Anne McCaffrey

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Anne McCaffrey



(Full name Anne Inez McCaffrey) American editor and author of juvenile fiction, juvenile novels, young adult novels, and young adult short stories.

The following entry presents an overview of McCaffrey's career through 2006. For further information on her life and career, see CLR, Volume 49.


The celebrated author of the “Dragonriders of Pern” series, McCaffrey is renowned for her enduring works of young adult fantasy and science fiction which combine the spirit of adventure with an advocacy of female empowerment. The first woman to win the Hugo Award for fiction, McCaffrey is regarded as a pioneering and popular fantasy author, drawing frequent comparisons to such contemporaries as Andre Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. While adept at building credible science fiction universes—she has published a number of series and single titles set on other planets in addition to Pern—McCaffrey tends to emphasize the personal over the technical in her stories. McCaffrey's novels are often bildungsroman, depicting the development of a protagonist from childhood to maturity, although her characters often demonstrate an equivalent level of progress over the course of both singular novels and series. Her texts commonly focus on the travails of young, talented females—trapped by their gender in limited social roles—struggling for self-realization amidst the broader dangers and conflicts to their universes.


McCaffrey was born on April 1, 1926, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the only daughter of the three children of George Herbert McCaffrey, a city administrator and U.S. Army colonel, and Anne D. McCaffrey, a real estate agent. Spending her youth in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, McCaffrey was educated at Stuart Hall, a girl's boarding school, and Montclair High School. She enrolled in Radcliffe College after graduating high school, graduating cum laude in 1947 with a degree in Slavonic languages and literature. Her first job after college was working as a copywriter and layout designer for New York's Liberty Music Shops, a position she held until 1950, when she became a copywriter and secretary for Helena Rubinstein. In January 1950, she married H. Wright Johnson, with whom she had three children, Alec, Todd, and Georgeanne. In 1954, while bed-ridden due to bronchitis, McCaffrey began reading an issue of Amazing Fiction, a periodical featuring pulp science fiction stories. Inspired by the tales, she began submitting her own short stories to various magazines. In 1967 she published her first novel, the satirical Restoree, which lampooned the conventions of both the romance and science fiction genres. Her next publication, the 1967 short story “Weyr Search,” introduced McCaffrey's fantastic literary universe of Pern, launching the immensely popular “Dragonriders of Pern” series and winning the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novella. McCaffrey expanded the story into a full-length novel, Dragonflight (1968), which became a best-seller and eventual winner of the Nebula Award for fiction in 1969. Following her divorce in 1970, McCaffrey resettled in Ireland, where she had a home built to her specifications in County Wicklow, which she dubbed “Dragonhold-Underhill” after the fictional Weyrs of Pern. The author of over ninety works of fiction, McCaffrey has collaborated with several authors during her long career, most notably, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and her son Todd McCaffrey. McCaffrey was honored as the twenty-second Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America organization at the 2005 Nebula Award ceremonies and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006.


While McCaffrey is the creator of no less than ten different series of books, several of which are still ongoing, she is probably best known for her “Dragonriders of Pern” series. The stories take place long ago on a distant planet known as Pern, which was colonized by space-faring pioneers. Despite this seemingly futuristic premise, on the surface, the Pern books more closely resemble fantasy literature than science fiction, as in the centuries since their arrival on Pern, the planet's inhabitants have settled into a medieval existence, centered around keeps, holds, and weyrs. Every two hundred years, when Pern passes too close to a planet called the Red Star, the land is threatened by a mycorrhizoid spore called “Thread” which burns anything it touches. Centuries ago, upon discovering this danger, the first people of Pern genetically modified the planet's native dragon population into symbiotic, fire-breathing defenders capable of destroying the spores during these “Threadfalls.” At the beginning of McCaffrey's first novel in the series, Dragonflight, nearly four hundred years have passed since the last Threadfall, and the Dragonriders have fallen into disrepute, their roles in saving civilization nearly forgotten. With the Dragonriders now severely reduced in numbers, the Thread begins to threaten Pern again, forcing a reexamination of how Pern society is structured while the protagonists race to salvage the Dragonrider force. The novel features a strong, forthright heroine named Lessa, whose bond with both her golden dragon and the Dragonrider F'Lar prove instrumental in protecting Pern.

A second series set on Pern—called the “Harper Hall” trilogy—focuses on the story of Menolly, a would-be harpist from the rural fishing community of Half-Circle Sea Hold. Enormously talented as both a player and composer, Menolly is nevertheless constrained by her people's belief in the occupational limits of women. She struggles against these societal controls, though she finds little support for her dreams from most of her family and neighbors. After the death of the local harper, an elderly man named Petiron who was her best friend, Menolly is allowed to teach the youth of her community until a replacement from Harper Hall is secured. Unbeknownst to Menolly, however, Petiron had sent several of her compositions to the Masterharper, Robinton, who, in turn, sends an emissary to Half-Circle to find the musical prodigy responsible for the arraignments. However, Petiron neglected to mention the identity of the master composer and, after Menolly's frustrations with the deliberate attempts by her family to end her dreams of becoming a harper reach a climax, she flees the village to live independently. Despite the inherent dangers posed by Threadfall to a young woman living outside the secured confines of her home, Menolly thrives and even saves a clutch of small fire lizards from the Threadfall. After a series of machinations, Menolly is exposed as the genius anonymous composer and finds a new secure home at Harper Hall, where she eventually becomes an important part of unearthing Pern's origins. Ultimately, the “Harper Hall” trilogy—composed of Dragonsong (1976), Dragonsinger (1977), and Dragondrums (1979)—functions as McCaffrey's most pronounced Kunstler-roman, as the books chart Menolly's artistic growth from childhood to maturity. Dragonsong, in particular, demonstrates McCaffrey's aptitude for portraying strong female characters struggling to assert their identity in society.

While not as well known as her enduring “Pern” series, McCaffrey has authored numerous other series of young adult novels, most of which feature both fantastic settings and unconventionally self-reliant female protagonists. These series include the “Ship Who Sang” series, which began with The Ship Who Sang (1969); the “Pegasus” series, which began with To Ride Pegasus (1973); the “Crystal Singer” series, which began with Crystal Singer (1981); the “Planet Pirate” series, which began with Sassinak (1990); the “Rowan” series, which began with The Rowan (1990); the “Powers That Be” series, which began with Powers That Be (1993); the “Freedom” series, which began with Freedom's Landing (1995); the “Acorna, the Unicorn Girl” series, which began with Acorna: The Unicorn Girl (1997); and the “Twins of Petaybee” series, which began with Changelings: Book One of the Twins of Petaybee (2005), among others. Still writing prodigiously, in the past decade, McCaffrey added several new volumes to her “Freedom” and “Pegasus” series, concluded the “Rowan” series, launched the “Acorna” series with volumes written in collaboration with Margaret Ball and Scarborough, and published Nimisha's Ship (1998), a sequel to The Coelura (1983).


McCaffrey has been lauded for her unique expression of female authorship in the typically male-dominated fields of fantasy and science fiction literature. She has logged several notable “firsts” beyond her achievement of becoming the first female winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards—perhaps the two most prestigious awards in science fiction. McCaffrey was also the first science fiction writer of any gender to reach the New York Times best-seller list, and the first science fiction writer to be presented with the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature. Her prolific series have remained popular with young readers, with most of her books remaining in print. Patricia Harkins has asserted that, “[i]t is a tribute to [McCaffrey's] power as a storyteller that the trilogy she began writing for younger readers almost twenty ears ago has retained its popularity with that demanding age group while steadily gaining new readers among critics, librarians, teachers, and parents.” John T. Gillespie and Corinne J. Naden have concurred, praising McCaffrey's fictionalized universe of Pern as “a fully conceived, believable fantasy world.” Discussing the “Harper Hall” series, Gillespie and Naden have further complimented McCaffrey, noting that, “Menolly's journey from outcast to secure womanhood is convincingly portrayed. Her courage and resoluteness make her particularly appealing. The oppression and unfairness of a male-dominated society and the close relationship between humans and animals are well portrayed.” Although McCaffrey's books have been criticized for their loose plotting, in her study of young adult reactions to the Pern books, Kay E. Vandegrift has observed that “respondents indicated that what attracted them was exactly what some critics perceive to be the greatest flaw in these works, that is, the rather loosely connected episodic plots with references to characters and events in other Pern novels.”


“Acorna, the Unicorn Girl” Series

Acorna: The Unicorn Girl [with Margaret Ball] (young adult novel) 1997

Acorna's Quest [with Margaret Ball] (young adult novel) 1998

Acorna's People [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 1999

Acorna's World [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2000

Acorna's Search [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2001

Acorna's Rebels [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2002

Acorna's Triumph [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2004

First Warning: Acorna's Children [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2005

Second Wave: Acorna's Children [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2006

Third Watch: Acorna's Children [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2007

“Crystal Singer” Series

Crystal Singer (young adult novel) 1981

Killashandra (young adult novel) 1985

Crystal Line (young adult novel) 1992

“Dragonriders of Pern” Series

Dragonflight (young adult novel) 1968

Dragonquest: Being the Further Adventures of the Dragonriders of Pern (young adult novel) 1971

A Time When, Being a Tale of Young Lord Jaxom, His White Dragon, Ruth, and Various Fire-Lizards (young adult novella) 1975

The White Dragon (young adult novel) 1978

*The Dragonriders of Pern (young adult novels) 1978

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (young adult novel) 1983

The Girl Who Heard Dragons [illustrations by Judy King-Rieniets] (juvenile short stories) 1985

Nerilka's Story (young adult novel) 1986

Dragonsdawn [illustrations by Michael Whelan] (young adult novel) 1988

The Renegades of Pern (young adult novel) 1989

All the Weyrs of Pern (young adult novel) 1991

The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall (young adult novel) 1992

The Dolphins of Pern (young adult novel) 1993

The Dolphins' Bell: A Tale of Pern [illustrations by Pat Morrissey] (young adult novel) 1993

Dragonseye (young adult novel) 1997

The Masterharper of Pern (young adult novel) 1998

The Skies of Pern (young adult novel) 2001

Dragon's Kin [with Todd McCaffrey] 2003

On Dragonswings (young adult novels) 2003

Dragon's Fire [with Todd McCaffrey] (young adult novel) 2006

Dragon Harper [with Todd McCaffrey] (young adult novel) 2007

“Freedom” Series

Freedom's Landing (young adult novel) 1995

Freedom's Choice (young adult novel) 1997

Freedom's Challenge (young adult novel) 1998

Freedom's Ransom (young adult novel) 2002

“Harper Hall of Pern” Series

Dragonsong (young adult novel) 1976

Dragonsinger (young adult novel) 1977

Dragondrums (young adult novel) 1979

The Harper Hall of Pern (young adult novels) 1979

“Pegasus” Series

To Ride Pegasus (young adult novel) 1973

Pegasus in Flight (young adult novel) 1990

Pegasus in Space (young adult novel) 2000

“Planet Pirate” Series

Sassinak [with Elizabeth Moon] (young adult novel) 1990

The Death of Sleep [with Jody Lynn Nye] (young adult novel) 1990

Generation Warriors (young adult novel) 1991

The Planet Pirates [with Elizabeth Moon and Jody Lynn Nye] (young adult novel) 1993

“Powers That Be” Series

Powers That Be [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 1993

Power Lines [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 1994

Power Play [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 1995

“Rowan” Series

The Rowan (young adult novel) 1990

Damia (young adult novel) 1993

Damia's Children (young adult novel) 1993

Lyon's Pride (young adult novel) 1994

The Tower and the Hive (young adult novel) 1999

“The Ship Who Sang” Series

The Ship Who Sang (young adult novel) 1969

The Ship Who Searched [with Mercedes Lackey] (young adult novel) 1992

PartnerShip [with Margaret Ball] (young adult novel) 1992

The City Who Fought [with S. M. Stirling] (young adult novel) 1993

The Ship Who Won [with Jody Lynn Nye] (young adult novel) 1994

The Ship Avenged [with S. M. Stirling] (young adult novel) 1997

The City and the Ship [with S. M. Stirling] (young adult novel) 2004

“Twins of Petaybee” Series

Changelings: Book One of the Twins of Petaybee [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2005

Maelstrom: Book Two of the Twins of Petaybee [with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough] (young adult novel) 2006

Selected Other Works

Restoree (young adult novel) 1967

Alchemy and Academe [editor] (short stories) 1970

The Mark of Merlin (young adult novel) 1971

The Ring of Fear (young adult novel) 1971

The Kilternan Legacy (young adult novel) 1975

Get off the Unicorn (young adult short stories) 1977

The Coelura (young adult novel) 1983

Stitch in Snow (young adult novel) 1984

Habit Is an Old Horse (young adult novel) 1986

The Year of the Lucy (young adult novel) 1986

The Lady (young adult novel) 1987

Three Women (young adult novel) 1992

An Exchange of Gifts [illustrations by Pat Morrissey] (juvenile fiction) 1995

Black Horses for the King (juvenile novel) 1996

No One Noticed the Cat (juvenile fiction) 1996

A Diversity of Dragons [with Richard Woods; illustrations by John Howe] (juvenile fiction) 1997

Nimisha's Ship (young adult novel) 1998

A Gift of Dragons (young adult short stories) 2002

* Includes Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon.

†Includes Dragonsdawn, Dragonseye, and Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern.

‡Includes Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums.


Patricia Harkins (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Harkins, Patricia. “Myth in Action: The Trials and Transformations of Menolly.” In Science Fiction for Young Readers, edited by C. W. Sullivan III, pp. 157-66. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, Harkins traces the emotional development of the female protagonist Menolly in McCaffrey's “Dragonriders of Pern” young adult novels.]

Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall series introduces one of her most engaging female heroes—Menolly. As the first book of the series, Dragonsong, opens, we meet a gifted but lonely teenager. Through a series of transforming trials she achieves “the conquest of fear” (Norton 299). The motif of the misunderstood adolescent, and the quest for a purpose in life, are as old as storytelling itself. But McCaffrey interweaves “universal values, desires, struggles and emotions” into a tapestry of fantasy and science fiction; what Jane Yolen, among others, has called “speculative fiction” (Writing Books 54).1 It is a tribute to her power as a storyteller that the trilogy she began writing for young readers almost twenty years ago has retained its popularity with that demanding age group while steadily gaining new readers among critics, librarians, teachers, and parents.

