Menolly's Escape

Menolly's Spring

Brooke Wolfe '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2004

All societies are complete with their own unique values and customs. In Victorian England for example, women were especially expected to dress a certain way and remain inferior to men. Even fantastic worlds need their own defining characteristics. McCaffrey created Pern with the mores and beliefs that any real culture would have. Menolly's is a difficult state of affairs because of her unwavering determinations to sing, to harp, to see dragons, and to defy the confining expectations of women in Half Circle Hold. Menolly's determined character does not allow the restrictions that her fantastic society places on her to bring her down; rather, she escapes the physical and social boundaries of her society to embark upon a mystical experience with fire lizards. She teaches them to sing, and they, in turn, help her fulfill her dreams. The journey to quench these desires was not always easy traveling; however, she suffered a bad fall on the beach that sort of commenced her independent journey:

Clutching wildly at sea grasses, Menolly tried to prevent her fall. But the sea grass slipped cuttingly through her hand and she slid over the edge and down. She hit the beach with a force that sent a shock through her body. But the wet sand absorbed a good deal of the impact. She lay where she'd fallen for a few minutes, trying to get her breath into her lungs and out again. Then she scrambled to her feet and crawled away from an incoming wave. [55]

Her absence emphasizes the societal strains of being a young girl in Half Circle Hold. Alone, she is able to contemplate the absurdity of her cultural situation:

No, no one was likely to notice that she was gone until there was some unpleasant or tedious job for a one-handed girl to do. So they wouldn't assume that she'd opened the Hold door. And since Menolly was apt to disappear during the day, no one would think anything about her until evening. Then someone might just wonder where Menolly was.

That was when she realized that she didn't plan to return to the Hold. And the sheer audacity of that thought was enough to make her halt in her tracks. Not return to the Hold? Not go back to the endless round of tedious tasks? Of gutting, smoking, salting, pickling fish? Mending nets, sails, clothes? Cleaning claws? Not return to tend old uncles and aunts fires, pots, looms, glowbaskets? To be able to sing or shout or roar or play if she so chose? To sleepÉah, now where would she sleep? And where would she go when there was Thread in the skies?

Menolly trudged on more slowly up the sand dunes; her mind churning with these revolutionary ideas. [71]


1. Menolly is described as an independent and determined woman, qualities normally associated with men. These qualities bring to mind other women in literal fiction, such as Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, a feeble orphaned girl with a will to overcome oppression and be successful. Jane has a will to succeed, just like Menolly's strong will to play the harp and see dragons cannot be run down in the end. It is true in Pern that "women had more to do than sit about singing and playing" (48) and according to Petiron, "no girl can be a Harper" (47). Is it possible that Jane's desire for independence and respect can be paralleled to Menolly's rebellious desire to harp in a male-dominated society?

2. Menolly longs to see a dragon, but even more desirous to her would be to play her harp. That possibility is taken away from her by her sliced hand and the mere fact that she is female, as her mother Mavi said to her, "Even if your fingers will work after that slice, you won't be playing again" (45). She then chances upon viewing some fire lizards (smaller than dragons and not meant to be caught). Seeing how the creatures are so clever and truly enjoy Menolly's music, does seeing them somehow make up for not seeing dragons or getting to be a Harper? Or does seeing and being with the fire lizards actually satisfy both her desires at once?

3. Fire Lizards appreciate music but are overlooked in comparison with dragons. "The lizards expected no help at their hatching," whereas the dragons "looked expectantly about them" (170). Is it possible the dragons represent men in a male-dominated society? Considering that the fire lizards are clever, impervious, and mysterious, do they represent the feminine or forgotten side of that society? Or perhaps, when considering their love of music, could they actually represent Menolly herself?

4. When Menolly first sees the fire lizards she is awed by the beauty. Living with them gave her something to appreciate her. When they first hatched, they were helpless. They benefited from Menolly's food, shelter, and music. Who has the greater effect on the other; Menolly on her fire lizards or the fire lizards on Menolly? Did one give more than receive or vice versa?

5. We know that Benden Hold is a make-believe society but with the realistic qualities of a true culture. How does McCaffrey develop the specific societal details of Pern and in particular, of Benden Hold?

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Last modified 2 February 2004