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Old Jan 5 2011, 04:29 AM   #1
D. M. Domini
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Location: Chicagoland
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Red face Exploring the Subtextual - Robinton/Menolly in the DRoP series

Exploring the Subtextual - Robinton/Menolly in the DRoP series

So. I've been re-reading my Harper Hall Trilogy--yes, I know, shocking! I usually pop up here and beg you lovely people to go look up canon for me!--and of course, while I'm revisiting the books, I'm paying attention to all sorts of things. One of those things is the Robinton/Menolly relationship, and its potential romantic aspects, because it's always been a little bit odd, yet I've never seen anyone put together a comprehensive post on it. So I figured--what the hey!

However, for clarification, I'm not intending this post to convince anyone about anything...I'm not looking to convert disbelievers, so to speak. It's more of a fandom-wank thing...goofing around in an analytical nerdy way to see what support the books actually have in a pairing that interests me. It is very clear and supported in the text that Menolly and Sebell is the canonical relationship Menolly is in.

So far, I have freshly (as in, the past 3 days) re-read Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. They are the new YA paperback editions, with the saturated colors and symbollic firelizard icons on front, not the old ones with the pretty Rowena art (unless you count the new covers cribbing the faulty 4-limbed firelizard design from her).

Harper Hall Trilogy, Books 1 and 2

The first two, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger are pretty unambiguous; I honestly didn't come across a single line where you could interpret the relationship between Robinton and Menolly as anything other than Master/Apprentice and Teacher/Student. In addition, the same could be said of Sebell/Menolly, only Sebell was shaded as more of a slightly-elder peer.

If you really, really wanted to stretch it, you could tag the scene in Dragonsong where Robinton physically picks Menolly up and carries her across the bowl as one using a romantic trope...strong dude carrys helpless maiden out of danger. But given Menolly is written as a child at this time (although McCaffrey HAS had a male romantic partner have contact with their future mates during the women's childhoods in both Damia and Pegasus in Flight), you could equally cast him in the much more probable role of father carrying his daughter out of danger.

So, all in all, "Nothing to see here, move on."

Harper Hall Trilogy, Book 3

Dragondrums is where things get interesting.

Most of the Robinton/Menolly subtext is actually attached to the Sebell/Menolly courtship subplot of this book. So let me touch on that, before we get into the Menolly/Robinton stuff.

There are 2 scenes where Sebell drapes his arm over Menolly's shoulders; this seems to be his way of indicating his romantic interest in Menolly.

The first scene is located fairly early in Dragondrums, where Piemur and Menolly go to meet Sebell as he returns home from Southern. Sebell gets off his boat, and when he reaches Menolly and Piemur, puts his arms over both their shoulders.

This isn't subtext for the Sebell/Menolly relationship; Piemur right out states in his POV that Sebell's making moves on Menolly and using Piemur as a distraction.

Page 39 of the US paperback of Dragondrums:

Quote:
Sebell threw an arm across Piemur's shoulders, telling him to cheer up, and draped his other arm about Menolly. Then he guided them towards the holdstables.

There was a look on Sebell's face that suggested to Piemur that the companionable arm about his shoulders had been an excuse for the one about Menolly's. The observation cheered Piemur for he knew something no other apprentice did.

Maybe not even Master Robinton. Or did he?
One thing is interesting is the, "Or did he?" As in, did Robinton know? It feels a bit like author-insertion into the POV there, cluing the reader into something. What, I'm not sure, and I may be putting too much meaning into it. Of course, reading too much meaning into things is the fun part!

Next one is page 168 of the US paperback of Dragondrums:

Quote:
"Don't fret over Piemur, Menolly," Sebell said, trying to sound more lighthearted than he felt. "He has a knack of landing on his feet." He smiled down at her, allowing himself the luxury of putting his arm lightly about her shoulders.

"Except when the steps are greased!" Menolly's voice had an angry edge, and he gripped her shoulder reassuringly.

"Look at it this way: just see how that misadventure has worked to his advantage. He's got out of the drumheights and acquired himself a queen fire lizard egg. For all we know, he may meet us at the Hold gates with it, smiling in that ingenuous fashion of his, when you and I know he's as devious as Meron!"

"I wish I could believe you, Sebell," Menolly said sighing heavily, but she leaned trustingly against him for his comfort. "If he was anywhere in the vicinity, Beauty and Rocky ought to find him."

"He's somewhere," Sebell replied firmly, and daring more than ever, he gave her a quick hug, turning abruptly from her as he caught her startled look.
Sebell's such a boy, teasing her and pretending he didn't do it in case she gets mad. ::cough::

ANYWAY.

Sebell's sexy moves: Putting his arm over your shoulder. Canon text.

Robinton's sexy moves: Putting his arm over your shoulder? Subtext?

The "arm-over-Menolly's-shoulders" is repeated by Robinton in a scene that keeps catching me with other sources of possible subtext as well.