McCaffrey engages both the heads and the hearts of her audience, all of whom share a mutual human “hunger for heroes as role models, as standards of action, as ethics in flesh and bones like our own. A hero is a myth in action” that “reflects our own sense of identity, and from this our own heroism is molded” (May 54). Menolly's story chronicles the progress of an insecure loner who learns how her individual feelings, aspirations, and capabilities can serve other people.

The Harper Hall books form part of a multivolume saga about Pern, the “third world” of six planets that orbit Rukbat, in the Sagittarian Sector, a “golden G-type star” (The Dragonriders of Pern Series Introduction). The entire saga is set sometime in the future, after “a committed and resourceful” (Dragonsdawn 4) group of men and women from Terra (Earth) and other worlds within the Federated Sentient Planets have migrated far into space. Searching for riches and freedom from the repression of the technocrats who dominate their societies, these adventures colonized the planet they named Pern, and descendants of the original human colonists now inhabit Menolly's world. McCaffrey's trilogy for young readers is integrally connected with several of her Pern novels for adults through overlapping characters and plots.2 All of her novels affirm specific human values such as “the need for faith and perserverance in the face of obstacles, the importance of personal and social responsibility, and the power of love and friendship” (Norton 296).

Dragonsong, the first book of the Harper Hall trilogy, is set in Pern's northern continent, where Menolly lives with her family in the important fishing settlement of Half Circle Sea Hold. Yanus, her father, is the leader of the Hold. In his blind loyalty to tradition, he represents those in his society who are unable to distinguish between customs that still make sense in a changing time and those that no longer work. In the role of middle-aged, conservative authority figure, he serves as the perfect foil for his youngest daughter. Menolly's mother, Mavi, is as conservative and tradition-bound as her husband. Menolly's tattletale sister, Sella, rejects the younger girl. Sella agrees with their mother that Menolly is troublesome, an impractical dreamer, yet “too clever by half” (2), and with their father that Menolly even looks odd, “too tall and lanky to be a proper girl at all” (1). The only one in her family who accepts Menolly is one of her brothers, Alemi. He admires her as an athlete who easily outruns boys her age and as a musician who outplays and outsings everyone else in the settlement. But since she is “only a girl” (1), they are seldom together except at community gatherings.

McCaffrey has skillfully set the stage for the drama of Menolly's quest for selfhood. As in many fairy tales, the protagonist is an adolescent and an outsider, “powerless, scorned” (Heilbrun 146). Although she is “animal-loving, kind, generous, affectionate” and hardworking, Menolly is “again and again rejected” by most of the people she cares about. As she herself acknowledges sadly to her mentor and friend, old Petiron, in Pernese society it is a long-established custom that “women can't be harpers” (4). No wonder then that Yanus and Mavi view Menolly's music as a form of stubborn rebellion that must be quelled for her own good.

In spite of custom and parental opposition, however, Petiron has such faith in his student's outstanding abilities that he makes a secret plan to ensure her future as a musician, sending a message to the powerful and respected Masterharper Robinson along with two of Menolly's original compositions. Unfortunately, Petiron dies before he receives a reply, and fourteen-year-old Menolly is left without an ally strong enough to counter her parents' determination to suppress their daughter's “distressing tendency toward tune-making” (10). They allow her to sing her teacher's Deathsong only because she is the sole person with the musical skill to properly honor the old Harper. They further decide to allow her to temporarily instruct the youngsters of the Hold in the basic Teaching Ballads through which the traditions of Pern are passed down. But she is warned, “Behave yourself while you stand in a man's place. No tuning!” (11). Meanwhile, they anxiously wait for Masterharper Robinton to send them a new male teacher from Harper Hall.

Yanus feels obligated to maintain the ancient beliefs and customs Pern harpers pass on, out of respect for the heroic dragonriders of Benden Weyr (or fort), led in this generation by Weyrleader Flar and Weyr-woman Lessa. The dragonriders have protected Yanus's people, and those in other settlements, from the dread threat of Threadfall for as long as anyone can remember. Thread is made up of mycorrihizoid spores that travel from the erratically orbiting Red Star to fall on Pern periodically, burrowing into the soil and devouring any organic material in their path. In order to protect themselves from invasions of Thread, the original colonists of Pern bred a highly specialized variety of indigenous flying “fire lizards” into “dragons” large enough to teleport empathic human riders instantly from one place to another. These “dragons” were trained to chew a phosphine-bearing rock so that they could emit flaming gas capable of killing Thread on land—water drowns Thread at sea.

Menolly is growing up in a period of great discontent and fomenting rebellion throughout the northern continent where her family lives. Due to the conjunction of Rukbat's five natural satellites, the Red Star has not passed close enough to Pern to drop the terrible Thread for nearly four hundred years. Supported in their stony, barren fortresses by the tithes and offerings from farmers, fisherfolk, and merchants, the dragonriders have generally fallen into disfavor as outdated and useless. However, there are those like Yanus who have been faithful to their traditional heroes. Their faith is justified when it becomes distressingly evident that Pern is due to suffer a new cycle of Threadfall. The Pernese must once again learn to cope with the perils of life during the years that constitute a Pass, a period when Thread is a potent threat.

Masterharper Robinton of Harper Hall recognizes that this time in Pernese history is crucial in safeguarding the future of the planet. “Many old ways need shaking up and revising” (45). He sends a vanguard of young, specially trained Harpers to the Holds and Crafthalls, each with the same mission to “provoke a change, subtle at first to get every Holder and Craftmaster to think beyond the needs of their own lands, Hall and people” (45). McCaffrey is well aware that adolescent readers want a hero who is not only close to their own age, but also “important,” though “it may not be that the hero's importance is recognized immediately” (Whitney 91), and so Menolly will have a major part in the transformation of Pernese society.

Petiron's mission to the Masterharper has been successful; Robinton commission his trusted aide, Elgion, to find out what has happened to his old colleague's mysterious apprentice. Her highly original and haunting melodies have convinced him that she should come to Harper Hall to receive the further professional training that she deserves. At this point, the Masterharper knows neither her name nor her sex, only her potential.

Elgion arrives at Half Circle Sea Hold full of hope that he will be able to quickly discover the brilliant young songmaker. But when he presses Yanus with questions, Menolly's father lies, telling Elgion that Petiron's apprentice was a fosterson who has recently returned to his home Hold. He is ashamed to admit that his youngest and most rebellious child is really the one for whom Elgion is asking. Besides, he reasons, Menolly has recently injured her hand and may never be able to play a harp or flute again. Yanus is sorry that the girl has cut herself so badly, “and not entirely because she [is] a good worker;” the fact is, he sometimes misses her “clear, sweet voice” (43). Still, it is best to keep her “out of the Harper's way until she [forgets] her silly tuning … you had to keep your mind on your work, not on dreams” (43, 45).

Menolly's injury is the indirect result of her first overt disobedience to her father, who is “doing what every father is tempted to do, namely overprotect his daughter,” so “blocking her growth” (May 202). After Yanus refuses to allow her to sing anymore or to continue inventing her own tunes, Menolly initially obeys him although she is bewildered and angry. After all, in the past she had been encouraged to sing and had never been punished for creating new music. Soon, Menolly cannot resist the creativity that wells up in her; she resorts to hiding in corners and softly trying out new songs. Yanus overhears her one day. Not only does he beat her, but he takes away her gitar, thus symbolically crippling her.

Menolly's plight echoes that of many of her true ancestors, the adolescent protagonists of folk and fairy tales around the world. She suffers an unjust punishment, then passes through a series of increasingly difficult trials. Readers of varying ages find it easy to empathize with her as she struggles to understand herself and her world. This quality of empathy is the “final magic” that novelist Phyllis A. Whitney identifies as absolutely necessary for a memorable story (92). Whitney agrees with Rebecca West's definition of empathy as “our power of projecting ourselves into the destiny of others by fantasy” (qtd. in Whitney 92). Whitney writes that once readers empathize, they “will read with delight, knowing they are meeting” a character “as real as themselves,” a new friend “they will want to keep, whose experiences they will profit by long after they have put [this] story down” (92).

Seeking solace for the emotional and physical pain her father's beating has given her, Menolly tries to earn her mother's approval by cleaning packtails, a tasty but smelly fish with sharp spines that ooze an oily, potentially dangerous slime. Brooding over her wrongs, she becomes careless. Her knife slips and gashes her left palm. Her sister, Sella, may be a jealous tattletale, but even Menolly admits that the older girl is always coolheaded in an emergency. Now she grabs Menolly's wrist and deftly stops the spurt of blood from the severed artery. Their mother, a skilled healer, stills her young daughter's panic and then stitches shut the long slice in the injured hand.

In this scene, McCaffrey shows her awareness of a basic rule of characterization set down succinctly by Phyllis Whitney in Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels: “No character must be goody-goody; no character must be thoroughly bad” (91). Both Sella and Mavi are Menolly's antagonists, yet they care about her and continually try to protect her from herself. Yanus, too, is no villain. In many ways, he is an admirable character, a stern but loving leader and father. On the other hand, Menolly's tendency to sulk and feel sorry for herself is understandable, but not admirable. She will pay a high penalty for her faults.

Menolly is left-handed, a common trait among the “maverick heroes” of myths and fairy tales. She is stunned when her mother pronounces, “with a shine of pity in her eyes…. Even if your fingers will work after that slice, you won't be playing again” (40). As the girl slips into a drugged sleep, “her last conscious thought” is of “misery, of being cheated of the one thing that had made her life bearable” (41). At that moment, she is certain that her recent decision to defy her parents by letting Elgion know she is Petiron's apprentice is now futile, and she is also certain that her fervent wish to continue growing and learning as a musician will never come true. However, Menolly's tale has really just begun. “In one sense,” as Rollo May has noted, “every tale, every myth, every emergence of a new element in one's development starts with a wish … a longing for some fulfillment” (200).

With the resilience of youth and a strong, if sometimes oversensitive, spirit, the girl soon recovers from her wound enough to continue exploring the cliffs outside her home. More than ever, she becomes the loner, the outsider. Rebelliously she wanders further and further from the Hold in spite of the danger from a possible Threadfall attack. Like Briar Rose in Rollo May's analysis of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale:

[The] growing girl [moves] out into the world. She does this when she's alone…. The word “alone” here is especially significant because this kind of development, this leap of freedom, must always contain some element of being alone, taking responsibility for one's own steps oneself.

Menolly had begun the frightening, but necessary, process of “moving out into the world” even before her hand became crippled. It was while she was gathering greens for dinner at her mother's command that she first strayed beyond the invisible but strong boundaries that her parents had enforced for years. And by going beyond the limits they had so carefully set to protect her, Menolly gained an entirely unexpected reward—the sight of fire lizards darting and swooping at play, their wings flashing in the sun like jewels. “A mere girl had seen what all the boys—and men—of the seahold had only dreamed of seeing” (25). She wisely determined to keep what she had seen a secret.

After her accident, Menolly is exploring the seaside cliffs near the Dragon Stones, a famous landmark, when she receives another unexpected reward, but this time only after putting her very life at risk. The fire lizard queen is frantically trying to save a clutch of unhatched eggs from the unusually high, and swift, rising tide. Menolly scales the sheer cliffs, helping the little queen secure the eggs within a cave. Afterward, “torn between laughter and awe” at the “enormity of her adventure” (57), she flexes her fingers, which ache from unaccustomed exercise. Suddenly she realizes that she is almost completely extending the fingers of her injured left hand. “It hurt, but it was a stretchy-hurt” (59). Perhaps if she works her hand more she'll be able to play again!

That night she decides to emerge from her self-protective shell long enough to enjoy the evening's entertainment in the Great Hall. But when Elgion urges everyone to join in the choruses of the rousing songs he sings, Mavi pinches her youngest daughter so hard in warning that the girl cannot help gasping. Once more feeling unjustly rebuked, Menolly runs away the next morning.

Thread falls, and afterward it is Sella who first misses Menolly and reports her absence. Their parents are keenly annoyed and anxious, but Yanus decides not to initiate a full search although he does tell anyone who happens to be abroad to “keep a sharp eyes for any trace of her” (78). He feels that his first responsibility during this dangerous time is to his people, not to one girl—the one child out of his many children who is both a troublemaker and a cripple. Besides, as her closest brother, Alemi, asserts, Menolly is intelligent and able to fend for herself. The usually composed Mavi does “catch her breath in a sound very like a sob” when she understands that her child is in danger; yet accepts her husband's decision, Elgion notices, almost “as if the girl were an embarassment” (78). Alemi bitterly confesses to the Harper, “I think [Menolly's] alive and better off wherever she is than she would be in Half-Circle” (79).

Menolly's creator must agree with Alemi, for never once, in all the intervening years and books since Dragonsong first appeared, has she sent Menolly back home. Fortunately, Alemi's assessment of his sister proves to be correct. In fact, not only does she survive after she runs away from the safety and confining protection of home, she thrives. And as she grows increasingly stronger and more mature, Menolly learns to “walk through any doors that are opened” for her (Frances Perkins, qtd. in Heilbrun 120). Like the ideal hero that Carolyn Heilbrun describes in Reinventing Womanhood, Menolly is “almost always rescued or helped,” but her “dependence on help is characterized” not by her “expectations of rescue, but by” her “openness towards others and before experience” (148).

When she is caught out in Threadfall, for example, far from either the Sea Hold or the cave where she has been living with her fire lizard friends, she refuses to panic. Urged on by the fire lizards, she does her best to outrun the dreaded gray spores. She is oddly exhilarated, feeling as if she “could run forever” (108) and is prepared to clamber down a steep bluff in order to reach the relative safety of the sea if she must. Instead, she is rescued by the great dragon, Branth, and T'gan, his rider. Elgion had alerted the dragonriders in the area of Half Circle Sea Hold to watch for a runaway. Wasting no time in indulging her astonishment at their sudden appearance above her, Menolly dives for the dragonrider's extended hand—and straight into her next adventure.

While at the fishing settlement, Elgion never discovers that Menolly is the apprentice he has been looking for, yet it is he who saves her life by alerting the dragonriders to look out for a runaway. He further helps Menolly when he does at last find and identify her, at Benden Weyr, where T'gan has taken her. Elgion is delighted and astonished, not only at who she really is, but by how she has managed to tame nine of the fire lizards that the dragonriders themselves have only recently discovered to be real, rather than mythical, and “much like dragons, only smaller” (82), capable of being impressed and trained. He encourages Masterharper Robinton to take her with him immediately to Harper Hall.

