
The original dragons were 10 to 12 feet long. Each successive generation grew larger and larger. It reached its culmination 25 centuries later, with Ramoth, who, at 45 metres, is the largest dragon ever hatched.
Ramoth's story is told in Anne McCaffrey's first novel, Dragonflight. What better way for you to enter the world of Pern's dragons than to read The Impression of Lessa and Ramoth?
The Impression of Lessa
An Extract from Dragonflight
With the kind permission of, and chosen by, Anne McCaffrey
Lessa swung the head around so that the many-faceted eyes were forced to look at her... and found herself lost in that rainbow regard.
A feeling of joy suffused Lessa; a feeling of warmth, tenderness, unalloyed affection, and instant respect and admiration flooded mind and heart and soul. Never again would Lessa lack an advocate, a defender, an intimate, aware instantly of the temper of her mind and heart, of her desires. How wonderful was Lessa, the thought intruded into Lessa's reflections, how pretty, how kind, how thoughtful, how brave and clever!
Mechanically Lessa reached out to scratch the exact spot on the soft eye ridge.
The dragon blinked at her wistfully, extremely sad that she had distressed Lessa. Lessa reassuringly patted the slightly damp, soft neck that curved trustingly towards her. The dragon reeled to one side and one wing fouled on the hind claw. It hurt. Carefully Lessa lifted the erring foot, freed the wing, folded it back across the dorsal ridge with a pat.
The dragon began to croon in her throat, her eyes following Lessa's every move. She nudged at Lessa, and Lessa obediently attended the other eye ridge.
The dragon let it be known she was hungry.
'We'll get you something to eat directly,' Lessa assured her briskly and blinked back at the dragon in amazement. How could she be so callous? It was a fact that this little menace had just seriously injured, if not killed, two women.
She couldn't believe her sympathies could swing so alarmingly toward the beast. Yet it was the most natural thing in the world for her to wish to protect this fledgling.
The dragon arched her neck to look Lessa squarely in the eyes. Ramoth repeated wistfully how exceedingly hungry she was, so long confined in that shell without nourishment.
Lessa wondered how she knew the golden dragon's name, and Ramoth replied; why shouldn't she know her own name since it was hers and no one else's? And then Lessa was lost in the wonder of those magnificently expressive eyes.
Oblivious to the descending bronze dragons, oblivious to the presence of their riders, Lessa stood caressing the head of the most wonderful creature of all Pern, fully prescient of troubles and glories, but most immediately aware that Lessa of Pern was Weyrwoman to Ramoth the Golden for now and forever.