Dragonriders of Pern

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Name: Dragonriders of Pern (book series)
Abbreviation(s): DRoP
Creator: Anne McCaffrey
Date(s): 1967 - current
Medium: Books
Country of Origin:
External Links: Anne McCaffrey's site
Anne & Todd McCaffrey on Amazon.com
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.


cover of the zine Pern Portfolio

Dragonriders of Pern is a book series by Anne McCaffrey, set in a lost colony on the planet Pern.

The series began as a novella called 'Weyr Search' published in the October 1967 issue of Analog, a professionally published science fiction magazine of considerable prestige, edited by John W. Campbell. A second novella, 'Dragonflight', was published in the December issue that same year. 'Weyr Search' won the Hugo for Best Novella, and 'Dragonflight' the Nebula in the same category.

Notably, Anne McCaffrey is the first woman to win either award, breaking a science fiction glass ceiling.

The two novellas were collected for publication as one novel, Dragonflight. The Pern series continues to this day, with new novels being published by her son, Todd McCaffrey. Fandom is widely derisive of these novels as being 'non-canonical' and full of unrealistic Mary Sue characters.

Having an organized existence since the late 60s, Pern fandom is contemporaneous with many older First Fandoms, including Star Trek and remains active. The lure of dragons which cause mindless sex, canonical implied slash and powerful female characters given archetypal roles help to explain this series' enduring lure to some fans.

Like many science fiction authors of her time, McCaffrey was uncomfortable with fanworks, and the battle over fanwork has shaped fannish practices. Due to pressure from Anne McCaffrey and her heirs, most fannish expression in this fandom involves the creation of original characters using the setting.

Canon Background Summary

Pern is a planet circling a star called Rukbat. It was colonized by Earth people who then lost touch with the home planet. A deadly space rain called 'Thread' falls from the sky every two hundred years, devouring what it touches. In response, a race of genetically engineered, telepathic dragons were uplifted from native animals. These dragons soulbond to young humans and together they train to protect Pern by flaming Thread out of the sky. The dragons not only fly, but can also teleport (called "going between") to any place that their rider can clearly visualize. In Dragonflight, when the series begins, Pern has already reverted from a technological colony world to a feudal society with no record of pre-Pern history.

Most Pernese live in Holds, regions of fertile land managed by a Lord Holder. Many Pernese also live in the Halls, an independent global system of organized craft guilds that preserve what little technological knowledge remains. The most important of these guilds is the Harpers, who are responsible for the preservation of history by recording it in music. These Holds and Halls are responsible for protecting their people from Thread by tithing (paying tax) to their local Weyr and by keeping all human habitations meticulously free of plants or grass.

A Weyr (rhymes with 'here') is a colony of dragons, riders and their support staff organized around the raising and training of dragons to fight Thread. Leadership is decided by mating flight of the senior gold dragon and the bronze dragon fast enough to catch her. The rider of the gold dragon is always a woman and gains the title of Weyrwoman, and the rider of the bronze becomes the Weyrleader. Weyrwomen are responsible for the domestic leadership of the Weyr - keeping tithes coming in, the health and welfare of dragons and riders, and some diplomacy. Theirs is a position that can only be lost by death or retirement on the end of their dragon's fertility. Weyrleaders are responsible for the military leadership of the Weyr, training and leading the wings into battle against Thread or ensuring that Threadfighting skills are maintained during times of peace.

There are initially six canonical Weyrs in the Pern series, each with its own climate and variation on the dragonriding culture. They are: Fort, Benden, Telgar, High Reaches, Igen and Ista. Later books establish Southern and Eastern, on the newly discovered and settled Southern Continent.

Hatching dragons require a human to bond to; otherwise they die. From time to time, the Weyr rides out on 'Search' - a hunt led by experienced dragonriders for teenagers and young adults around Pern with the mental abilities to 'Impress' a dragon.

See Wikipedia for the list of novels in the series.


In the original Dragonriders stories, published as Dragonflight in 1968 after having run in Analog, dragons chose their riders based on telepathic affinity. When baby dragons hatch, young candidates are standing by, and the babies "Impress" upon whichever child they are able to connect with mentally. There is some implication that strength of will and courage as well as sensitivity are involved on the part of the candidate. Most riders can only "hear" their own dragon speaking in their minds. A very few can communicate with any dragon.

In the first story, the rite of Impression was brutal. Serious injury and even death was routine. The children were actually taught not to move, no matter what happened. Baby dragons might knock the children down or shake them violently. Two women are killed by the young queen dragon before she is Impressed, and a young boy is seriously mauled by one dragon only to have another Impress with him and try to help. One of the first reforms made by Weyrwoman Lessa, an outsider who was not tradition-bound, was to teach young candidates to get out of the dragons' way.