Here's the scene, from page 200 of the US paperback of Dragondrums:

Quote:
He saw the half of the great Hall door swing into darkness and wagered with himself who waited for him there in the dark.

"Master?"

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.

"Ah, but I've accomplished much. Any news from Piemur?"

"No," and her shoulders dropped noticeably. "We would've sent you word instantly."

He put an arm around her slender shoulders comfortingly.
This scene is hard for me to interpret. There's several things going on here:
  • Menolly is attached to Robinton in such a way that she will camp the Hall's front doors waiting for him, and Robinton knows this. Menolly certainly wasn't camping anything in Dragonsinger.
  • The word choice of "cried" is a trigger-word. I actually think I'm remembering love scenes from The Rowan and Damia where the female leads are reacting to their respective dudes. I also seem to remember it in The Ship Who Sang when there's temptation from Nial to crack Helva's shell. I don't have quotes for these books, but I think this is part of why the phrasing here gets my attention...Menolly, above and beyond camping out the front doors, is openly showing her affection for Robinton in a fairly strong manner, shown by the use of the word "cries" which plays a role in the romantic scenes in other series written by AMC.
  • The arm-over-shoulders could be innocent, but it echos Sebell's moves elsewhere in the books, so it might be deliberate, given that Sebell is generally thought to be something of his Master's mirror...then again, with Dragondrums and the prior two Harper Hall books alone fresh in my memory, he's actually written at least in the early books like a soft-core mix of Lars Dahl and Jeff Raven, from the Crystal Singer books and Talent books respectively, NOT a mini-Robinton. So Sebell's overall character development across the series might be dealing with some retcons that could make this assumption shaky.
  • The word choice of "slender" catches me at well. Menolly's always been tall, and mistakable for a lad in Dragonsong at least due to her size, but slender? Did she shrink somewhere between Dragonsong and Dragondrums? However, like "cries", the word choice of "slender" brings to mind descriptions of Lessa and The Rowan, both of whom are described by male POV characters as "slender" in a way that implies this is a sexy or alluring trait. Also, I seem to recall the scene in one of the later DRoP books where Lessa embraces Robinton and he gets a thrill from it makes use of the word "slender", although I don't have a quote to back me up so my memory might be faulty and I'm wrong here.
  • Menolly is also markedly displaying passivity towards Robinton when she's far from helpless. Earlier in the book she's kicking ass and taking names in Piemur's defence. Now in this scene she's waiting for Robinton to fix things, as she was earlier in the Sebell-arm-laying scenes turning towards Sebell for comfort. You could argue she's just feeling upset and helpless because Piemur's currently frolicking in some unknown area of Southern and her firelizards can't find him, but again, women leaning on their strong men is a romantic theme that McCaffrey carries accross several character pairings and series.

So while you could absolutely read the scene fairly straight with Robinton's arm truly being all about the teacher/student comfort, to me it has McCaffrey-style romance trigger-words embedded in it that speak of subtext. It's actually kind of weird, because you have to have read her works across several series many times and sort of internalized them to pick up on it, but if you HAVE done that, like me, they pop out pretty strongly in this scene. While other scenes with potential subtext can and have been read by me in a neutral manner, this one actually for years has been read by me with a more romantic twist, much like the scenes that you know are supposed to be read like that such as the ones I quoted earlier with Sebell and his fascination with Menolly's shoulders. My default interpretation is romantic here, basically.

All right, enough with Menolly camping the Hall's front door, pining for Robinton.

Let's talk about boats. Remember the mentioned-in-passing-but-never-shown boat scene where Robinton and Menolly get blown off course to Southern and discover Cove? I didn't actually recall it was mentioned in Dragondrums, but it is. Unless they've managed this unlikely feat twice.

Here's the reference, page 202:

Quote:
He turned to Menolly. "You'd best ready that boat of yours...." he had started referring to her skiff in that manner after he and Menolly had been storm-lost on his one voyage to the southern hold the previous Turn.
So this missing boat scene actually occurred one Turn BEFORE the start of Dragondrums. I hadn't recalled it being that early...although I do know this missing boat scene is referred to again in one of the other books, although I don't recall which one. Because I know that's when they discovered Cove, and I recall references to Menolly lashing Robinton to the mast to keep him upright or something, but obviously they say nothing about Cove or bondage here.

(Sorry. Had to say it. What fun is it if I can't make jokes in such a seriously fan-wankish post?)

No real subtext per se--aside from this big open gap where you wonder what conversations and scenes happened during that long period of being lost at sea and slowly sailing from literally the east end of the Southern continent to the west end, which presumably takes more than a day or two. Whatever happened during this time, happend between Robinton and Menolly a turn prior to the events of Dragondrums.

Let's move on to the firelizards-make-sexy-times boat scene with Sebell and Menolly.

This scene has a part that I really don't know how to interpret without subtext, because reading it straight doesn't make any sense to me.

