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Character study

“‘The dragon always knows'” (All the Weyrs of Pern, p 270)

These words, spoken in wry perplexity at the choice of the hatchling queen Amaranth, epitomise the last major piece of the puzzle that is dragon choice. With all prior criteria satisfied, the dragonet looks for the candidate whose personality is best suited to his – and the requirements of each individual don’t always meet expectations.

Conventional wisdom suggests that dragonets choose strictly on colour-based traits. A queen will look for a strong-minded woman with maternal instincts and leadership qualities. A bronze seeks a charismatic wartime leader, confident and commanding. Browns prefer grounded, doughty characters, able to give and receive commands as necessary. The blue dragon requires a follower, content to take orders without ambition. And greens desire riders to match their flirty, flighty tendencies.

The cultural mystique surrounding dragonriders imbues dragon choice with a further layer of meaning. Impression becomes a measure of worthiness, and those who Impress the higher colours are considered more worthy than those who Impress mere greens and blues. This colour discrimination is so ingrained in the social consciousness of Pern that even the fourteen Turn old Menolly condescends to think that one boy “had done rather well, Impressing a brown”. Felessan, on the other hand, is considered “deserving” of a bronze, although on what grounds – other than being the only son of F’lar and Lessa – remains a mystery. And in Dragonquest Felessan himself gloats that “Pellomar only Impressed a green. Dragons don’t like bullies, and Pellomar’s been the biggest bully in the Weyr!” (Dragonquest, p 258)

But there is little evidence to back up this belief that dragons, even the supposedly more discerning queens and bronzes, choose on the basis of moral fibre. Bronzes chose the petty likes of T’ron and T’kul and the embittered, selfish M’tani of Telgar. Kylara is no paragon of virtue, and even Lessa, for all her strong will, was a scheming murderess when she Impressed Ramoth. It is difficult, then, to lend any credence to the superstitious notion that dragonets distinguish between “good” people and “bad” people – much less that Impressing a bronze infers greater worthiness on a man than Impressing a green.

The significance of colour-specific traits seems of more relevance. Despite their insufferable personal qualities, T’ron and T’kul are certainly leaders of men, forceful in their dealings with both their own Weyrs and others. Kylara and Lessa both exhibit the strength of will associated with queen riders. F’nor, as befits a brown rider, is a classic right hand man to his brother.

Yet this system, too, is inconsistent. Brekke demonstrates the maternal instincts supposedly desired by queen dragons while Lessa and Kylara do not, but she lacks the forcefulness that they possess in quantity. Jora, by all accounts, had very little to offer a queen. Diona (of Moreta’s time) and Bedella (in the Ninth Pass), both of Telgar, are described as ineffectual and stupid respectively. Bronze choice is just as questionable, with the inadequate T’bor totally incapable of exerting any control over his difficult Weyrwoman and R’gul passively allowing Benden to crumble around him.

It is intriguing that in the very early days, before the reverence of centuries had built up around dragonkind, the perception of who would make a good leader was significantly less polarised. In The Second Weyr, Sorka muses that any of the bronze and brown Wingleaders would make competent Weyrleaders, and, “Even the wingseconds would make good leaders,” (The Second Weyr, p 137). While she later qualifies that the two blue wingseconds were probably better suited to being subordinates, the fact remains that at this early stage in the development of the Weyr, brown riders were considered able leaders in their own right, and blue riders, if not quite suited for outright leadership, could serve as admirable lieutenants.

As the generations passed and the size difference between the colours began to increase dramatically, it is likely that the Wingsecond blues and Wingleader browns began to drop off, to be replaced by the more rigid system of Wingleaders always riding bronzes and brown riders’ ambition limited to the Wingsecond positions. Yet the First Pass evidence clearly indicates that blue and brown riders are capable of greater leadership responsibilities than later Pass wisdom suggests; by extension, it can be concluded that a brown dragonet would not necessarily pass over a candidate with strong leadership skills; nor would a blue be completely uninterested in a boy who, traditionally, might be considered better suited to a brown.

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