Tuesday, November 22, 2011

RIP Anne McCaffery, the single biggest artistic influence on my life

I really didn't expect to be writing another sad post after the last one, since things have been pretty darn wonderful lately. So I refuse to make this weepy.

I just heard on Twitter that author Anne McCaffery passed away. It was like a punch in the gut. I mean, hardly unexpected since she was 85 years old, but still hard to hear.

I've read every book she's ever written. In fact, her book "Dragonsong" was the first fantasy novel I ever read. I actually remember getting it for Christmas from my mom. I unwrapped the package, and there was Menolly, surrounded by fire lizards on the cover. Tiny dragons! I'd never seen anything like it before!

I was a book fiend as a kid. I learned to read early and I spent so much time at the library that the librarians all knew my name and had a suggestion list for me when I got to the counter. They'd laugh, watching me attempt to carry home a stack of books half my height, knowing I'd be back in a few days for more.

But dragons? I hadn't really encountered them yet. When I cracked open the book, I was immediately hooked. Menolly sang. She loved music. She'd do anything to get to do it for a living. She went to a school that taught it! I didn't even know that was possible! She was brave and talented and she "impressed" a slew of fire lizards. I still have that book. At the beginning of one chapter, I wrote, "I wish I was her," in pencil. Considering I ended up going to Syracuse University for musical theater and sang for many years (if you're good, I'll show you my goofy acting reel which has me singing "Evita" and doing a short film of "Star Wars" done by pirates), and then ended up as a writer, you can see what this book did to me.

I went on to read every one of her books. Strong, powerful women were all over the place in a time when that wasn't really the trend in fantasy. I read many of those books before I really knew what the sex scenes were about! I was definitely too young to read "Dragonflight," but one thing did stand out. Lessa.

This lady was tough. She survived anything. No one gave her shit. I knew when I read it that this was the woman I wanted to be. (Which may explain all the weaponry in my house.) I wanted to walk into a room and have people know I was there. It changed the direction of a very shy little girl's life.

So did "Crystal Singer." Another tough lady, who after her singing career comes to an end, goes on to do something even better. When I decided to stop my theater career, I re-read this book, looked at the wider world and marched proudly onto the next thing, just like Killashandra.

Anne's work was directly responsible for my career choices, how I developed my personality, my love of dragons and space ships and so many other things. Reading about how she broke into what was mostly a male dominated genre influenced me in so many ways, they're beyond counting.

Anne McCaffery was the single biggest artistic influence in my life. Though her passing is sad, I'm about to celebrate her life by pouring one out and re-reading (for the zillionth time) "Dragonsong." Rest in peace, Dragonlady.


  1. I.... wow. I've actually been re-reading the whole Pern series lately so even though I never met her, this feels like it hits particularly close to home.

    Dragonsong was also my first McCaffrey book. I'd chosen it from the school library - based solely on the title - for a book report in 7th grade. I liked dragons and adored music, so it seemed like a sound (ha!) choice.

    For years I've wished I had the means to commission someone to make a Masterharper pin for me - as seen in the Dragonlover's Guide - even though I never finished my Master's degree (in music).

    I probably can't relate to the strong female characters as you do since, well, I'm a guy, but I definitely admire them. Particularly in a genre where, as you mentioned, such characters were rare at the time. I still hope that one day I'll meet my own Lessa or Menolly or Sharra or... well, you get the idea.

    So long, Anne.

  2. I haven't been to the land Of Pern for quite some time. Guess I should go visit some old friends. Thanks Anne for all the wonderful stories.

  3. Moreta, that got me hooked. My first fantasy novel, my first dragon novel. Anne McCaffrey was a very special lady. She influenced my life greatly.

  4. I think I was seven when my dad handed me a book of Hugo award winning short stories and said, "There's a story about dragons in there that you might like." I know that I was in 4th grade, in a library in Wisconsin, having just moved and knowing no one, when a boy saw me clutching a copy of Dragonsinger and said, "if you like that, you might like this, too" and handed me Have Space Suit, Will Travel. (And say what you like about Heinlein, his juveniles were fun reads.) For decades of my life, Pern was where I went when I was sick or sad or lonely.

    Thank you for your lovely tribute to Anne McCaffrey.

  5. I was hooked by the Harper Hall Trilogy, and demolished everything else by Anne I could find. Particular favourites were The White Dragon and The Rowan. Thanks for all the wonderful stories, Lady McCaffrey.

  6. In junior high I read the short story 'The Smallest Dragon Boy' and was hooked. I think I have every book she wrote and will miss not find more new ones. Time to re-read them all for the 20th something time.

  7. Oh man, I just got linked to your post to find out... thank you for writing it, a wonderful tribute. She was an indomitable force in my childhood too, for sure. My favorite was DragonDawn.

  8. Thank you so much for your comments everyone. My copy of "Dragonsong"is sitting next to my bed right now. Tearing up, reading all your tributes.

  9. I think that edition of Dragonsong is also the best fantasy cover art ever! Beautiful and not standing in a porn pose! I will be re-reading the Crystal Singer series in tribute (The Crystal Singer is the one I had signed when McCaffrey was in Australia about 25 years ago).

  10. I think I read Dragonsinger 1000 times starting in junior high and I still have my copy; it is very worn. Although I enjoyed the whole series, that one was the most special.

    Your comment about being to young to read Dragonflight made me laugh because I had the exact same experience. I did not understand a lot of it at the time either at age 12 :)

  11. I started with Dragonflight myself - I have no idea how old I was, but it was probably not "old enough"! Nevertheless, I loved it, and proceeded to devour the entire Pern series. I spent a good chunk of my adolescence as part of an online roleplaying community set in the Pern world. That was my first taste of building friendships through the internet and storytelling, which has been a major theme of my life since then, so I too have much to thank Anne for. (I take a special pride in sharing a first name with her as well.)

    As much as I loved Pern, my favorite McCaffrey series has to be the Rowan books - another example of a series centered on female power and agency. The Rowan and her daughter Damia were figures that I looked up to eagerly as a girl. I of course must admit my fondness for McCaffrey's male characters too, though usually the secondary ones - I to this day remain head over heels for... F'nor and Afra, of all people.

    I loved how she combined great imagination and world building with a wonderful emotional rooting in strong characters that I could relate to. I read many of her books at least a dozen times in my high school years.

    Thank you, Anne, for all you have given us. RIP.

  12. I am another devourer of books. I never seem to have time to go back and re-read. McCaffrey is responsible for my lifelong affection for dragons. It's way past time I made a return visit to Pern. I never had a chance to meet Ms. McCaffrey. It makes me sad to know that the world is a little less awesome.

  13. Dragonsong wa the single most influential book I have ever read. It was part of the reason that I chose music. I have the same copy I started with 30 years ago. Back then I couldn't decide who I wanted to marry more, Menolly or Lessa. I almost took it personally when Menolly finally did marry and have kids, I wept when Robinton died, and celebrated every Hatching. At 85 McCaffery's passing is unsurprising but it still feels as if we have lost a friend or favorite aunt

  14. oh my. :-( RIP to a great lady.

    Yep, her books had an effect on me too. So loved the Crystal Singer and The Ship that Sang broke my heart way more than Romeo and Juliet ever could.

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