Oh wait, here's Sebell being something of a bastard, page 220:

Quote:
Kimi was about to fly! And it was Menolly's bronzes who would fly her. A surge of elation swept Sebell, who could scarcely believe his good fortune.
Woot! Firelizards will let him do her without the hard stuff like starting a relationship!

In his defence, he is apparantly sorry a few sentences later that it's coerced to some extent, due to firelizards. Which is more than can be said for other pairings on Pern.

Oh, and in Dragondrums Menolly has sea-green eyes...just like Robinton's wife Kasia in MHoP. That's some hard-core Robinton/Menolly subtext for you! Page 222:

Quote:
Surprise, then memory, changed the color of her sea green eyes.
Ok, here's the quote I'm a bit baffled on, page 222 still:

Quote:
"It wasn't just Kimi's need," he said in a hurried voice, "you know that, don't you?"

"Of course, I know, dear Sebell." Her 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--"
Menolly doesn't get to complete that thought.

So what the heck does this mean? That they love Robinton in separate ways? If they both just had a strong love of their teacher and mentor, it would be the "same" love, more or less, yes? How does Menolly's love differ from Sebell's?

Or is it only different in that Sebell won't get jealous that Menolly cares for Robinton? And if that's the case, that there's the possibility of him being jealous over a platonic love, why wouldn't she feel the same, in that she's not going to be jealous of HIS love for Robinton?

And what on EARTH (or Pern) does it mean to say, "Hey, I lust for you myself, not just because of Kimi" and then "You always stand back and defer to Robinton, Sebell". I mean...was, like, Sebell waiting for Robinton to make a move on Menolly or vice versa? Was there something active going on there with Robinton and Menolly that he didn't want to disrupt, or was he just not wanting to spoil any potential between Robinton and Menolly because he knew Menolly had some Unresolved Sexual Tension going on there? (Or, that he knew Robinton had some towards her?)

I honestly have a very difficult time NOT assuming Menolly's love for Robinton is a bit more than platonic, because if I try to throw that assumption out the window, I really don't know what the heck Anne McCaffrey is trying to convey to us here about these characters. In this instance, it makes more sense to me if we assume that yes, Menolly is attracted to Robinton above and beyond her love of him. There's absolutely no point in bringing up the possibility that Sebell might have issues with Menolly's love of Robinton if it's the same type of love as his is for Robinton. That doesn't make sense to me. But Menolly's love for Robinton IS brought up, so there must be something unusual about it.

And what has Menolly wished in that cut-off line of dialogue? To do what they just did before then? Or something else? I don't get it. Stupid Sebell, cutting her off.

Here's some more "I don't get what's happening" quoteage on the next page, page 223, a few sentences after the above quote, which they are referring to:

Quote:
"We need the wind, Sebell," she replied, laughing, with a spontaneous gaiety that drew a laugh from him because they had finally spoken of what had kept them apart too long.
Uh, they'd been kept apart? And they just spoke of it now? So, uh, what exactly kept Menolly from acknowledging Sebell's earlier advances? Was she afraid that her existing love for Robinton would drive Sebell away, hurt? I mean, if that's the case, bedding Sebell when he was under the influence of his flying queen Kimi is a pretty lousy way of forcing the question, because if he WAS jealous of that, it's not like the queen flying would make it magically go away, as queen flight or not, having sex with her was going to have emotional impact. It's pretty mean to try to sweep that under the rug with the excuse, "Firelizards made us do it."

Or was the thing they'd finally spoken about something else?

Here's another question...Menolly's obviously not shy about firelizard-mating-sex. So is it because she's experienced (which makes me wonder about that missing boat scene with Robinton, as he does, after all, have a bronze, and Kimi is flying one year later...I don't recall if queens and bronzes mature at the same time), or because it's Sebell and she wants him? Or is it just Menolly's character? She's a bit of an odd one in that in some scenes she's written very passively, yet in others she has boatloads of confidence. Dragonsong has her pretty assertive at Half-Circle, despite being beaten. Yet Dragonsinger has her written pretty passively the whole way through. In Dragondrums she vacillates strongly depending on the context and company, very sure of herself in some scenes, and very dependant upon Robinton and Sebell in others.

I can see her being experienced, given she has 9 firelizards (and 10 in later books) and has had to deal with Beauty rising in Turns prior. The question being, who was the lucky man? This is obviously Sebell's first time with her, and with Kimi rising since he didn't recognize the signs.

That damn missing boat scene with Robinton from "one turn prior" in the timeline will forever bug me and make me think of wild things to insert there.

Bonus: Robinton/Silvina

Robinton/Silvina as a pairing caught me by surprise when The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern mentioned it. But it's canon, even prior to MHoP; there is a scene in Dragondrums where Robinton caresses Silvina's cheek. Yes, she's his Headwoman, but I have a hard time picturing, say, F'lar, doing the same to Manora!

Page 112 of Dragondrums:

Quote:
Robinton laughed then, rubbing his fingers gently on her cheek before he came around the table and poured wine...
The "she" is Silvina.
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