Through tallent, determination, and the aid of Masterharper Robinton himself, Menolly of Half Circle Sea Hold becomes the first female apprentice, then journeyman, of Harper Hall. As she grows to young adulthood, Anne McCaffrey's female hero evolves into a dauntless protagonist, who makes “patently clear” to her readers “women's desires and determinations and their abilities to achieve, at least as much as men do, their goals” (Cornillon xl). The once shy and fearful adolescent not only learns to tame fire lizards and ride dragons in Dragonsong and its sequel, Dragonsinger, but she explores the wilderness of a vast southern continent in Dragondrums. By the time she appears in McCaffrey's adult novels, The White Dragon and The Renegades of Pern, it is no surprise that the grownup Menolly is in the vanguard of those Pernese men and women who are learning how to use the powerful telepathic gifts of the tiny dragon-cousins to help save their planet.

In her role as an adventurer and risk-taker, Menolly personifies the kind of hero in twentieth-century fantasies that may “help break the cycle of female commitment to passivity” that Karen Rowe asserts has doomed the protagonist of the traditional fairy tale to “pursue adult potentials in one way only;” she “dreamily anticipates conformity to those pre-destined roles of wife and mother” (qtd. in Heilbrun 147). Menolly does have a passionate love affair with a fellow journeyman-harper, Sebell, in Dragondrums. This affair, though freely entered into, comes as a complete surprise to the inexperienced, though by now nearly grown-up, protagonist. Certainly she has never had either the time or the inclination in her busy life at Harper Hall to “dreamily anticipate” becoming Sebell's lover. Whether she marries Sebell (or anyone else) or ever becomes a mother is left an open question at the end of the trilogy and is not addressed in any of the McCaffrey adult novels to date in which Menolly has a role.

We can be sure that she would never choose to follow the example of her mother or of any other woman she knew at Half Circle Sea Hold. On the other hand, she might consider following the example of Lessa, the beautiful and intelligent Weyrwoman of Benden Weyr, who enjoys the enduring love of the handsome Weyrleader, F'lar, and their son, Felessan, without abdicating her civic power and responsibility or the close relationship she has with her golden dragon queen. Menolly's story is, in some ways, like the fairy tale of Briar Rose, which, as Rollo May remarks, is a tale of awakening, of “emerging femininity” (196) with all of its attendant dynamics and problems. Menolly, however, unlike the fairytale princess, is not rescued by a “prince” but by her mentors. She is fortunate to have the help and guidance of a series of able and loving mentors—both female and male—while she is “in the process of creating or discovering” her “wholeness … questioning and finding viable answers and solutions” (Cornillon xi). They serve as guides or exemplars “in dealing with the central concerns of her life” (Heilbrun 146).3

If Menolly feels lonely or misunderstood, she has the example of Lessa before her, the starvling slave girl who endured long years of poverty and despair before enjoying fame and fortune. If she needs more immediate mothering and understanding than the somewhat remote Lessa offers, Menolly can turn to Silvina, the affectionate and practical headwoman of Harper Hall. From their first meeting, Silvina adopts Menolly as her foster child. Menolly, who so often bewails her state as a mere girl, becomes reconciled to, then grows to appreciate, her femaleness. From the women she admires, she learns to embody the “feminine” characteristics of nurturance and relatedness without losing the “masculine” qualities of questing, acting, and performing (Heilbrun 148) she has acquired. The men who mentor her, especially Masterharper Robinton, successfully combine stereotypical “feminine” and “masculine” traits as well. In spite of an impressive baritone voice and an imposing air of authority, Robinton, for example, is described by McCaffrey as having “kind eyes” and a warm, gentle touch (Dragonsong 175).

As Menolly continues to grow and change throughout the Harper Hall trilogy, her readers are never bored, for her story is marked by “disruptive energy, rapid and shocking experience, and persistent revelations of contradictions and strangeness at the core of personal, familial, and social life” (Frey and Griffith x). McCaffrey never forgets the “sobering truth about the imagination” that Charles Frey and John Griffith describe so eloquently in The Literary Heritage of Childhood (x). For her, as for them, the best fantasy writing often “tends to hover over the glowing border between good dream and nightmare” because “the wellsprings of the imagination” often “flow from pain” and “the imagination is, among other things, the mind's way of taking charge of unsatisfactory reality, of dominating it, and forcing it to yield to the meanings the heart requires but the world does not provide” (ix, x).

Menolly's unusual talents, her ever-active curiosity and her increasing determination to “do everything I can” (Dragonsinger 202) constantly attract jealousy as well as admiration, malice as well as generosity. It is like a good dream to Menolly in that she is allowed to study music at Harper Hall and to keep her fire lizards there with her. But it is a nightmare in that she is still often shunned, especially by girls her own age.

She enjoys a small, but personally significant moment of triumph when she is teased once too often by her smug rival, Pona, in Dragonsinger. Menolly decides that it is time to stand her ground—figuratively and literally. First, she challenges the other girl with words: “I claim insult from you, Pona” (190). Then, to Pona's surprise and dismay, she backs up the words with action, lunging past the prissy socialite's escort. Menolly enjoys a larger and more gradually realized triumph as Masterteacher Domick's prediction of her ability to touch other's lives with music comes true. Many Pernese find Menolly's songs “are a fresh voice, fresh new ways at looking things and people, with tunes no one can keep from humming” (233). In addition, her music has the power to “provide comfort” for “lonely minds and tuneless hearts” (233).

But one of Menolly's most gripping songs is a haunting piece that teaches and warns rather than comforts. It is inspired by the strangest and most shocking of her “nightmares.” The restlessness of her nine fire lizard companions has waked her from a sound night's sleep. Through their touch and telepathic images, she learns that they are reacting to a fear whose source is some distance away. Terror overwhelms her as she receives an impression of slick, unbearably hot gray masses that churn around her. She hears a scream in her mind, which she later records in lyrics: “Don't leave me alone! / A cry in the night, / Of anguish heart-striking, / Of soul-killing fright” (129). Unaware of what she is doing, Menolly calls out in response. Before even the swiftest dragonrider can fly the message to them, Masterharper Robinton and the rest of Harper Hall find out from Menolly that a dragon has fallen from the sky. A messenger soon brings the news that dragonrider F'nor has tried to travel to the Red Star and has barely survived. What Menolly heard was F'nor's mate, Brekke, calling out to her lover and his dragon, Canth, once the mate of her own dead dragon queen. Menolly's terrifying experience, though caused by near-tragic circumstances, has a far-reaching, positive consequence: It alerts the Masterharper and other leaders to the possible importance of fire lizards as more than vastly entertaining pets.

The trilogy for young people that chronicles Menolly's adventures on Pern as she grows into young adulthood fits the definition of a masterpiece in The Literary Heritage of Childhood. It is a series of books that “people buy and read not merely because some teacher or professor has instructed them to, but willingly and with joy” (Frey and Griffith vii). As Jane Yolen writes, such books enchant their audiences with “ideas and the great treasure of story” (Yolen, Touch Magic Flyleaf).4 “Begun as a dream or a vision,” she adds, “the fantasy book moves beyond dreams and into craft. And there it is polished until it shines, ready for its audience, which is many miles wide and many years deep” (66).

The world of Anne McCaffrey's female hero in the Harper Hall trilogy is fantastic—an alien planet where fire lizards and dragons prosper. And, like many much older fantasies, the Harper Hall series may not “make direct contact with the world” that our young people must deal with today, fraught with the “very real problems of drugs, racism, poverty” (Yolen, Writing 66). However, “the best fantasy, by its very power to move the reader, by its dramatic—even melodramatic—morality finally does something else. It instills values” (Yolen, Writing 66), for such literature is almost invariably about “many things of fundamental concern to us—as children, as adults, as readers, as decision-makers, as seekers” (Frey and Griffith ix).

Anne McCaffrey's story of Menolly's trials and transformations works on many levels. Readers identify with, and learn from, her protagonist—a female hero whose quest for self-realization within her society succeeds against all odds. Menolly of Harper Hall is a “myth in action” (May 54).


1. Jane Yolen argues that the phrase “speculative fiction” serves as “an excellent definition for fantasy in general. Fantasy is fiction that speculates that this, and other worlds, hold limitless possibilities” (54).

2. Two volumes in McCaffrey's Dragonriders trilogy for adults were published before Dragonsong; they were Dragonflight (1968) and Dragonquest (1971). By the time the final book in this trilogy, The White Dragon, was published (1978), not only Dragonsong (1976) but Dragonsinger (1977) was in print. The final volume of the Harper Hall trilogy, Dragondrums (1979), was nearly ready for publication as well.

3. Carolyn Heilbrun discusses the etymology of the word mentor in Reinventing Womanhood. Originally a Greek word, it signified a friend of Odysseus, named Mentor. This character was entrusted with the education of the hero's son, Telemachus. “The word has come down to us, through the Latin, connoting now something more than a mere teacher” (146).

4. Noted storyteller and critic, Jane Yolen, wrote this personal dedication to an aspiring writer at a book signing during the summer of 1986, while attending a conference at the University of Southern Mississippi: “For Patricia Harkins in the hope that she is not casting pearls but rather enchanting those who listen to her with her ideas and the great treasure of story” (Touch Magic Flyleaf).


Cornillon, Susan K., ed. Preface. Images of Women in Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green UP, 1972.

Frey, Charles, and John Griffith. The Literary Heritage of Childhood. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1987.

Heilbrun, Carolyn. Reinventing Womanhood. New York: Norton, 1979.

May, Rollo. The Cry for Myth. New York: Norton, 1991.

McCafrrey, Anne. Dragondrums. 1979. New York: Bantam, 1980.

———. The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight (1968); Dragonquest (1971); The White Dragon (1978). New York: Doubleday, 1978.

———. Dragonsdawn. 1988. New York: Ballantine, 1989.

———. Dragonsinger. 1977. New York: Bantam, 1986.

———. Dragonsong. 1976. New York Bantam, 1988.

———. The Renegades of Pern. 1989. New York: Ballantine, 1990.

Norton, Donna E. Through the Eyes of a Child. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1991.

Whitney, Phyllis A. Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels. 1976. Boston: The Writer, 1976.

Yolen, Jane. Touch Magic. New York: Philomel, 1981.

———. Writing Books for Children. 3rd. ed. Boston: The Writer, 1983.

Anne E. Deifendeifer (essay date 2002)

SOURCE: Deifendeifer, Anne E. “McCaffrey, Anne.” In The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, pp. 290-91. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

[In the following essay, Deifendeifer offers a bio-critical introduction to McCaffrey and her literary canon, asserting that McCaffrey's “work draws in readers of fantasy and science fiction as well as those who simply love adventurous stories with strong, determined characters.”]

As a child, Anne McCaffrey was determined that one day she would be a famous author; the large number of her books that have become bestsellers is a testimony to her success in achieving that goal. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, McCaffrey resides in Ireland in a home she calls Dragonhold. Her science fiction has received numerous prizes, including the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award, and is widely read by adults and adolescents.

Best known are her novels set on Pern, a planet colonized by and later isolated from Earth. With genetic engineering, the inhabitants of Pern adapted a beast native to the planet to fight with fire the invasive, sporelike Thread that jumps from the Red Star to Pern during certain periods of its orbit. Each of these massive, sentient creatures, called dragons because of their similarity to the mythical Earth creatures, forms at hatching a lifelong, telepathic attachment, called Impressing, to one human, who becomes its dragonrider. Upon this complex but fully developed premise, more than a dozen tales have been founded. Three—Dragonsong (1976), Dragonsinger (1977), and Dragondrums (1979), together known as the Harper Hall of Pern series—were written specifically for young readers. Although the dragons are featured as an integral part of Pernese life, the trilogy focuses more closely on the role of the harper in Pern society.

McCaffrey, who studied voice for nine years and for a time was involved in the theater, has brought her love of music to her fiction by exploring its importance to culture, not only as entertainment but as a way of transmitting knowledge and history from generation to generation. In Dragonsong, Menolly, an extremely gifted musician, runs away from her native fishing community because her father believes girls have no right to compose or play music in public. Accidentally, Menolly Impresses nine fire lizards, miniature cousins of the dragons, when she seeks refuge in a cave sheltering the eggs from which they hatch. Unbeknownst to her, the Master Harper of Pern has been seeking her after hearing two songs she wrote, and Dragonsinger relates her adjustment to being apprenticed to him at Harper Hall, where she learns about the demands, difficulties, and joys of life as a harper. Dragondrums features the adventures of Piemur, a young friend of Menolly's, as he succeeds Menolly as Master Harper Robinton's special apprentice and finagles his way into Impressing his own fire lizard.

Because of McCaffrey's in-depth exploration of character in her works and her smooth integration of the necessary technical information into the backdrop of her stories, some people term her writing “science fantasy” rather than “science fiction.” Certainly, her stories have wide appeal among many who eschew the high-technology focus of most science fiction, but McCaffrey never neglects the careful research that backs up the scientific aspects of the novels. By creating well-rounded characters who must overcome numerous setbacks and challenge the restrictions of tradition to achieve their goals, McCaffrey has developed an atmosphere in which those who are thought to be weak prove themselves strong and in which female characters, in particular, find fulfillment.

In her works for adults, McCaffrey has sculpted many other scenarios that push back the boundaries of the known universe and open the reader to new possibilities, but her books about the dragons and people of Pern have found an overwhelming number of fans. Dragons hold great appeal for many Fantasy lovers; in the series, McCaffrey has redefined the beast and thereby added depth to any understanding of the mythical creatures. Her work draws in readers of fantasy and science fiction as well as those who simply love adventurous stories with strong, determined characters.



Mary T. Brizzi (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Brizzi, Mary T. “Narcissism and Romance in McCaffrey's Restoree.” In Patterns of the Fantastic, edited by Donald M. Hassler, pp. 41-6. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1983.

[In the following essay, Brizzi argues that McCaffrey's early novel Restoree is more effective as an examination of romantic fantasies than as a parodic revision of the space gothic genre.]

