I’ve always loved dragons. My first memorable encounter with one was J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smaug, in The Hobbit. But the most lasting impression came when I read an Analog story in 1967 called Weyr Search. It told the story of Lessa, a young woman, born into royalty but forced into hiding when her family was killed. She has strange powers she doesn’t understand—she can manipulate people into seeing or doing things—and has eked out a life in squalor until she is picked up by a dragonrider and taken to the weyr, a place where dragons live and breed. The last surviving queen has laid eggs that are about to hatch, they need young people to ‛impress’ the newly hatched babies. An impression is a direct mind to mind link with a dragon that last their entire lifetime.
There’s one queen egg and Lessa is brought in with other young women and presented to the hatching queen to see who she will impress. Lessa is chosen by the golden queen dragon. We go on to see her and her dragon, Ramoth, train and inadvertantly learn that dragons cannot only go from place to place but back in time as well.
It was an utterly fascinating story, and what young person wouldn’t dream of riding on the back of a monstrous dragon that can breath fire and take you anywhere you want to go? It was even better than horses, my other primary passion at that time.
Anne MacCaffrey, the author, never meant the story to go beyond the three novellas she wrote but the story proved so popular that Robert Heinlein himself not only suggested she write a novel, but gave her the time travelling idea and strongly urged her to show the dragons fighting thread, the great plague of parasites that fell to Pern periodically and destroyed everything it touched.
I strongly suspect though, when she wrote the first novella and established that the link between dragons is so powerful that when the queen and bronze dragon mate, the two human riders are also overcome with raw lust. I don’t know if it was pointed out to her that if this happens all the time and all the riders—except the queen’s rider—are men, what happens when the lesser dragons, green females, blue and brown males, mate. In later books she established that there was a strong gay culture in dragon society. When she finally got around to telling the beginnings of the story, how the colonists who settled Pern created the dragons, she mentioned that there were gays on the colonist’s ship.
In my attempt at a dragon novel, I had it in mind to take the story off Earth. It wasn’t going to be human men who shifted into dragon form, it was going to be a race of humanoid people I ended up calling frails. From there I built an entire planet—you can see it here—and built an entire society with its gods and customs that revolve around the fact the planet is very volcanically active. I also came up with two classes of dragons. One are the true dragons, that result from the mating of a male dragon to a female and then there are the dragon crosses, the result of a crossing between a dragon in male form and a frail female. The ruler of any given dragon kingdom must have a mated pair of dragon and dragoncross. There are all sorts of rituals that go along with that union that you’ll find in the book the Dragons of Winter.
It was a lot of fun building the world of Télen. In fact it was a lot of fun to come up with names for all the places in the world as well as the dragons and frails that populate it. So the Dragons of Winter is my homage to science fiction in general and dragons in particular.
Image: Dragons flying to their home planet, P.A. Brown