There was no indication that women were allowed to Impress fighting dragons of any color. The only women on the hatchery floor were there to Impress with a newly hatched queen. All the green and blue riders in those stories were men. It is possible that McCaffery had intended to establish that they were gay, but the mores of the times (the late 1960s) would not yet permit this, particularly considering the fact that Analog was edited by John W. Campbell Jr., a political and social conservative.[1]

There was nothing about sexual orientation added to these stories when they were published in the book Dragonflight. However, Dragonquest, the second volume (published in 1971), includes a subplot involving male riders whose dragons, a brown and a green, are described as "together". Readers could draw their own conclusions as to why these men were "in no condition" to attend a meeting after their dragons got back from a mating flight.

Nonetheless, the same book described considerable controversy over the suggestion that Mirrim, a young woman, could Impress a fighting dragon, clearly stating that women did not usually do this. In fact, Mirrim only Impresses (in the later book Dragondrums) because a green hatchling rejects all the male candidates and attempts to climb up into the witnesses' area to reach her. Her Impression with a fighting dragon is said to "cause problems". While Lessa is described as slightly amused by the whole thing, another book describes her as being "furious" that this happened at all, even accusing Mirrim of sneaking into the hatchery to communicate with the unhatched dragons in hopes of Impressing one. [2]

In later tales, McCaffery did establish that part of the connection depends on the candidates' gender and sexual orientation. Green dragons (the most numerous) choose gay men and, later, women; blues choose gay men; browns and bronzes choose exclusively heterosexual men. A gold dragon can only impress a heterosexual woman. This was changed by 2009 to include Lesbians, in Todd McCaffrey's "Dragongirl". Previously, McCaffrey had attempted to establish that there were no lesbians or bisexuals at all on Pern.

Pernese dragons canonically come in five colors/genders: gold and green female dragons, and bronze, brown and blue male dragons. The gold queen dragons are fertile and can lay eggs. Because green dragons chew firestone to fight Thread, they are sterile. At best, they produce smaller dragons, where larger ones are needed. However, they are said to have "amorous" natures.

Greens are also the most common type of dragon and were originally supposed to Impress with women riders. They were only encouraged to Impress with gay men (as they are supposedly more "feminine") after it was discovered that "going between" while pregnant causes miscarriage. [3]

When a female dragon goes into heat, she rises into the sky for a mating flight. The fastest male dragon who can catch her becomes her partner. Although all the male dragons are fertile, only bronzes and the occasional brown can catch a gold dragon.

Due to the telepathic bond between rider and dragon, when dragons rise for a mating flight their soulbonded partners are compelled to have sex. Allowing for gays and Lesbians among the dragonriders was a bold step for McCaffery to take. It canonically established positions of importance for gays (and possible slash pairings in fan fiction) on Pern.

As gay civil rights have taken hold, Pern's gender policy has been increasingly seen as a relic of outdated 1960s gender and sexual orientation theories, because the way things are set up, gays cannot obtain positions of power within the Weyr structure. The Weyrleader and Weyrwoman are always a heterosexual couple. McCaffrey has also made controversial statements about gay men.

Similarly, the role of the gold dragonriders as handling traditionally domestic duties has also come under fire as feminism has changed. Even in one of the earliest stories, when Lessa traveled back in time she discovered that the Weyr people of that era allowed queen dragons to fly against Thread, with the Weyrwomen riding them using hand-held flamethrowers. This practice apparently fell into disuse because after that period the population of dragons decreased, leaving only one queen at a time.

Some clubs and games allow women to Impress greens, blues, browns and gold. Others are more strict with their interpretation of gender and canon policies. Although Anne McCaffrey has allowed rules that bend the canon for women to become blue and brown riders for many years, a canonical lesbian blue rider only first appeared in "Dragongirl" (2009).

In addition to the five colors, Ruth, a white dragon, appears within the books. Ruth identifies as male, but is apparently asexual. He is also extremely intelligent and has special time travel powers.[4] However, he is a sport, a mutation produced by chance from an otherwise normal clutch of eggs, and was meant by the author to be one of a kind. For many years, clubs were not allowed to create their own white dragons and this has been upheld by the more canon strict groups.

Many clubs and games run by younger fans will have white dragons and also create their own colors with different 'powers' - though this is much derided as immature teenage behavior by fandom oldbies.

