I was struck today by a piece of news that brought a deep sense of personal loss to me. Yesterday, at the age of 85, author Anne McCaffrey passed away at her home in Ireland. The home, ‘Dragonhold’, from which she once wrote me a kind letter, and from which the words and stories flowed that helped to shape my psyche, my creativity and my life.
I started reading the Dragonriders of Pern series when I was in my early teens. The series grew with me, the characters sketched so real, so vibrant, breathed and spoke for me. Menolly, the girl harper, was always my favourite character, for the tween- and teenaged me identified closely with her painful social ineptness, her out-of-placeness, her invisibility, and the glory of her emergence.
I have read and re-read those books, along with everything else this prolific writer had to say, through most of my life. Her writing voice has become so familiar to me that I found reading the stories she wrote in collaboration with her son to be painful – I could see the joins. They are good stories, and for those that want to, it is good to be able to continue the saga, but for me, all the best stories have been told. I barely breathed, my heart in my mouth, during Moreta’s fateful ride, I felt the consternation when riders bearing suspicious tans popped in from between, I choked on the dust with Jaxom in the hidden corridors behind the hatching grounds, I lived the excitement and mystery when the ‘mounds’ were excavated at First Landing to rediscover a level of technology long since lost to their culture. And all the time, the subtle, gentle messages of Anne McCaffrey’s storytelling permeated my psyche, informed my opinions and shaped my thinking.
At the same time I began reading Anne McCaffrey, I was also reading Ursula K. LeGuin. LeGuin’s style was more overt, her imagery and her symbolism less subtle. At age 11, a Wizard of Earthsea became my Harry Potter. Darker and more revealing, the re-reading of these and Anne McCaffrey’s books as an adult revealed a surprising deeper and hitherto unknown influence on me. They influenced my perception of spirituality, my understanding of the deep, deep connectedness we have with our earth, with its energies and its other occupants. That connectedness feeds my spirituality to this day, and together, they feed my creativity and flow into and through my work.
Anne McCaffrey, your influence threads through my life and my soul as inseparably as the blood in my veins. I will miss hearing new stories from you, but I will long continue to enjoy, mull and think over your legacy of storytelling, and to share it with new generations. Rest well, you’ve earned it.