Anne McCaffrey's Restoree is unique among science fiction novels. McCaffrey's critics are quick to attack the shallow histrionics of characterization, the Harlequin Romance stereotypes, the improbable reactions of heroes and villains alike, the inconsistencies of plot, and the saccharine posturings of the melodramatic heroine, Sara.1 McCaffrey herself waves aside these attacks:

No one had told me that women were not supposed to write [science fiction] and that few read it. After seven years of voracious reading in the field, I'd had it up to the eyeteeth with vapid women. I rebelled. I wrote Restoree as a tongue-in-cheek protest, utilizing as many of the standard “thud and blunder” cliches as possible … few male readers tumbled to the fact that I had deliberately written a space gothic.2

Undeniably, the book, read as parody, is funny. Perhaps Restoree really is the voice of the feminist fan. Yet few reviewers took it as a joke, nor, I suggest, did many readers. It was accepted for publication and printed without being identified as a spoof (as mass-market spoofs like Bored of the Rings generally are): it is still in print in an edition that does not suggest National Lampoon treatment of either the gothic or science fiction elements. I suggest that the appeal of the novel, far from humor, is a relentless exploitation of powerful romantic fantasies that, regardless of their degrading narcissism, strike at the heart of women's erotic imagery in our civilization. More, I would say the novel is a sharper, more condensed setting forth of these images, prefiguring much of the eroticism in McCaffrey's later, more subtle work.

I am tempted to reduce these images and fantasies to a fairy-tale portrait gallery, and most particularly to the Cinderella motif. But I think they are more trenchant than mere fairy tales, and it is our recognition of their pervasive effect in our erotic view of women's lives that gives McCaffrey's characterizations their validity. Not that I am agreeing with McCaffrey that her trump card is characterization; I have always held that her greater gift is density of speculative and scientific ideas. She abases her characters with these narcissistic erotic images; she raises them up again with their confrontations with dragon, crystal, cyborgs, extrasensory perception. Lessa being fed by F'lar and admired as “almost pretty,” or deliberately irritating his knife wounds, is an empty social butterfly; Lessa impressing Ramoth the Golden inspires the reader with a true Sense of Wonder.

But it is difficult to separate these erotic images from the fairy-tale world, so I'll use the language of fairy-tales to describe them. All of them are narcissistic; all of them presuppose that fragile beauty is a woman's primary tool in dealing with life's problems. I call these images: the Cinderella-butterfly; the pearl before swine; the uncritically adored beloved beautiful even with a dirty face; the vulnerable frail whose act of heroism culminates as she collapses in her adoring lover's arms; and the mutilatee.

The Cinderella motif pervades McCaffrey's work. Throughout, poor, industrious, pretty girls become miraculously rich through the graces of a dashing benefactor; wicked stepmothers and sisters denigrate their beauty and virtue; homely slugs metamorphize into lovely butterflies. McCaffrey's women even show a predilection for losing their shoes while running toward or away from their swains. In Restoree, the homely Sara Fulton was born with natural deformities to which nurture has added its graceless two cents' worth: a big nose, a predisposition to obesity, corns, and even hairy arms. The family drudge, she wastes her girlhood cooking and ironing for an ungrateful batch of brothers. However, like Cinderella, she is hard working and escapes the grinding poverty of her home town in the razzle-dazzle of New York. In other words, Cinderella goes to the ball.

The fairy godmother takes an unlikely form, however. Captured by “cellular giants,” aliens who butcher sentients for meat (there is no explanation of their predilection for sentient meat, a sly touch of humor on McCaffrey's part), she is cut up into pieces. However, a mad scientist, Monsorlit, from the planet Lothar gets hold of these pieces somehow, and “restores” her to life, improving her appearance even to the extent of giving her a natural suntan. Unfortunately, this treatment is highly illegal since it makes all its beneficiaries into zombies. So she is drafted to serve as attendant in a mental institution. There she meets her Prince Charming, Harlan, a member of the Lotharian royal family. Unfortunately, Harlan has been drugged ga-ga by his enemies. Sara rescues him and spends the remainder of the book in political intrigues and wars which restore him to his rightful position. He falls in love with Sara early in the book, without trying to ascertain whether Lotharians can interbreed with Earthlings, though they certainly do try.

Sara Fulton is only the most blatant of McCaffrey's Cinderella figures. Lessa, of the Pern novels, first appears in Dragonflight as a repulsive drudge. F'lar, her Prince Charming, appears before her transformation; but the scene in which she bathes and washes her hair revealing concealed loveliness echoes Cinderella's magic transformation, and with a sensuality appropriate to the contemporary gothic romance. Lessa's true fairy godmother is her dragon Ramoth for when Lessa bonds with Ramoth she becomes Weyrwoman and partner to the political and military leader of Weyr society, the Weyrleader. In fact, it is her sexual alliance with him that confers power, just as Cinderella's sexual attractiveness obtains for her a royal alliance.

Again in the Pern series, Menolly goes from rags to, if not riches, at least her heart's desire, when she is rescued by a handsome dragonrider (she has just lost her shoes, by the way), and brought to the palace-like Harper Hall. Other facets of the Cinderella story appear in “Cinderella Switch” in Judy-Lynn del Rey's Stellar 6, where a mysterious lady engineer, thought to be a street commoner, arrays herself in a magic field of light, calculated to fade at midnight. Though Dacia is already a person of consequence, she does meet a charming prince, and lose her slipper, at a fancy dress ball. And as with Cinderella, her beauty and finery, not her ability as an engineer, prove her trump cards.

A poor girl's discovery of her own latent extranormal mental powers, in “Apple,” lends itself only to a childish desire for adornment. In fact, Maggie O gives herself away by stealing shoes to go with her stolen finery, like Cinderella's slippers again. Though the tale ends tragically, still Maggie O is an ironic Cinderella, who is suddenly released from poverty into a world of glamor by a magic gift—psi talent. Again narcissism governs feminine characterization.

Heroines in McCaffrey's mystery-romance novels, Ring of Fear, Mark of Merlin, and The Kilternan Legacy, likewise experience elevation in socioeconomic level as a result of the impact of their attractiveness, wholesome and innocent though it may be, to men. Of course, this is less surprising than finding the same motif in McCaffrey's science fiction novels.

Cinderella lives in a world of wicked, ugly stepsisters, swine before whom her pearls of grace, charm, sweetness, and wholesome sexual appeal are cast. In Restoree, these stepsisters take the form of Kalina and Cherez, whom Sara encounters as she parades around in her Cinderella-like ballgown at the palace Eclipse party. These two court ladies are just plain vulgar, with their wanton airs and heavy makeup. But Sara's catty streak really has full scope with Harlan's perfidious former mistress, Maritha. The fact that Maritha may have poisoned Harlan is nowhere near as damning as the fact that she notices that Sara is prettier than she is and threatens to have her ejected from the palace. Maritha's insecure reliance on her physical charm damns her even as Sara's similar dependency leads to success. Wicked stepsister is but the dark mirror image of Cinderella.

Maritha is by no means the only swinish wicked stepsister in McCaffrey's work. Rather she is an early prototype, remarkable for her brazen vanity. Such characters as the untidily fickle Kylara in the dragon series show that love of one's own person is truly damning, if one is cast as the villainess. Kylara is the dragonrider whose infidelities and vanity cause the death of Brekke's dragon. In fact, Kylara saves her figure from the ravages of childbearing though early abortion caused by staying between too long. Lessa somehow doesn't have these problems keeping her figure. Nor does Lessa's dragon go into a mating cycle at inconvenient times. Kylara, cynical, vain, and insecure, is a true wicked stepsister.

Menolly, in Dragonsinger, is beset by swine, too: Holder's daughters who are ignorant and rude and who challenge her right to buy a pretty belt for adornment. In The Ship Who Sang, Helva is forced to endure Ansra Colmer, a malicious, preening, even murderous actress. But again, Ansra's villainy shows up in her narcissism, her desire to play a theatrical role and deny applause to others. Helva is almost her mirror image, for Helva decides that she too wants the self-aggrandizing pleasures of the state.

Killashandra, the vain, bitchy, insecure heroine of Crystal Singer, is a unique case because she melds qualities of Cinderella and the wicked stepsister. In this mature work, McCaffrey seems finally to recognize the common thread of narcissism that runs through both types of character, and finally to integrate them in one fascinating heroine.

Related to the Cinderella myth again is the adoring swain, the lover whose uncritical adulation of the heroine would in real life border on pathology. Harlan, in Restoree, is a recognizable stereotype from the gothic romance. His rugged good looks and penetrating gaze reveal his sterling character and, of course, his power to confer riches and happiness on Sara, his Cinderella. He has a fatal flaw—at the beginning of the book he is stark raving mad. But the minute he lays sane eyes on Sara, he falls violently in love even though she is a mental patient, possibly a Frankensteinlike restoree, and an alien to boot. His habit of calling her “my dear lady” rather bothers her, and it bothers her worse when she finds out that it is the equivalent of a wedding vow on this quaint planet.

We can well believe that McCaffrey intends this dashing figure to be something of a parody. His name sounds like “Harlequin,” as in the romances of the same name. As a random example of this stock figure from gothic romance, we could cite Rafe in McCaffrey's own mystery-romance, Ring of Fear. His annoying verbal tic is calling Nialla “dear heart” while showering every kind of treasure on her, with very little motivation and less caution about her mysterious background.

But uncritical love, often linked with male nurturance and almost magical removal of all the heroine's problems, is a common theme in McCaffrey's science fiction. Thus it is with Henry Darrow and Molly Mahoney in To Ride Pegasus. Even where irrational love at first sight is not invoked, males are often shown as more nurturant than we expect in real life. F'lar is shown feeding bits of meat to Lessa after rescuing her from Ruatha. F'nor ministers in an almost motherly fashion to Brekke after she becomes catatonic because of her dragon's death.

In Cinderella stories, this uncritical love is unmotivated; but in McCaffrey's work there is a pattern of motivation. The Cinderella figure often carries out some act of daring and courage, after which her frail nature betrays her so she can collapse into her lover's nurturant arms. Hence Sara in Restoree rescues Harlan, teaches him to sail a boat though she hardly knows how herself, swims, walks, and runs with him to safety—and then collapses into his arms (and into his bed, though innocently). At intervals she is fed or has her wounds attended to by him. (There is an enormous amount of feeding as a method of showing love in McCaffrey's work, from feeding of hatchling dragons and fire lizards to the feeding of lovers. But that is another topic.) It is almost as if McCaffrey is parodying her own mystery-romance novels, as where Nialla in Ring of Fire rescues a horse from a fiery barn and then falls exhausted into her lover's arms, or where the heroine in The Mark of Merlin is liquored into insensibility by Major Laird after her harrowing journey.

But the pattern of heroism and falling into a lover's arms is not confined to Restoree and the mystery-romances. In Dragonflight, Lessa makes a courageous trip through time to bring dragonriders forward. On her return, she waits for F'lar, motionless, weeping. And it is when F'lar embraces her after this flight that they become entirely emotionally bonded.

Though Helva, a cyborg and the heroine of The Ship Who Sang, cannot be comforted with food, liquor, or even a cozy bed after her harrowing adventure with the Xixon, she is given a sort of loverly comfort by Niall Parollan, who shows concern and even sighs in relief when she proves hale after this horrible experience.

In Dragonsong, Menolly is rescued after her historic and recordbreaking discovery of fire lizards and her brush with the menace of Thread, though T'gran, the dragonrider who rescues her, treats her wounds, and offers her analgesic drink, is not actually her lover. Master Robinton, who rescues her in a more subtle way by restoring her music to her, takes on more lover-like overtones. Thus the pattern of adventure, rescue, and collapse into the nurturant lover's arms exists throughout McCaffrey's work.

The value of beauty and physical perfection is most strongly emphasized in McCaffrey's work, however, by the motif of mutilation, amputation, and deformity. Beyond the superficial Freudian significance of this motif, the meaning of deformity varies richly in these works but demonstrates a sharp awareness of the extent to which a woman's value and self-image is determined by her physical appearance. In Restoree, the pattern is almost fairy-tale-like. Sara is born ugly, mutilated by aliens, and restored to beauty. On earth, before her mutilation or restoration, she is unable to obtain love. After she is given physical beauty, she gains not just love but power and prestige as well.

Menolly's mutilated hand, though it does not reflect simple sexual allure, prevents her from seeking adulation from an admiring audience who might listen to her music. Thus her musical ability is a tool of her narcissism. Her happiness is restored only when the hand regains its flexibility.

Some forms of deformity or mutilation are compensated by other talents. For example, Helva's birth defects are compensated when she is allowed to become the brain of a powerful ship. And she is able to participate in a limited way in the life of “mobiles.” Through telepathy and the Corvikian envelopes she obtains knowledge of odors and tastes, and even sex. Though her relationship with her passenger or “brawn” is primarily non-sexual, it is a type of love relationship as her bereavement over Jennan and her delight with Niall demonstrates.

Killashandra, in Crystal Singer, suffers a more subtle form of deformity. Her voice, she learns after years of training, has a defect that will prevent her from ever becoming a truly great performer. Her compensation is that she can mine crystal and become wealthy through her musical talents. Again, the voice is a kind of auditory manifestation of physical beauty, so that its defect is a failure of sexual allure and personal display. In this mature work, McCaffrey explores the emptiness of such extraordinary talent because Killashandra's wealth becomes useless as crystal destroys her memory.

This interest in loss, deformity, defect, or amputation goes beyond the reliance of a Cinderella figure on sexual charm to obtain love and power. The mentally retarded empath, Orley, in “Apple,” the dwarfed and neuter dragon Ruth in The White Dragon, Lytol and Brekke, the man and woman who have lost their dragons, all these are examples of McCaffrey's later and more mature exploration of this theme of loss and deformity that was first stated in Restoree.

Restoree is critically interesting that it explores these images of allure, beauty, sexual display, and their opposites in ways that show their profound impact on feminine psychology. The works themselves are neither feminist nor sexist. All they do is demonstrate the power of certain erotic fantasies, fairy tales if you will, in our civilization. Cinderella, the charming prince, the ugly stepsister, the frail adventuress, the ugly duckling are inescapable images to most of us. Insofar as we identify with them, evoke them in subconscious fantasies or literary works, or even rebel against them, they draw us and excite us as meaningful, even irritating images in a work of literature. Restoree is not McCaffrey's best book, but its almost naive representation of themes she later elaborates so richly in more mature work gives it a vivid appeal and illuminates her later characterizations.


1. See for example Margo Skinner's review in Fantastic, 18:3 (Feb. 1969), 144, or Marion Zimmer Bradley's review in Delap's F & SF Review (March-April 1978), 35.

2. Anne McCaffrey, “Romance and Glamour in Science Fiction,” in: Science Fiction Today and Tomorrow, ed. Reginald Bretnor (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 282.