Fanworks Policy

From Southern Enclave #30 (Autumn 1991): "She [McCaffrey] has her guidelines (no sport dragons; no using her characters in our fiction; no men on golden dragons or women on bronze dragons), and a couple of Weyrs that violated her tenets were closed down because of that (and those Weyrs that allowed silver dragons were told to get rid of them-- except for Ista 9)" [1]

In the FAQ list of the newsgroup alt.fan.pern is the following statement by Anne McCaffrey herself (dated October 8, 1992):
"The rules are that my characters may be referred to but not used. BUT there can be no adventure/stories set on Pern at all!!!!! That's infringing on my copyright and can bear heavy penalties - particularly right now when there's a film deal (yet another) which has bought and paid for the right to use the material - which, I fear, e-mail users have not. On CIS, I have asked people to limit Pern material to a discussion of their persona and dragons, fire-lizards, etc., in a diarist form. Fanzines have slightly more latitude as the zine is usually mailed only to members so that's limited publication, and a due copyright notice is included. As there is no such protection on electronic mail, we authors have to be insistent on these safeguards. I know this can be confusing since Paramount and Star Trek are handled differently, but that's the point: they are, and have been. Individual themes and characters of s-f/fantasy novels are not. And such indiscriminate usage of our characters, worlds, and concepts on a 'public' media like electronic mail constitute copyright infringement AND, which many fans disregard, is ACTIONABLE! Both the e-mail company AND the person. My publishers are most insistent on that point! So it's to safeguard the interested e-mail user that I make these very strong, and perhaps unpalatable points." from the Pern Encyclopedia

Initially, McCaffrey set out the following guidelines:

  • Fanworks are strongly discouraged outside the approved "fan Weyr" clubs.
  • McCaffrey's characters are off-limits without prior approval, as main characters, minor characters, or even as background.
  • McCaffrey's primary setting, Benden Weyr, is also off-limits, as a story location, or even as a point of origin for original characters.

Eventually, however, she relaxed those restrictions, and, after 2004, only insisted on:

  • Fanwork being non-commercial
  • Trademark and copyright notices
  • No pornographic sites "based on [her] literary works". [5]

Traditionally, Pern fandom has selected a canonical Weyr and a time period (Pass - during Threadfall and hence active combat, or Interval - without Thread) as their setting and then created fanworks around the dragons and their riders who lived there. Many groups also choose to create their own Weyr with its own fictional history, climate and dragonriding culture. The owner of the fangroup often chooses to create their persona as the Weyrwoman, though in recent times creation of a Board of Directors (BoD) or investing the Weyrwoman position with no "out of character" power has been preferred.

Fan Art C&D Letter

In the late 1990s, Anne McCaffrey attempted to license her Pern series movie and TV rights. Her attorney sent at least one C&D letter against a fan artist. See Important!! Re Pern-Related Art.

Fannish Names

Some weyr members took fannish names. These could be the names of their favorite self-created character, or in some cases a Pernese version of their own names. In the novels, Pernese children are given names which combine the mother and father's name. Dragonriding men are given an 'honorific' upon impression. The rider's original name is elided with an apostrophe. For example, Fallarnon (son of F'lor and Larna) becomes F'lar. Famanoran (son of F'lor and Manora) became F'nor.[6]

Until McCaffrey clarified the naming policy for women on fighting dragons, some women had female characters also take an elided honorific. Later, the author made it clear that women on dragons take short nicknames or retain their full name. A weyrwoman never elides or shortens her name.

Dragons always have names that end in -th.


Pern fandom has for many years had its own dedicated track at DragonCon known as WeyrFest. This dates back to McCaffrey's appearance as Guest of Honor in 1989 and continues to this date. Cavatica, a well-known persona in the Pern MU*ing community, helps to run this. The track usually features special guests - such as artists for the series, or the author herself. Zines and other fancrafted material can be purchased. There are panels dedicated to topics of concern within the fandom. Many fans dress up in Pernese garb with stuffed firelizards, and there are opportunities to LARP Pern hatchings and gathers.

More info: Weyrfest LJ


cover of the zine, Legends of the Lost Weyr
cover of the zine, Harper Beat #50


Print fanzines/Letterzines/Clubzines


Due to the power of Harper Hall in Pernese society, the inclusion of Harper lyrics in the books, and the many beloved Harper characters, Pern filk has always been a popular fan activity.

Online Communities

Roleplaying clubs have featured heavily in Pern fandom. Originally published in printed fanzines, they moved to online/e-mail format.

