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Keeping an open mind

“‘Listen to me. You must not show a moment’s fear at whatever happens on the Hatching Ground.'” (Dragonflight p 73)

The need for bravery on the Hatching Ground is made most plain in Dragonflight, when the infant dragons show little concern for the candidates they maim or kill in the search for their riders. If one is to believe the events of Masterharper of Pern, this bloody Hatching is the exception to the rule: perhaps more representative of the complete disorder in which Benden Weyr exists under R’gul’s leadership in the early part of Dragonflight rather than of a typical Hatching. We never again see these scenes of terror and bloodshed on the Sands, yet by Felessan’s Impression, as told in the Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern, the importance of casting out fear is still emphasised.

A demonstration of courage is often rewarded with Impression: a gutsy candidate paying due deference to an agitated queen before stepping closer to Impress a bronze in The White Dragon, Keevan’s determination, despite his injuries, to reach the Hatching Sands; even Jaxom’s bravery in defying both his guardian and tradition in breaking Ruth free of his shell. And, following F’lar’s instructions, Lessa holds her nerve even when several of her fellow candidates are fatally wounded, and successfully attracts and attaches the hatchling Ramoth.

“‘Shut out any thought of fear or profit,’ she told the listening circle. ‘The first puts a dragon off, the second he can’t understand …Think how much you love it, want it to stay with you, how happy its presence makes you.'” (Dragonquest, p 124)

This fascinating angle on Impression comes, surprisingly, from Kylara. It would be easy to dismiss any opinion of hers by merit of her being the antagonist, but the accuracy of her advice to the Nabolese men trying to Impress fire-lizards cannot really be contradicted. Kylara simply dispenses with the traditional sentimentality that surrounds Hatchings and offers practical advice on what really matters. The fact that Kylara is in general a highly unsympathetic character is irrelevant – she was groomed for Impression by no less eminent a person than Lessa herself. When it comes to Impression, Kylara knows what works.

With the layers of mysticism and reverence stripped away, then, it may be the case that dragonets are inclined to choose “courageous” candidates simply because they are open and receptive to the Impression bond. A candidate who is afraid is unlikely to offer the affection urged by Kylara; a candidate who does not wish to be there cannot be thinking welcoming thoughts; a candidate who does not believe he can Impress will not invite a dragonet’s attention. Imagine again the analogy of a handshake: a dragonet will seek to clasp a hand that is being offered to him before one that is held back. Candidates with the desire to Impress, the confidence in their ability to do so, and the receptivity to accept a dragonet’s bond will be more likely to Impress than those without.

The first condition still applies: however willing and confident the candidate, he must have that “innate telepathic ability” to Impress. Receptivity is the next most significant factor in a dragon’s choice – more important than personality and even gender. But while the requirement for telepathy is fixed, the preference for open and welcoming minds is more flexible. Take the Hatching ceremony in Dragonflight: the pre-teen male candidates must have been terrified when the first few dragonets started mauling their fellows, yet they Impressed nonetheless. Even Keevan, for all his determination to reach the Hatching Ground, provided small welcome to the dragonet Heth by shouting, “‘Go away. Leave me alone!'” (The Smallest Dragonboy, p 244). A receptive attitude is desirable in a candidate, not required – providing the basic telepathic potential is present. A dragonet will choose a frightened or unwilling candidate rather than die for lack of Impression, whether that candidate likes it or not.

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One response to “Keeping an open mind”

  1. Andy says:

    Though we didn’t hear of future maulings, I assumed that they continued, but were not featured in the books – point already made and didn’t need repeating.

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