Nicole E. Didicher (essay date June 2001)

SOURCE: Didicher, Nicole E. “Adolescence, Imperialism, and Identity in Kim and Pegasus in Flight, by Anne McCaffrey.” Mosaic 34, no. 2 (June 2001): 149-64.

[In the following essay, Didicher studies how Rudyard Kipling's Kim and Anne McCaffrey's Pegasus in Flight both use “imperialist patterns” to establish the identities of their respective protagonists.]

In the 1990s, some critics analyzing children's literature began to explore the ways in which adults treat children as colonial subjects. For example, Roderick McGillis remarks in the 1997 Ariel special issue on postcolonialism and children's literature that “children remain the most colonialized persons on the globe” (7). Perry Nodelman, in a 1992 article entitled “The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children's Literature,” forcibly argues that adults writing for children are always and inevitably taking part in an oppressive and imperialist activity. Following Edward Said's Orientalism, Nodelman details the ways in which adults first make children “Other,” then tell them how to be Other properly (through children's literature and other means of acculturation). One of the key differences between Western culture's relations with the Orient and adult culture's relations with childhood is that, while Western imperialist powers often encouraged colonial peoples to be more like “Us,” adults know that children eventually will become Us. When writing for early adolescents, authors run into the paradox of trying to convince their readers of the way to be “proper” children, Other than adults, and simultaneously trying to prepare them to become adults, Us not Other. Nodelman puts it that “viewed from the perspective of its efforts to colonize, children's literature is essentially and inevitably an attempt to keep children opposite to ourselves and an attempt to make children more like us” (33, emph. Nodelman's). In our postcolonial world, to reproduce unquestioningly the rhetorical strategies and ideology of imperialist thinking is unacceptable. However, children can never be decolonized, never given voice or autonomy, by the fiction that adults write for them. Now that our political beliefs are changing, I ask, Is the way in which adult writers of adolescent literature present imperialist structures changing to accommodate those beliefs?

Part of the preparation that adult writers want to give adolescent readers, to smooth their transition from colonized to colonizers, is a demonstration of proper (i.e., acceptable to adults) maturation strategies that will encourage a sense of adult identity and confident independent behaviour. Developmental psychologists, following Erik Erikson's lead, have a tendency to analyze the child's progress through adolescence in stages, noting either the success or failure of an individual to attain a suitable adult “psychosocial identity” (Erikson 41), which is formed when “the individual judges himself in the light of what he perceives to be the way in which others judge him in comparison to themselves and to a typology significant to them” (22). Erikson stresses the “responsibility on the part of the older generation in providing those forceful ideals which must antecede identity formation in the next generation” (30). What psychologists (and parents and writers) focus on is what they perceive as progress toward the goals of adult identity—in Erikson's case: hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, and love—but what strikes me as most significant is the insistence that the achievement of these goals be recognized by adult society and authority. It is this recognition that allows the adolescent access to and acceptance into adult society.

In this essay, I compare the interactions between the ways that fiction for early adolescents prepares readers to take part in a world of adult imperialism and the ways that such fiction can represent an imperialist society within its pages; in other words, in novels set in imperialist societies, how do the authors portray their child protagonists so as to demonstrate a “proper” maturation process? Is there a relationship between the values inherent in proper maturation and imperialist ideology? To undertake the comparison, I have chosen one novel set within a fictional version of an actual imperialist society, Rudyard Kipling's Kim, and a recent work of science fiction set within a fictional but similarly imperialist society, Anne McCaffrey's Pegasus in Flight (which is part of a series, some of them for an adult audience). Keeping in mind Nodelman's reminder to maintain an awareness that, in writing an essay of criticism of children's literature, I am myself taking part inevitably in an oppressive activity that will reinforce my readers' adult sense of superiority and control over children, I hope to demonstrate that both Kipling and McCaffrey offer their adolescent readers a model of prodigious early entry into an imperialist segment of adult society. I begin with a comparison of the societies the authors portray. Next, I examine the way the two authors highlight patterns of movement and transportation systems in the novels, and I link movement to ideas of self-determination and political control. I then make detailed comparisons among the three protagonists—Kim in Kim, and Tirla and Peter in Pegasus in Flight —to demonstrate the varied means by which they establish themselves as Us as well as Other. Throughout the essay, I note a number of differences between Kipling's and McCaffrey's imperialist writing strategies that stem from their social contexts: one writing in a time when Western culture accepted imperialism as a positive state and the other writing in a time when Western culture tries to be more aware of and avoid imperialist domination.

In an exchange I had with McCaffrey in December 1999, she acknowledged that Kipling's works have been great favourites of hers from childhood but felt that she was not consciously influenced by Kim in the composition of Pegasus in Flight. Nonetheless, there is a remarkable number of connections that can be made between these two novels. The most interesting connections pertain to (1) the ways in which their child protagonists come to a knowledge of their own identities and abilities and achieve a place for themselves in society; and (2) the ways in which their societies explore the relationship between a dedicated but secretive elite and a less-privileged majority. Both works are set in what purports to be the real world, but both are refracted into a somewhat unrealistic version of that world: Kim is projected backward onto a nostalgic past that is India as Kipling wished to remember it; Pegasus in Flight is projected into a future reality in which “Jerhattan” sprawls along the eastern coast of North America, and telekinesis and other psychic “Talents” are a commercially viable reality.

Both authors invent administrative institutions to oversee their realities from a position that combines recognized authority and surreptitious social guidance: McCaffrey's Center for Parapsychic Talents, directed by Rhyssa Owen, works closely but quietly with Law Enforcement and Order (LEO) and produces “a battalion of undercover agents” (71; in books set chronologically later, the Center develops into Federated Teleport and Telepath [FT&T], the most powerful autonomous unit in human society); in Kipling's Ethnographical Department, Colonel Creighton directs the Great Game of Anglo-Indian espionage, modelled on the real-world Colonel Thomas Montgomerie and his pundits (Hopkirk 126). In the imperial discourse of both Kipling and McCaffrey, the rule of the elite group is very much equivalent to parenting: parents also are an elite ruling from a position of recognized authority and surreptitious guidance. Fred Reid and David Washbrook note that the Anglo-Indian civil service in the late nineteenth century was encouraged to think of itself in a parental role: “The ideal district Collector should be ‘mabap’ (mother-father) to his people who were children to be treated sympathetically, even lovingly, but disciplined firmly” (18). Kipling, while intensely critical of the Anglo-Indian civil service in other works, here portrays only its idealized parentalism. While creating an atmosphere of colonial nostalgia, he is unable to admit that the British have exploited and mistreated the Indians, passing the Mutiny off as a “madness” that infected Indian soldiers like “a plague” (242; for an alternate reading of Kim, seeing the empire as stagnating in an adolescent, rather than parental, state, see Suleri ch. 5). The Talents in McCaffrey's books also see themselves in a benevolent parental position toward the vast majority of humans, who are un-Talented “Mutes.” Boris Roznine, head of LEO, thinks it “far better to have a small minority, dedicated—and disciplined—to perform functions that the mind-numb could not” (149). It is significant that Kim, Tirla, and Peter are all three initiated into the elite ranks of society by substitute parents/mentors who are at the same time powerful players in their Great Games of world politics: Colonel Creighton, Sascha Roznine, and Rhyssa Owen.

The societies that these figures control are crowded and chaotic; living space is limited, and people of very different cultures and ethnic groups live in mixed communities or close proximity. Kipling's India, however, experiences less social tension because of this than does McCaffrey's Jerhattan. Conflict in Kim is either macro-conflict (between the British and the Russians in the Great Game) or micro-conflict (between individuals who find it difficult to get along, e.g., the jealous hatred that Lurgan Sahib's apprentice has for Kim), and Kipling treats conflict more as a game than as a serious interpersonal problem, as Irving Howe points out. In Pegasus in Flight, a broader spectrum of conflict exists among different social groups: there are individuals who hate each other, such as Bilala and Mirda Khan, large political groups in conflict, such as the Talents and Barchenka's Padrugoi Space Station administration, and a whole range of groups in conflict in between—inter-ethnic tensions, rich versus poor, Talented versus un-Talented. McCaffrey's frank admission of tensions and violence sparked by the ways in which the majority resents the minority is part of her adaptation of imperialist discourse to a world in which many societies still struggle with the transition from the colonial to the postcolonial. However, she displaces that tension and violence away from the Talents, who never initiate conflict with the un-Talented and who are consistently good and kind. People in power who mistreat and exploit those below them are un-Talented villains: Ludmilla Barchenko has no regard for the lives of the “grunts” she employs on the space station; Prince Phanibal supplies pederasts with kidnapped children. McCaffrey also waters down the effect of what is still a Western and Caucasian domination in both the Talents and the un-Talented political system in Pegasus in Flight : some minor Talented characters have non-European names (e.g., Suzanne Nbembi), and the Maori are supposed to produce more than the average amount of Talent. However, the main people in control are still of European origin.

In both novels, an educated and wealthy elite minority governs a largely uneducated impoverished majority, supposedly for the good of that majority. Sascha Roznine regrets the law that will sterilize the illegal children of the poor when he catches them, but he believes that those children will be better off being educated in government hostels than they would be scrounging an illegal existence in the Linears or being sold off to pederasts, labour camps, or organ farmers. In Jerhattan, the millions of “subbies” living on subsistence food in a subordinate position seem to have fewer rights than their wealthier neighbours when it comes to freedom of movement or privacy from mind-scanning. LEO officials move among them in disguise, looking for criminal intent and quelling incipient riot. This is quite similar to the way in which Creighton's agents move about in disguise in Kim, tracing possible rebellion against British rule. In Kipling's case, though critics debate the nature of his imperialist ideology, there is no doubt that he thought British rule in India was “infinitely to the good” (Kipling and C. R. L. Fletcher's 1911 School History of England, qtd. in Rich 334); Said, in Culture and Imperialism, remarks on Kipling's “insistence on the belief that the Indian reality required, indeed beseeched British tutelage more or less indefinitely” (xxi). An important difference between Kipling's portrayal of the British raj and McCaffrey's Talents is that, in Kim, Britain has been the established ruler of large parts of India for many years, while Talent has only a proto-empire to watch over in Pegasus in Flight. Peter is taught that “Talent had always to be discreet": “Rhyssa and Dorotea were always subtly mentioning how important it was not to rub Talent into people's noses” (180). The un-Talented in Pegasus in Flight, whether rich or poor, do not consider themselves as beseeching the beneficent guidance of the Talented even while they are receiving such guidance, which explains the need for discretion. In addition to setting up un-Talented villains who mistreat the subbies, McCaffrey makes her ruling class less obvious in their power and influence, and this helps her avoid evoking ethical concerns in the politically sensitive reader about the way that the Talents might be dominating their society. Only in novels in the series set chronologically later, when FT&T has so much open power, does she begin to address the moral issues arising from that domination (for example, in The Tower and the Hive ).

Both Kipling and McCaffrey offer the adolescent reader a model of early entry into the ruling elite: Kim, Tirla, and Peter are all prodigies, cleverer and more talented (or Talented) than the normal and more primitive colonial children around them. Tirla, for example, shows justified contempt for the group of captured and docile children she rescues: “Tirla snorted contemptuously. ‘I had to frighten them to make them leave at all. Such things I had to tell them. Though it was all very true’” (174-75); the only children whom Kim's narrator admires (other than Kim) are the Anglo-Indian boys at St. Xavier's school, and even there “they know the first rush of minds developed by sun and surroundings, as they know the half-collapse that sets in at twenty-two or twenty-three” (328-29). Both the protagonists and the implied adolescent readers are encouraged to adopt condescending attitudes toward the majority of their peers, who are Other, and place themselves on the side of Us. The extraordinary protagonists get special mentoring and education from the few adults in the imperialist group who are also the political forces behind the scene: talented adults looking for successors to take on the extra burden and responsibility of ruling a chaotic colonial society.

In both works, there are stronger connections spatially between different parts of the land than there are socially between the powerful and the powerless. That is, both Kipling and McCaffrey make transportation systems key to their novels and a unifying force that to some extent counteracts the divergence of different ethnic groups within the overall population. In Kim, the old-fashioned but still exciting Grand Trunk Road and the modern marvel of the railway “te-rain” join disparate parts of India and the Indian population together: from the Grand Trunk Road, that “broad, smiling river of life,” “one walked, as it were, a little above the country, along a stately corridor, seeing all India spread out to left and right. It was beautiful to behold” (253, 256). Movement is key to the novel because Kipling's picaresque form requires it, and also key to the British empire in holding India together: the “te-rain” allows for control of “terrain.” Many of the most important scenes in Kim are connected to transport: for example, Kim's and the lama's first train journey together (ch. 2), their meeting the sahiba on the Grand Trunk Road (ch. 4), and Kim's making a disguise for injured secret agent E.23 and caring for a sick boy on the train to Delhi (ch. 11). The father of the sick boy remarks, “The Government has brought on us many taxes, but it gives us one good thing—the te-rain that joins friends and unites the anxious. A wonderful matter is the te-rain” (416, emph. Kipling's). For Indians, transportation is Kipling's way of uniting them as a colonial population; for Kim, it is a tool that confirms his elite abilities.

Similarly, transportation plays an important role in Pegasus in Flight, in both the narrative involving Peter and that involving Tirla. Two key sequences, Tirla's rescue of the Linear G children and the climactic scene of the novel, take place on train lines and in the old-fashioned but still-exciting train cars, while another plot strand of the book involves the modern marvel of space transportation. Building the Padrugoi Station is an important World Project, its purpose to relieve a congested population by opening up colonial expansion into space, and Peter's telekinetic gestalt with electric generators is what will take humanity to the other planets that make up the future Nine Star League. While Pegasus in Flight is not picaresque, movement is just as important to its overall form. Tirla keeps on the move in much the way that Kim does, and like him she becomes apathetic when confined to an isolated educational environment. Although, as McCaffrey says (8 Dec. 1999), “Peter is not […] a ‘mover’ as Kim was,” he is a Mover—he can fling shuttles into space with telekinetic skill and a large enough power supply. Said says of Kim that in it Kipling uses “geographical” means to “repossess […] India, in order once again to enjoy its spaciousness, to be at home in it again, and again” (Culture 160). In Pegasus in Flight, Tirla's world is as crowded as Kim's, and she enjoys and possesses it, but it is not spacious—Sascha names her “Tirla Tunnelle” (208)—and she is often confined and constricted during the novel. Peter, while his physical movement is at first constrained by his paralysis (having a handicapped protagonist is another part of McCaffrey's adaptation to context), lives in a more spacious world, one in which he feels at home, over which he establishes control, and which expands to include the nearby regions of what we call “outer” space. His sense, like Kim's, of being at home in a spacious world is significant because it is Peter who will be the progenitor of a Talented empire. In Pegasus in Space Peter expresses his love for space “reverently” (92), and the book ends with the words, “He had so wanted to be a part of Earth's Space Program. Now he was the Space Program” (371, emph. McCaffrey's). Movement in both Kipling and McCaffrey seems to be a key element in the formation of psychosocial identity: the protagonists' possession of their worlds through movement confirms their self-determination and competence, prepares them for later places in the ruling class, and helps them bridge the gap between Other and Us.

