Nov 18 2011 4:00pm

Forbidden Crush: Masterharper Robinton from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern Series

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffreyI 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.


Dragondrums by Anne McCaffreyThe 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

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1. ChristinaRae
OMG I loved Robinton. And I was thrilled to death when many years later The Masterharper of Pern was published. Reading his whole story made me love him even more! Argh, I reread most of the Pern series fairly frequently, but haven't in a couple of years. I feel the urge :)
2. Xid Trebor
I love Menolly's stories! Whenever I'm sick or down, I read all three and instantly feel better.
3. jsmom2
oh my, I have always loved Pern... so many great stories. Robinton is definitely the man. So wise and patient and kind.

time for a re-read. where to begin? :)
4. koj
Huh. Never ever ever got the impression that there was anything of that nature between Menolly and Robinton. I always saw that as much more of a parent/child relationship. There were one or two of the dragonriders who I held out a bit of hope for, Sebell was always a bit .... dull for my taste. I still don't quite understand why his character was so underdeveloped comparatively speaking. He always came off to me as being sort of puddingy.
Myretta Robens
5. Myretta
I was a big Pern fan when they were first published. I started with Dragon Rider series (loved F'lar and Lessa's story), but I soon found the Harper Hall Trilogy and perfectly understood Menolly's crush on the Master Harper. The dragon riders led me to other Anne McCaffrey novels some of which I liked better than others. I enjoyed the Crystal Singer series and, for some unfathomable reason, Restoree.

Thanks for the memory. :-)
Victoria Janssen
6. VictoriaJanssen
@Koj - yes! My theory for why Sebell was so boring was because the author loved Robinton so much, she didn't have energy to spare to make Sebell irresistible, as well. Though he does show flashes of humor that I like a lot.

@Myretta, I've been considering rereading Restoree - I am wondering how it will resonate with the womens' fiction novels McCaffrey wrote, in particular The Lady. From my memory of both, I have the feeling there was something 1970s-feminism-ish going on there. Maybe?
7. Morbiddreams
There is a chapter in The White Dragon where Menolly is tended to an ill Master Robinton during the voyage to the southern continent and they have a conversation about this.

'Menolly, I'm fine. I'll be up and about any day now, Brekke says.' The Harper permitted himself to stroke her hair. 'Dont cry. Not now!'
'Silly of me I know, because you are getting better and we'll see to it that you never strain yourself again...' Menolly wiped her eyes impatiently with the back of her hand and sniffed.
It was an endearingly childlike action. Her face, now blotchy from crying, was suddenly so vulnerable that Robinton felt his heart give a startling thump. He smiled tenderly at her, stroked tendrils of her hair back from her face. Tilting her chin up, he kissed her cheek. He felt her hand tighten convulsively upon his arm, felt her lean into his kiss with an appeal that sent both fire lizards humming.
Perhaps it was that response from their friends, or the fact that he was so startled that caused him to stiffen, but Menolly swivelled away from him.
'I'm sorry,' she said, her head bent, her shoulders sagging.
'So, my dear Menolly, am I,' the Harper said as gently as he could. In that instant, he regretted his age, her youth, how much he loved her- the fact that he never could- and the weakness that caused him to admit so much. She turned back to him, her eyes intense with her emotion.
He held up his hand, saw the quick pain in her eyes, as the merest shake of his finger forestalled all she wanted to say. He sighed closing his eyes against the pain in her loving eyes. Abruptly he was exausted by an exchange of understanding that had taken so few moments. As few as at Impression, he thought, and as lasting. He supposed he had always known the dangerous ambivilance of his feelings for the young SeaHold-bred girl whose rare talent he had developed. Ironic that he should be weak enough to admit it, to himself and to her, at such an awkward moment. Obtuse of him not to have recognized the intensity and quality of Menolly's feelings for him. Yet, she'd seemed content enough with Sebell. Certainly they enjoyed a deep emotional and physical attachment. Robinton had done everything in his subtle power to insure that. Sebell was the son he had never had. Better that!
'Sebell...' He began, and stopped when he felt her fingers closing tentatively over his.
'I loved you first, Master.'
'You've been a dear child to me,' He said willing himself to believe that. He squeezed her fingers in a brisk grip which he broke and, elbowing himself off the pillow, retrieved the cup he had set down and took a long drink.
He was able, then, to smile up at her, despite the lingering ache in his throat for what could never have been. She did manage a smile in return.
The White Dragon Pg 334-335
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