Pern fandom has a long and storied history in the text-based MUD/MU* roleplaying community. The first Pern Weyr built on a text-based game was TinyTIM, a social game which opened circa 1990 and is still up and running. As the community developed a stricter RP policy than was considered acceptable for TinyTIM, it branched out into its own game: PernMUSH, also known as NorCon. Famously, a second game called SouCon (representing Pern's other continent) opened up and joined in-game canon with PernMUSH to run concurrent timelines until a split in August of 2004.

PernMUSH has two historical importance: as the first 'real' Pern MU*, and because Ambyrl was one of the wizards. (A wizard being a gamemaster with the power to change the code that the game is running on.) For many years, PernMUSH was the testbed of a fork of TinyMUSH mushcode known as PernMUSH. When PernMUSH switched over to TinyMUSH, Ambyrl renamed the codebase PennMUSH, which remains in active development to this day.

By 1999 or so, there were roughly a dozen games that could be considered active.

Throughout much of the late 90s and early 2000s, the McCaffrey family had placed a ban on the opening of new games due to the development of a Pern video game. (This ultimately came out for Dreamcast in 2001.) It should be noted that Anne McCaffrey and her family had a long history of meddling with the fandom - see the infamous tentpeg statement and Pern's Renewable Resources documents, which can still be found with a quick google as well as the ban on fanfiction. Previously opened games were grandfathered through the ban by use of a 'permissions letter' from McCaffrey. Much fudging of the truth, splitting and fighting over the letters became involved.

The ban on new games was finally lifted along with the ban on fanfiction. There was a brief explosion of new games, many of which quickly faded away. Although the community of PernMU*ers no longer numbers in the hundreds of logins each night, development and activity continues. PernMU* maintains a forum for wank, rants and discussion at pernmu.com, and also the historical database of dragon genealogy which also serves as a history for the fandom. Previously run for many years by Neva, it is now maintained by Aya.

Online Fanfiction

Following Anne McCaffrey's lift of her fan fiction ban in 2004 several fan fiction communities sprang up:


Fanfiction activity in Pern fandom remains low, and it is best considered a Yuletide fandom. A old trend seeing resurgence on AO3 is to write fusion fic with Pern setting from other fandoms, often as younger versions of themselves so that the characters can go through the process of Impressing and raising young dragons.

Other Licensed Material

With 40 years of history and a small, but devoted fanbase, there have been various products and merchandise created for the series over the years. Often these licensed products were the creations of BNFs or other notable fandom people.

Books: Three Pern reference books have been written over the years. The most important of these is the Dragonlover's Guide to Pern, written by Jody Lyn Nye. Summarizing Pern's history, it also contains an essay on Threadfighting tactics, a short story, and much background information about the cultures and history of various Holds and Weyrs in the series. In lieu of an actual Pern RPG manual, the DLG as it is known, is frequently consulted by roleplayers. There are two editions, with the second edition containing expanded material from the later novels.

The Atlas of Pern, by Karen Wynn Fostad, is also consulted for maps and locations. People of Pern, by Robyn Wood, is a collection of biographical portraits of various Pernese characters from the book series.

Television/Film: Several different people have tried to adapt Pern for either film or television. The most notable attempt was by Ronald D. Moore of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. Attempting to create a series for the WB, it famously got as far as shooting before Moore walked from the project due to network meddling. The pilot script and some production art circulate in the fandom.

CDs: With several important characters in the series being musicians and several songs written in the books, Pern has a long history of filk. Two licensed CDs of music, called 'The Masterharper of Pern' and 'Sunset's Gold', both by Tania Opland and Mike Freeman are available.

Games: A board game was made in 1983 by Mayfair Games. It's notable for having portrait cards by Robyn Wood, and can fetch a high price on eBay or at con booths. The first Pern video game was made for the C64 - called Dragonriders of Pern, it was primarily a strategy game in which the player takes on the role of Benden Weyrleader and must maintain alliances with the rest of Pern. Brief sequences of fighting Thread are interspersed between rounds.

A second Pern video game, called Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern was released in 2001 for the Dreamcast.


Wikipedia's PernMUSH page


  1. Putting it mildly.
  2. Another of Lessa's reforms was that legitimate candidates were encouraged to touch and even speak to the eggs. One would assume that the mother dragon, Lessa's Ramoth, would have had something to say about an unauthorized person sneaking into her hatchery. Not the first time Lessa has gone round the bend when something happens out of her control.
  3. This means that for many centuries, Pern's defensive system was staffed predominantly by gay men.
  4. All dragons can go "between times", but Ruth always knows exactly where and "when" he is without help from his rider.
  5. Official website, The Worlds of Anne McCaffrey, "Fan Fiction Rules", accessed 10/10/08.
  6. In the first Pern books, F'lor was called F'lon. There is no reason given for the change.
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