The fact that McCaffrey has two protagonists is another part of her adaptation to politically sensitive times. Kim is very much a paradoxical character, both a sahib and the “Little Friend of all the World” (183, and passim), with both an Irish and an Oriental nature. In Pegasus in Flight, Kim's double nature is separated into two characters, Tirla and Peter, with Tirla paralleling the half of Kim that is the Oriental Little Friend and Peter the half that is white sahib and the embodiment of empire. McCaffrey's narrative interest is split between these two emerging Talents and between their respective Talented mentors, Sascha and Rhyssa. As male and female, with female and male mentors respectively, Peter and Tirla give more gender balance to McCaffrey's novel than Kipling's Kim does to Kim.

Said says of Kim that Kim's “youth and energy allow him to explore both spaces [native and raj], crossing from one to the other with daring grace” (Culture 78). Anne McClintock adds, “Kim blurs the distinction between colonizer and colonized but only in order to suggest a reformed colonial control” (69-70). His ability to move easily in and between both worlds is part of what makes him a perfect player in the Great Game and a suitable support for colonial power structures. Tirla is like Kim in that she moves into the world of the Talented sahibs, returning to a better version of her own world at the end of the novel, just as Kim does when, after being trained in white ways and working for the Ethnographical Department, he is healed by and restored to the Indian soil in chapter 15. In the same way that most readers presume that Kim will mature into a player in the Great Game and a sahib, readers of Pegasus in Flight must presume that Tirla will return to the upper-class Talented world when she is old enough to marry Sascha (she does so in Pegasus in Space ). Peter, while he does not move as frequently or as easily between the worlds of the Talented and the subbies, does cross over when he is kidnapped by the villains, and the lessons he learns from that experience will help him wield power with a firm adult hand. Rhyssa comments on the “incredible” luck that has led her to “two such diverse Talents during her directorship: one macro who would shift worlds and one whose skill was a micro-Talent, eroding language barriers” (292). Peter and Tirla are the two poles around which Pegasus in Flight revolves—no longer the paradox that Kim is, but with Kim's often contradictory characteristics parcelled out between them.

Like Kim, Tirla is thin and looks younger than her age. She is Talented, and thus belongs in the elite segment of society, but her Talent is unrecognized, and she has lived precariously on the bottom edge of society, in much the way that Kimball O'Hara's Irish descent is unrecognized while he grows up in Lahore. Tirla's Talent is her translation skill, achieved through an empathic understanding of “any of the nearly ninety dialects and languages used in the subsistence-level Residential Linears” (5). Kim's first reward is for being a translator for the Tibetan lama; additionally, he speaks Urdu, some Pashtu and Bengali, and enough English to succeed in his later schooling. Both Kim and Tirla are also skilled in the essential courtesies and points of etiquette that go along with language and thus can be “useful” in preventing “misunderstanding” (Pegasus 6). McCaffrey herself feels that it is Tirla who is “more like Kim, […] not only street-wise but also a linguist” (8 Dec. 1999).

This knowledge of the ways of different ethnic groups in their communities allows both Kim and Tirla to make a living and to develop a network of friends and clients: where Kim is the “Little Friend of all the World,” Tirla is “almost indispensable to most of the Residential clients and gang bosses in the neighborhood industrial complexes” (5). Both Kim and Tirla derive a good deal of pleasure from bargaining, stealing, eating, moving, seeing, doing, and learning; however, though skilled in obtaining money, neither is greedy for it, wanting only enough to live and eat well. Both are cunning, street-wise, and persuasive, and sympathetic adults within the novels find them impishly appealing. Said identifies Kim as a liminal figure of “usually salutary […] shiftiness” (Culture 140), and this designation applies equally well to Tirla.

Both Kim and Tirla are able to detect the disguised agents of authority. Kim recognizes E.23 and others through a series of secret signs and code words, and Tirla can pick LEOs out of a crowd: “Tirla knew most of them despite the way they altered their appearances” (107); she later comments, “I always knew who was LEO—even who was Talent” (286). Both Kim and Tirla are also adept at avoiding authority figures when they need to. Kim, “as he reached the years of indiscretion, […] learned to avoid missionaries and white men of serious aspect who asked who he was, and what he did” (183), and is able to escape from school whenever he wishes. Tirla easily outwits a LEO search for her, even though it has Talented assistance, and wants “no part of Authority: too many conflicting rules and regulations and silly restrictions that only begged to be ignored or evaded” (197). Kim and Tirla can see through both the disguises of political authority and the machinations of adults trying to manipulate them for their own good. This could make them ideal rebels, but Kipling and McCaffrey are eager to have them working for the adult rulers. From their own small games, both Kim and Tirla move into the Great Games of their respective worlds in spite of their rebellious natures. Mahbub Ali uses Kim early on to deliver R.17's report to Colonel Creighton, while Kim himself is not aware of the full nature of his secret task; later, Creighton educates Kim to be a nearly autonomous agent. Similarly, Sascha uses Tirla to get evidence on Yassim's child-selling ring, and the Center later puts Tirla to work for them as an undercover agent in the public school system rather than insisting that she remain on the Henner estate while a minor. Although both Kim and Tirla are essentially rebels, wary of authority and able to avoid it when they wish to, they both also have a natural respect for the right kind of authority: Kim obeys Mahbub Ali out of friendship, the lama out of love, and Colonel Creighton out of awe and respect; Tirla obeys Dorotea and Rhyssa out of friendship and respect, and Sascha out of love.

Both Tirla's and Kim's lives are centred on a search for identity, or at least for legitimization of their identity by an external source. Kim is punctuated by Kim's repeated cry of “Who is Kim?"; Tirla's greatest desire in life is a legitimate ID bracelet. Kim is perhaps finally satisfied in his quest through his transcendental experience in chapter 15, while Tirla receives her bracelet in chapter 12 and then has to learn what it means to have the special badge and privileges of Talent. Both initially create their own identities and social roles within the lowest segments of the population and then are taken by mentors into a higher social position, where they have less sense of self-control but more external legitimization; both Kim and Tirla in the end opt for a renewed position of self-determination, but one in which they maintain loyalty ties to their mentors and the institutions behind them.

There are other factors, however, that set them apart as characters. For one thing, Tirla is potently sexual for all her child-like looks, while Kim, though attractive to women, avoids female contact and sexual arousal, rejecting the sexual overtures of the Woman of Shamlegh in favour of his celibate role as chela (see Williams's discussion of Kipling's treatment of female characters and Kim's sexuality, 45-49; or McClintock's, 70-71). Another difference between the two is that Tirla has no respect for religion, seeing it as an entertaining show and nothing more (103, 105, 106), while Kim, though purely worldly himself, loves the lama and respects all holy men except the Anglican Father Bennett. In spite of these differences inherent in McCaffrey's late-twentieth-century context, Tirla is very much like Kim in his native persona.

Peter is like Kim in his older, more educated, sahib persona, tied to his baggage and his obligations, coming into mature power and responsibility. Peter's kinetic Talent develops as a result of a spinal-cord injury; his ability to tap into the electrical current in his hospital bed and to go out-of-body to the Henner estate brings him to the attention of the Talents. In fact, Peter's mental peeping into Rhyssa's mind in chapters 2 and 4 of Pegasus in Flight is very much like Kim's spying on Colonel Creighton in chapter 2 of Kim, before Kim knows about the Great Game or Peter knows about the Center. Before they become attached to their respective mentors, both children are attracted to them out of curiosity. When members of the privileged class recognize that this child is in fact also a member of their class, they convince the child of that truth and take him immediately away from the environment in which he was discovered.

Although both are clearly destined to play great roles in the ruling of empires, both boys actually come from the lowest levels of the upper echelon of their societies. Kim, though British and therefore a sahib, is the child of a drunken Irish ex-soldier and a nursemaid; Peter's family, while not subbies, are not well off, and Peter's father has been a grunt on Padrugoi (29). Both Kim and Peter are reasonably diligent and successful students, learning their lessons quickly and well, but neither is entirely willing to stay within the limits set by his authority figures unless he sees good reason for those limits. For one thing, they both have a tendency to show off newly acquired skills. After leaving school and his other special training, Kim heals the sick boy and disguises E.23; Peter lands a space shuttle at Dacca during a monsoon, from half a world away. Both take pleasure in their own achievements. Kim has “a boy's pure delight in the Game,” and the narrator comments on his “vanity” (423, 430). Peter flings the shuttle back into the air and, “with a note of complete satisfaction in his voice,” remarks, “That was fun!” (138). In spite of the fact that their showing off always helps other people, both are reprimanded for their behaviour. The lama warns Kim, “Thou hast acquired great wisdom. Beware that it do not give birth to pride” (425). In a later incident involving a helicopter, Rhyssa has to speak to Peter with some “sharpness” (186), but most of the time it is Peter who reprimands himself and tries to get his “swelled head back to normal” (179). The scene in which Peter angrily defends Rhyssa against Prince Phanibal in a momentary loss of self-control is very similar to the way in which Kim defends the lama against the Russian agents, waking “every unknown Irish devil in the boy's blood” (469). Rhyssa comments that Peter's response is evidence of his youthful impetuosity and need for further training (192), and the lama blames himself for his chela's hasty actions and use of physical violence (480-81). Rash and aggressive behaviour is a sign of their lack of mental maturity.

Although impetuous aggressive actions are something they need to learn to avoid, it is important for both Kim and Peter to build up their initially weak and puny bodies so that they can achieve masculine adulthood and power. In Kim's walk through the mountains with the lama, “the hills sweated the ghi and sugar suet off his bones; the dry air, taken sobbingly at the head of cruel passes, firmed and built out his upper ribs; and the tilted levels put new hard muscles into calf and thigh” (457, emph. Kipling's). Peter eats “anything and everything, and his body [begins] to fill out with good firm flesh; Rick showed him exercises for muscle tone, and hours spent in Dorotea's garden tanned his skin to a healthy glow” (93; although Pegasus in Flight is more gender balanced, it is not necessary for Tirla to develop physical strength). In other words, to secure their adult places in the imperial structure, Kim and Peter need to develop both physical strength and mental self-control.

Because Peter is Kim-as-sahib and not the Little Friend of all the World, he is “tied to [his] baggage,” as all sahibs are (Kipling 330); before his accident, he played with gangs in abandoned areas in a Kim-like way, but afterward he does not regain the freedom of movement that Kim does when he escapes from his school environment. Peter also lacks the street smarts and the ethnic knowledge that both Kim and Tirla possess. And, like Tirla but unlike Kim, Peter is becoming sexually aware. He has a crush on Rhyssa and is destined to be a father and patriarch.

However, the most important difference between Peter and Kim involves their creation of a place for themselves within the social order. Where Tirla and Kim have a similar pattern of initial self-determination, then being given a new place by those with more power, in the end reclaiming something that resembles their original self-chosen place, Peter's pattern is a different one. After an initial period of powerlessness and passivity, Peter is given a place in the Center in which he remains mostly passive, his actions determined by waiting for adult permission; his progress is held back while he is protected by Rhyssa and others. Eventually, though, Peter grows in both self-confidence and self-determination, becoming a Creighton-like character, the prime Mover of the human race, once he learns to demand his due and take initiative in Pegasus in Space. Peter's more “proper” method of development from childhood passivity to adult self-confidence seems to be rewarded with greater power in his eventual adult role. Nonetheless, Peter's submissiveness and Tirla's rebellious confidence make up two halves of a whole of adolescent behaviour.

Both Kipling and McCaffrey set up a balance between the adolescent's desire for independence from repressive socio-parental authority and need to be affirmed by that authority. Their protagonists, because of their status as prodigies, do not go through developmental stages that give them hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, and love (Erikson's resolution states for the six crisis stages of adolescence); they have those already. What they need is for their hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, and love to be recognized by their mentors and other powerful adults. In this way only can Kim, Tirla, and Peter achieve a satisfactory balance between their autonomy and their loyalty to the empire that their mentors embody. Kipling and McCaffrey suggest to their adolescent readers that adolescents are not incompetent or lacking in intellect or morality; however, the authors also imply that their readers need to find powerful and benevolent parental figures who will confirm their abilities and give them their place in adult society. In spite of the protagonists' competence and confidence, it is not this that gives them their identity: ideology is “the social institution which is the guardian of identity” (Erikson 133).

Many children are aware of their colonialized position in society: they see themselves as exploited, condescended to, underestimated, and mistreated by adults. For adolescent readers of both Kim and Pegasus in Flight, having and using a Talent or talents is a model of early escape from this colonialized position and entry into an imperial parental power structure. At the same time, the talent model can allow readers to maintain their own identities as children, because they see the protagonists achieve this new level of power and responsibility as prodigies, before they reach official adulthood. This may, from the point of view of an adult author, prevent or at least discourage the adolescent audience from outright rebellion or subversive action versus adult authority by means of a promise of early, and prodigiously successful, entry into the power structure.

Part of the lesson of Kim and Pegasus in Flight for adolescent readers is that, while most adults have too many rules and ask too many questions, the few adults who have the most power are understanding and beneficent; the other part of the lesson is in an encouragement to make the transition from a childhood identity to an adult one smoothly, to take their places within the established system rather than undermining it, to be one of those few beneficent leaders. According to Reid and Washbrook, for Kipling, “government and politics are protective and conservative rather than active and interventionist. Their legitimate function is to preserve society while it slowly evolves, by means imperceptible, towards change. Government has no right to lead or initiate change. […] But to exercise power on behalf of all requires knowledge of all, omniscience, which can be the property only of an élite. And to exercise it disinterestedly, requires discipline and an ethic of public service.” Is this not an accurate description of McCaffrey's Talents, that “small minority, dedicated—and disciplined?” (20). They protect humanity as a whole, intervening only to prevent major disasters that might initiate too-rapid change; they attempt to rule the human race surreptitiously but ethically, in its own best interests as well as their own, through their special knowledge and their ethic of public service. McCaffrey's novel may be set in the future rather than the past, and it may adapt itself to the late twentieth century by its gender balance, by discounting religion, and by being more frank about sexuality and social tension, but her imperial social structure and attitudes are very similar to Kipling's.

