I was in seventh grade when I first read the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey—there weren’t as many then as there are now! The Pern books are science fiction, but read like fantasy. The stories take place on a planet its colonists have named Pern. Unfortunately, a rogue planet/asteroid cruises through Pern’s neighborhood on a semi-regular schedule, raining virulent, acidic Thread that eats pretty much everything except metal. Luckily, great flying dragons, with the help of their telepathically-bonded riders, are able to flame the Thread out of the sky.
The first Pern book I read was Dragonsong, about Menolly, a young girl whose amazing musical talent was forbidden by her father because she was a girl. After suffering for lack of her art, she runs away, gets nine lovely fire lizards (like small, colorful dragons) for her own, and then is rescued from horrible danger and offered not one, but two, new homes that would appreciate her talents. As you can imagine, I was enthralled, and nearly snatched the sequel, Dragonsinger, from my friend’s hands before she was quite finished with it.
Towards the end of Dragonsong, without at first knowing his identity, Menolly meets the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton. Like Menolly, I was instantly smitten.
“Do you have two green [fire lizards]?” asked an amused voice, and the tall man was standing in front of her, his eyes friendly and interested.
…“Here’s my arm, girl. Were you too long on the hot sands? Ah now, wait. You’re a long child, but there’s no meat on your bones.” Before Menolly could protest, he’d swung her up into his arms and was carrying her across the Bowl. “Tell that queen [fire lizard] of yours I’m helping you,“ he asked when Beauty disordered his silvering hair, diving at him.
Yes, silvering hair, and Menolly is fifteen (I was younger than that when I first read the book). I’m not sure how old Robinton was meant to be at this point, but I estimate maybe fifty. The author makes it clear later on that he has no romantic attachment to Menolly, but in the other direction…well, I think it’s pretty clear she has a bit of a crush. Or more than a bit.
Robinton’s feelings toward Menolly seem pretty much fatherly, but it’s clear he loves her, both for her musical skill and for herself. He wants the best for her; he wants for her to be a musician and composer, when others would deny her talent. Even if he could bring himself to overcome the age difference (definitely a concern for him), there’s also the fact that he’s her teacher. That is probably the largest barrier to a real romantic relationship between them. But the intensity of that relationship, their shared talent, is very intimate, and gave me as a reader a similar emotional response.
”I can’t play ...“ She held up her hand.
Robinton took it in both of his, gently fingering the scar, examining it ”You can play, Menolly,“ he said quietly, his kind eyes on hers, as he continued to stroke her hand, much as she would have caressed her frightened Beauty.
Plus there’s the fact that he’s such an appealing character in general. Here are a few examples.
…His expression was at once so wistful, appealing and kind that, despite her deep chagrin, she smiled in response to his foolishness.
… He grinned down at her with such mischief dancing in his eyes that she smiled timorously back at him.
The love is mutual. Take this excerpt from Dragondrums:
He saw the half of the great Hall door swing into darkness and wagered with himself who waited for him there in the dark.
He was right; it was Menolly.
”You were away so long, Master,“ she cried in a soft voice as she closed the door behind him and spun the wheel to lock the bolts tightly in floor and ceiling.
Later in Dragondrums, Menolly and another harper, Sebell, consummate their relationship while their fire lizards mate. Even then, Robinton’s an element. This dialogue occurs the “morning after.”
”It wasn’t just [the fire lizard’s] need,“ [Sebell] said in a hurried voice, ”you know that, don’t you?“
”Of course, I know, dear Sebell.“ [Menolly’s] fingers lingered on his cheek, his lips. ”But you always stand back and defer to our Master.“ She did not hide from Sebell then how much she loved Master Robinton, nor would that ever come between them since they each loved the man in their separate ways. ”. . . but I have so wished—"
Oh, Menolly. So did I. So did I. But it’s for the best. If Menolly and her Master had actually begun a romantic relationship, textually…I would have been squicked. Their power relationships were too disparate for my comfort, were they to add a physical element to their love. No, the power of Menolly’s crush, and mine, lies in the frisson of the forbidden.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.