Kim's implied audience, whether adult readers or adolescent, is British and living outside India, part of the self-acknowledged, self-sustaining elite. The novel encourages a sense of the audience's own gifts and of their responsibilities toward colonial natives—appealing to parental instincts and patriarchal ideology. McCaffrey's implied audience is not psychically Talented (except perhaps in minor and unquantifiable ways) and is therefore not elite; her purpose is not to further the self-sustaining nature of an existing empire (unless Talent stands allegorically for America), but to allow both her adult and adolescent readers to experience vicariously what it would be like to be a member of such a gifted and responsible elite. Living “in a postmodern era that requires self-consciousness regarding colonialistic practices” (Cadden 53), authors need to displace themselves from blame in reproducing what might be objectionable ideological constructs. Mike Cadden demonstrates how Robin McKinley does this through the fantasy genre in The Blue Sword: “What today would be an unacceptable world-view in realistic fiction […] can be made legitimate in a genre that is expected to pose ‘thought experiments’” (65). Something very similar is going on in Pegasus in Flight. McCaffrey, though she makes adjustments to the imperialist model, is still presenting an imperialist message to her readers, both in the society she envisions and in the way that she treats children in the text and as readers. She makes it less objectionable by placing her fictional society in a science fiction future.

Is the way in which adult writers of adolescent literature present imperialist structures changing to accommodate postcolonial beliefs? Using McCaffrey as a test case, I would say yes and no. The adaptive changes that she makes to her narrative in gender balance and sexuality, presentation of social tension, use of a handicapped protagonist, and denigration of organized religion do not make up for what is essentially the reproduction of an imperialist social system. Likewise, using prodigious adolescent characters who are already competent and Talented is to a certain extent trying to give a message of freedom from colonial status to her adolescent readers, but that message is still qualified by the necessity of adult mentoring and approval. Examining the ways in which authors portray imperialism is still relevant in a world struggling with being or becoming postcolonial, and for adult writers and critics to recognize that their work is ultimately imperialistic toward child audiences is also important. We should be questioning the necessity and qualities of the indoctrination and ideological influence that we impose upon children and adolescents. Further investigations into contemporary literature written for adolescents by adults should help us to be more aware of and to modify these practices in appropriate ways.

Works Cited

Cadden, Mike. “Home Is a Matter of Blood, Time, and Genre: Essentialism in Burnett and McKinley.” Ariel 28.1 (1997): 53-67.

Erikson, Erik. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton, 1968.

Hopkirk, Peter. Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling's Great Game. London: John Murray, 1996.

Howe, Irving. “The Pleasures of Kim.Art, Politics, and Will: Essays in Honor of Lionel Trilling. Ed. Quentin Anderson, Stephen Donadio, and Steven Marcus. New York: Basic Books, 1977. 145-58.

Kipling, Rudyard. Kim, 1901. Captains Courageous and Kim. The Burwash edition of The Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling, Vol. 16 of 28, 1941. New York: AMS, 1970.

McCaffrey, Anne. Pegasus in Flight. New York: Ballantine-Del Rey, 1990 [pbk. rpt. 1991].

———. Pegasus in Space. New York: Ballantine-Del Rey, 2000.

———. Personal communication. E-mail to the author, 8 December 1999.

———. The Tower and the Hive. New York: Ace-Putnam, 1999.

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995.

McGillis, Roderick. “Introductory Notes: Postcolonialism, Children, and Their Literature.” Ariel 28.1 (1997): 7-15.

Nodelman, Perry. “The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children's Literature.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 17.1 (1992): 29-35.

Reid, Fred, and David Washbrook. “Kipling, Kim, and Imperialism.” History Today 32 (August 1982): 14-20.

Rich, Paul. “Kim and the Magic House: Freemasonry and Kipling.” Secret Texts: The Literature of Secret Societies. Ed. Marie Mulvey Roberts and Hugh Ormsby-Lennon. New York: AMS, 1995, 322-38.

Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993.

———. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

Suleri, Sara. The Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.

Williams, Patrick. “Kim and Orientalism.” Kipling Considered. Ed. Phillip Mallett. New York: St. Martin's, 1989, 33-55.


Sally Estes (review date 1 June 1997)

SOURCE: Estes, Sally. Review of Acorna: The Unicorn Girl, by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball. Booklist 93, nos. 19-20 (1 June 1997): 1669.

Three crusty young space prospectors recover a small survival pod containing a toddler with strange hands and feet, silvery curls, and a tiny horn in the center of her forehead [in Acorna: The Unicorn Girl ]. They name her Acorna and learn she has some unusual powers, such as abilities to purify water and air, to make plants grow, and to heal injuries. When the three take her “planetside,” Acorna is commandeered by scientists who want to study her as an anomaly. With some help from sympathizers, the prospectors manage, however, to whisk Acorna away to the planet Kezdet—"a known cover for all sorts of thieves, desperadoes, con men, and cheats"—where questions are not asked. But they soon discover Kezdet secretly deals in child slave labor, a practice Acorna determines to stop. Combining colorful characterizations, lots of fast-paced action, and a decided sense of menace, all leavened by a heavy close of humor as the three “uncles” try to keep a rein on and protect their charge, this is entertaining fare, indeed, for sf fans.


Sally Estes (review date 15 December 1996)

SOURCE: Estes, Sally. Review of Dragonseye, by Anne McCaffrey. Booklist 93, no. 8 (15 December 1996): 692-93.

Like a certain TV pink bunny, McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series just keeps going and going, much to the delight of her myriad fans. Unfortunately, this latest installment [Dragonseye ] is one of the weakest in the saga. The villain, Chalkin, Lord Holder of Bitra, is a complete caricature, so unlikable, so mean, so without any redeeming feature that if this were a fantasy, he would be a minion of the Dark and therefore less easily disposed of than he is in Dragonseye. The First Pass of the deadly Thread encountered by the terrans who settled Pern lasted nearly 50 years; it is now 257 years later, and the rogue planet that hosts the voracious mycorrhizoid organism known as Thread is once again approaching the planet. The leaders of the Holds and Weyrs are gearing up to fight the new invasion. Only Chalkin refuses to acknowledge the danger and make preparations. The major plot thread concerns efforts to impeach and exile Chalkin, a task carried out far too easily. In general, characters are not so fully fleshed out as in past Pern novels, but fans will still revel in the familiar hatching scene and the scramble to prepare for the new cycle of Thread. Also, the ending lends an opening for yet another tale. Despite this installment's weakness, the popularity of the series ensures heavy demand. YA: A must buy for collections where McCaffrey has avid teen readers.


Publishers Weekly (review date 26 May 1997)

SOURCE: Review of Freedom's Choice, by Anne McCaffrey. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 21 (26 May 1997): 71.

In Freedom's Landing (1995), a group of plucky slaves, both human and alien, were abandoned by their Catteni masters on the planet Botany. With the help of the Catteni rebel Zainal, the colonists survived their early days, and now they're making plans to get even with the Catteni as well as to learn the truth about the mysterious Farmers, or Mech Makers, who seem to be cultivating Botany by means of robots [in Freedom's Choice ]. Told mostly from the point of view of Zainal's human lover, Kris Bjornsen, the plot focuses on the colonists' struggle to survive independent of their Catteni overlords. Though a few settlers want to return to Earth to fight the Catteni, most of the women seem bent on having children and making a real go of the colony. While this wholesale enthusiasm to procreate stretches credulity, McCaffrey's characters are otherwise her usual well-tempered mix of heroes, rogues and out-and-out villains. The setting is crisp and expertly detailed and the plot spins out smoothly, with more than enough hints of future developments to keep readers eager for the next installment in the series.


Publishers Weekly (review date 29 June 1998)

SOURCE: Review of Acorna's Quest, by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball. Publishers Weekly 245, no. 26 (29 June 1998): 41.

Introduced in McCaffrey and Ball's Acorna: The Unicorn Girl (1997), the eponymous unicorn-horned girl of mysterious origins was found in a jettisoned spaceship's escape pod by kindly asteroid miners, and raised to young adulthood in secret in order to keep unsavory space businessmen from exploiting her superior intelligence and psychic abilities. This second book in the series [Acorna's Quest ] finds Acorna determined to escape the protective bubble her friends have built around her and to set off across space in search of her people. Her trip stalls early on, however, when trouble with her ship forces her and her space-pilot partner, Calum, to land on Rushima. There they find starving colonists, victims of a nefarious band of Starfarers who used stolen meteorological technology to wreck Rushima's weather when the colonists wouldn't submit to their extortion plot. Acorna and Calum are captured by these Starfarers, then rescued by rebel Starfarers and caught up in a small-scale civil war. Meanwhile, Acorna's people, the Linyaari, are seeking allies in their war against the evil, insectiod Khlevii—who just happen to be headed toward Rushima. Despite brief moments of mild humor, the novel struggles under the weight of stereotypical characters, a predictable plot and an excess of backstory. Only faithful McCaffrey (the Dragonriders of Pern series) fans are likely to enjoy this weak series entry.


Publishers Weekly (review date 24 November 1997)

SOURCE: Review of The Masterharper of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 48 (24 November 1997): 56.

The mostly melancholy early life of Robinton anchors this quiet installment of Pernese history [The Masterharper of Pern ], set just before the opening of Dragonflight, the first novel in the Dragonriders of Pern series. Mortally threatened every few centuries by Thread, which destroys each living thing it touches, Pern is defended by its fetching telepathic dragons and their dashing Weyrmen riders. Between Threadfalls, wandering teacher-bards trained at Harper Hall maintain the traditions that bind holders, craftsmen and dragonriders together. As the novels opens, hundreds of years after the last Threadfall, Robinton is born to Mastercomposer Petiron and his wife, Mastersinger Merelan. Petiron unreasonably resents and rejects his musically gifted son. Despite his father's ill will, however, Robinton rises to Mastership, his successes accompanied by a growing crescendo of animosity directed at dragonriders throughout Pern by the villainous Fax, who eventually arranges the murder of Robinton's Weyrleader friend F'lon. Fans of Pern will likely be enthralled by McCaffrey's detailing of life at Harper Hall, but, as always throughout this popular series, the story takes wing primarily when McCaffrey's beloved dragons roar and their riders soar upon the beasts' mighty backs. Even given his talents and his ability to speak with dragons, McCaffrey's Robinton is, ultimately, only a baritone, while the dragonriders F'lon and his avenging son, F'lar, hero of most of the Pern novels, are the flamboyant tenors who have given voice to McCaffrey's most magical moments.


Publishers Weekly (review date 15 March 1999)

SOURCE: Review of Nimisha's Ship, by Anne McCaffrey. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 11 (15 March 1999): 51.

The magic of McCaffrey's alien planet-scapes and exotic space creatures, familiar from such novels as Dragonriders of Pern, is absent from this flimsily SF-clad romance [Nimisha ], set on luxurious Vega III centuries into human galactic domination. Upon Lord Tionel's death, his precocious genius daughter, Lady Nimisha Boynton-Rondymense, takes charge of his famous shipyard and test-flies his cherished Mark V space yacht—straight into an unexpected wormhole that flings her onto an unknown planet. While bearing five children in three years to Jonagren Svangel, a conveniently also-stranded hunk, Nimisha spunkily triumphs in one maudlin adventure after another, but she finally dissolves into a postpartum “leaky ula-ooli-la” when located by a previous lover and her own adolescent body-heir, Cuiva. Not even Nimisha's inexhaustible supply of hooting alien babysitters and Star Trek-like cybernetic shipmates Helm, Doc and Cater can compensate for the vapidly predictable teeny-bopper plot and cellophane-thin characterizations—there's not one redeemingly vicious villain—that bloat this lost-in-space operetta, a leaky ula-ooli-la if ever there was one.


Publishers Weekly (review date 7 August 2000)

SOURCE: Review of Acorna's World, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 32 (7 August 2000): 80.

Gentle Unicorn Girl Acorna makes her fourth appearance in [Acorna's World, ] this galaxy-spanning successor to Acorna's Quest. Her shy, empathetic race, the pacific Linyaari, are still menaced by the horrid insectoid Khleevi, whose cannibalistic Young feast on their own elders as well as on other races they torture and destroy. Acorna, aboard the Condor, a spacegoing salvage ship captained by her friend Jonas Becker and accompanied by the vile-tempered Makahomian Temple Cat Road Kill and her Linyaari friend, Aari, who was previously maimed by the Khleevi, answers a distress call that leads her to a planet of sticky-veined sentient vines holding the secret to sapping the Khleevi and saving the Linyaari from extermination. Along the way, Acorna and Aari fall in love, a giant new Moon of Opportunity marketing venture (MOO) opens up for Acorna's adopted neo-Bedouin Uncle Hafiz, and the former slave children Acorna rescued earlier enjoy suitable education, gainful employment and a future of endless Happy Meals. Predictably strong on sweetness and light, noble self-sacrifice and plenty of teeny-bopper growing-up pangs-though correspondingly superficial in characterizations and future scientific wonders-this latest chapter in Acorna's adventures also offers (especially toward its close) some wry social commentary on capitalistic machinations and elder-eating younger generations: harmless good spacefaring fun. The novel includes a glossary of terms and proper names and “Brief Notes on the Linyaari Language.”


Sally Estes (review date 15 April 2000)

SOURCE: Estes, Sally. Review of Pegasus in Space, by Anne McCaffrey. Booklist 96, no. 16 (15 April 2000): 1499.

Following To Ride Pegasus (1973) and Pegasus in Flight (1990), [Pegasus in Space ] is a third prequel to the Rowan series: The Rowan (1990), Damia (1992), Damia's Children (1993), Lyon's Pride (1994), and The Tower and the Hive (1999), with more to come. Here, the first space station becomes a reality, and quadriplegic teenager Peter Reidinger, whose telekinetic Talent proved amazing in Pegasus in Flight, is the protagonist. Peter tests and hones his ability not only to move his body naturally but also to teleport large objects instantaneously through space. Peter helps other Talents, as such gifted youngsters are called, thwart a mutiny aboard the nearly finished space station. Intrigue and danger continue, however, as supporters of the mutiny's leader threaten the lives of Peter and other Talents, including Amariyah, a strong-willed five-year-old whose affinity for gardening only hints at her powerful, developing Talent, one that eventually heals Peter completely. Peter gradually becomes the man who will head Federated Telepath and Teleport, the organization upon which the Rowan series is based. The suspense and the action are intense and compelling, and furthermore, McCaffrey doesn't stint on either characterization or the extrapolation of extrasensory perception and telekinetic abilities. This is an important addition to the Pegasus-Rowan saga, whose fans will greet it with delight.


Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 September 2001)

SOURCE: Review of Acorna's Search, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 18 (15 September 2001): 1330.

The YA adventures of the girl with the unicorn horn sticking out of her head continue (Acorna's World, 2000, etc.), as the telepathic Acorna, her traumatized “life-mate” Aari, and others on two and four legs to heal their shattered homeworld [in Acorna's Search ]. Having vanquished those nasty Khleevi bugs and put Aari on the road to recovery (a tiny, inch-longhorn is growing out of his forehead), the Linyaari, the psychic humanoid crossbreed with unicorns, return to Planet Vhiliinyar and find an ecological disaster of fetid swamps, polluted streams and carnivorous plants that nearly devour the feisty cat Roadkill. The Linyaari are considering a big loan from the wealthy, somewhat untrustworthy Hafiz Harakamian in order to terraform their world back to what it was before the Khleevi ruined it, While taking preliminary surveys, a handful of Linyaari, including Aari, vanish mysteriously. Acorna and friends consult their four-legged unicorn ancestors, who show them fragile hand- (hoof'?-) written records, and drop enigmatic hints that imply that these disappearances might have to do with a hidden cave carved out by the Ancestor Friends, who originally rescued the unicorns from Earth and brought them to Vhiliinyar. With the help of the loquacious android Mac (who has outfitted himself with a series of mechanical horns), Acorna discover the cave, which is filled with old carvings and lined with a substance that dampens communication gear. One of the missing Linyaari turns up, but before Acorna can find out more about what happened, she and her explorers are menaced by a pair of bear-like “hairy monsters,” The cave leads to an ancient buried city that predictably reveals secrets about the Linyaari past, adds an ethical complication to the terraforming question, and includes additional plot threads for the next installment.

Dialogue-soggy, overcute, featherweight YA space-opera, a mix of light fantasy with coming-of-age themes about social responsibility and solemn respect for elders.


Publishers Weekly (review date 2 December 2002)

SOURCE: Review of Acorna's Rebels, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 48 (2 December 2002): 38.

McCaffrey (the Pern series) and Scarborough (The Healer's War) offer another readable, lightweight cross between fantasy and SF in their latest novel about Acorna, the Unicorn Girl [in Acorna's Rebels ]. A member of the Linyaari, a humanoid race with horns in the middle of their foreheads, Acorna continues to hunt for her beloved life-mate, Aari, who disappeared in Acorna's Search (2002). She travels aboard the starship Condor to the planet Makahomia, which she finds in the grip of a plague killing the sacred Temple cats. Acorna fights a desperate rearguard action against the plague with her horn's healing power, but the mystery clearly lies deeper. With the aid of both Condor shipmates, who include the Temple cat Roadkill (aka RK), and local Makahomians, among them shapechanging priests who can turn into cats, Acorna strives to prevent disaster. She ends up somewhat closer to Aari's trail through space and time, but clearly with several books worth of adventures to go before she reaches him. While it's not up to the highest level of either author's work, this installment will certainly engage long-time readers of the series. And don't overlook its being a feast for cat lovers!


Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 2002)

SOURCE: Review of Freedom's Ransom, by Anne McCaffrey. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 8 (15 April 2002): 532.

[Freedom's Ransom is an] addition to McCaffrey's series (Freedom Challenge, 1998, etc.) about the multispecies colonists of planet Botany, dropped involuntarily there by the catlike Catteni after they conquered Earth. Now, though, the Eosi, who dominated the Catteni, have been defeated and driven away; Earth is again free. But the planet's infrastructure and economy have been smashed; many of the manufactures needed to rebuild civilization were looted by the Catteni and deposited on the merchant planet Barevi. Despite a lack of buyers, the Barevi traders refuse to yield the looted goods. So Kris Bjornsen, her lover Zainal the Catteni, and the other Botanists must find a way to recover the goods through trade. But what to trade? Well, the Catteni are hooked on coffee, so the Botanists maneuver to pick up a big load of freshroasted Kenyan. And the Catteni, much given to fighting, frequently loose or break teeth; gold teeth are both stylish and fashionable, and dentistry is not among Catteni accomplishments. One of the Botanists happens to be a dentist: he's able to pick up supplies and equipment in half-ruined New York. If none of this sounds particularly exciting or enthralling—that's because it isn't.

An unlikely and soporific concatenation of aliens, coffee, dentistry, and shopping: for dogged series fans only.


Sally Estes (review date 15 October 2002)

SOURCE: Estes, Sally. Review of A Gift of Dragons, by Anne McCaffrey. Booklist 99, no. 4 (15 October 2002): 363.

McCaffrey's legions of fans will warmly welcome [A Gift of Dragons, ] this delightful, handsomely illustrated collection of four stories set on the planet Pern. “The Smallest Dragonboy,” a heartwarming tale first published in 1973 in Science Fiction Tales, leads off. It centers on young Keevan, who is desperate to impress a dragon during his first time in the Hatching Ground because then no one in the Weyr will taunt him again for being small. In “The Girl Who Heard Dragons,” the only Pern story in a 1994 collection to which it gave its title, Keeven, now K'van, and his dragon, Heth, answer Aramina's call for help in eluding the holdless Thella and her band of renegades, who want to use Aramina's ability to communicate telepathically with dragons. The story is a follow-up to The Renegades of Pern (1989). “Runner of Pern,” which debuted in the short-novel anthology Legends (1998), discloses another facet of life on Pern in the romantic story of Tenna, one of the express runners who crisscross the land carrying messages from one settlement to another. With “Ever the Twain,” first published here, McCaffrey returns to the Hatching Ground to follow the adventures of the twins Nevu and Nian on their way to impressing dragons.


Frieda Murray (review date 15 September 2003)

SOURCE: Murray, Frieda. Review of Dragon's Kin, by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey. Booklist 100, no. 2 (15 September 2003): 181.

The latest Pern novel is something of a family affair, with the creator of one of sf's most splendid and longest-lived sagas collaborating with her son on the latest installment [Dragon's Kin ]. The story takes place during an unexplored period in the history of Pern, before the coming of the Thread. The watch-whers are already playing a prominent role, however, keeping watch at night at the holds and weyrs and helping in the mines. The protagonists are Kindin and Nuella, young people living in a mining camp. A cave-in wipes out Kindin's father and brothers as well as the old watch-wher, and Kindin moves in with camp Harper. There he learns the skills of being a Harper, including discretion and Mediation. Eventually, he and Nuella learn the secret of how watch-whers see in the dark, and about their communication with dragons, which opens a wholly new range of capabilities for the dragon-riders. What with sound narrative technique, above-average characterization, and several of the Pern fans favorite ongoing saga themes, the new book is a guaranteed pleaser as well as a harbinger that Pern, an enduring monument for two generations of sf readers so far, will continue after its originator's departure.


Publishers Weekly (review date 12 January 2004)

SOURCE: Review of Acorna's Triumph, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 2 (12 January 2004): 42.

More episodic than its predecessors, McCaffrey and Scarborough's finale to the charming Acorna saga [Acorna's Triumph ] will please the two authors' many fans and lovers of horses and cats generally. Last seen in Acorna's Rebels (2003), the unicorn girl has finally located her missing life-mate, Aari, though his exile in time has resulted in a disturbing personality change. Besides helping Aari to recover, Acorna must retrieve a hoard of jewels—chrysoberyls used in terraforming, stolen by a troupe of dancing girls with anti-gravity belts—from three races of sulfur-based beings, the Liquids, Solids and Mutables. She must also contend with the return of the Khleevi, disgusting insectoid aliens with evil designs on Acorna's home planet. And of course there is Grimalkin, the felinoid shape-changer, whose antics delay the well-deserved happy ending after all the bopping back and forth through time, across space and in flight from the Khleevi. While this light SF/fantasy romp is a hopeless proposition for newcomers to Acorna's travels, it serves as a fitting coda to the series. Both Acorna and Aari and their creators can ride off into the starlight with clear consciences.


Kirkus Reviews (review date October 2005)

SOURCE: Review of Changelings: Book One of the Twins of Petaybee, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 20 (October 2005): 1113.

[Changelings is t]he first in a trilogy spun off from previous books about the sentient planet Petaybee (Power Lines, 1994, etc.), following the adventures of a pair of adorably inquisitive twins.

With their formula down pat, the authors don't waste time getting readers excited with dangerous thrills or much of a plot. Instead, the narrative putters along inside the cozy icebound settlement of Kilcoole, where the Irish-Eskimo townsfolk have adapted quite well to their bone-chilling climate and created a few charming customs (shared with us in lengthy detail). The promising premise of the planet that thinks and does for itself is mostly frittered away here in a series of obviously padded non-events and a utopian mindset so starry-eyed that even Ursula K. Le Guin would find it naïve. The twins themselves—Murel and Ronan, born to Yana and Sean of the previous trilogy—are an interesting pair with a neat quirk: They can change into a seal's form in water. After getting into a minor scrape involving poachers of the planet's cute telekinetic otters (unauthorized people looking to do harm are always landing on Petaybee), the twins are sent off to school on a space station to examine information that will help them understand the volcano that's threatening to become active back home. A less-than-thrilling subplot involving a scientist with bad intentions occupies some, but not enough, of the time on the space station before the book rattles to a close.

A waste of time for any audience other than young adults.


Publishers Weekly (review date 19 June 2006)

SOURCE: Review of Second Wave: Acorna's Children, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Publishers Weekly 253, no. 25 (19 June 2006): 44-5.

Unicorn girl Khorii of the Linyaari had a horn-full of curing to do in McCaffrey and Scarborough's first chronicle of the Acorna's Children series, First Warning (2005), about a deadly plague sweeping the universe. In this spirited second installment [Second Wave: Acorna's Children ], the gifted young healer, her adopted android brother, Elviiz ("named for an ancient Terran king"), and human survivors of the planet Paloduro struggle to devise a vaccine. Khorii makes the connection between the plague and the new threat of devouring, wraithlike aliens. Meanwhile, Khorii's quarantined parents, Aari and Acorna, learn Khorii has a twin, Arriin, whose embroyo had been stolen from them long ago by the Ancestral Friends. As an adult, Arriin escapes via a stolen time-travel device. The twins' reunion, along with the punishment of the criminal Marl Fidd, is a highlight of this episode in the exploits of Khorii and her crew. Fantasy fans of all ages—but particularly girls 12 and up—should go for this one.


Publishers Weekly (review date 5 June 2006)

SOURCE: Review of Dragon's Fire, by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey. Publishers Weekly 253, no. 23 (5 June 2006): 42.

The McCaffreys' second fire-breathing collaboration (after 2003's Dragon's Kin ) again proves why these fabled dragons still cast a spell [in Dragon's Fire ]. Pellar, a mute Apprentice Harper; Halla, a homeless girl; and Cristov, a miner's son, learn invaluable life lessons as the planet Pern prepares for the return of the deadly Red Star and its annihilating “Thread,” which can only be destroyed by firestone-fueled dragonfire. But mining firestone is dangerous work, often carried out by children of disenfrachised criminals called the Shunned. Accompanied by his new fire-lizard Chitter, Pellar joins Masterharper Zist in a search for Moran, a missing Journeyman Harper who's involved with the Shunned. Pellar finds his fate intertwined with Halla, but his tangle with Tenim, a ruthless thief, almost keeps them apart. Their friend Cristov learns about the Shunned firsthand after a terrible mine explosion. Fortunately, events lead to dragon-riding wish fulfillment and a remarkable discovery. While it allegorizes the risks of mining fossil fuels and the horrors of slave labor, this coming-of-age fantasy offers suitable dragon play for all ages.


Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 October 2006)

SOURCE: Review of Maelstrom: Book Two of The Twins of Petaybee, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Kirkus Review 74, no. 19 (1 October 2006): 995.

[In Maelstrom: Book Two of The Twins of Petaybee, t]wins Ronan and Murel are changelings, able to take seal form on their home planet of Petaybee, which is sentient and adapts to its inhabitants. The book begins with the twins leaving Petaybee on a spaceship as ambassadors to help the people of the planet Halau, who will be relocating to Petaybee. But when they arrive, Halau has been hit by meteors and its settlements destroyed. A rescue is mounted, led by the twins, who turn into seals to rescue people in the water. Halau's people are brought aboard the ship. Back at Petaybee, while trying to help Halau refugees adapt to the odd environs, Ronan is kidnapped by some very strange sea creatures who have masqueraded as deep-water otters, but are actually aliens. Murel and her family have to save Ronan, while trying to keep various intelligent animals in Petaybee's ocean from eating each other—and them—during the search.

The characters are somewhat over-earnest and preachy, but the conversations between natural predators and prey make this an enjoyable.



McCaffrey, Anne. “Retrospection.” In Women of Vision, edited by Denise Du Pont, pp. 20-9. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

McCaffrey discusses how her mother helped inspire her independent-minded female protagonists.

Slotkin, Alan R., and Robert F. Bode. “A Back-(to-the Future)-Formation.” American Speech 68, no. 3 (fall 1993): 323-27.

Explores McCaffrey's use of language in her young adult novels.

Vandergrift, Kay E. “Meaning-Making and the Dragons of Pern.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 15, no. 1 (spring 1990): 27-32.

Studies how children interpret text using McCaffrey's “Pern” novels as a case study.

Additional coverage of McCaffrey's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 6, 34; Authors in the News, Vol. 2; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 5; Bestsellers, Vol. 89:2; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 49; Concise Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28R, 227; Contemporary Authors Autobiographical Essay, Vol. 227; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 15, 35, 55, 96; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 17; Contemporary Popular Writers; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8; DISCovering Authors Modules: Novelists, Popular Fiction and Genre Authors; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writers; Something about the Author, Vols. 8, 70, 116, 152; Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 11; Something about the Author—Essays, Vol. 152; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 2; and Writers for Young Adults.

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Anne McCaffrey