The second book of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, Dragon Singer begins where Dragon Song left off, with Menolly arriving at her new home in the Harper Craft Hall. She’d lived and thrived homeless for her love of music, succeeding where many others would not have. She discovered and adopted not just one fire-lizard, a creature thought to be a children’s story, but nine of them. Menolly had found kindness and support at Benden Weyr, home of the dragon riders, proving to be both resourceful and useful to them. She soon discovered though that while she would be more than welcome to stay there, the Master Harper had been looking all across the continent for her, in order to take her as an apprentice Harper. In spite of all these successes, she looks at herself as “just” a girl,and how could she possibly fit in with all these great and talented people.Even now, nearly thirty years later this feeling resonates with me. That imposter syndrome, or feeling of soaring capableness followed by crushing self doubt.
Menolly meets the other master musicians and is tested on her musical knowledge. She butts heads with troublemakers who, like her father, don’t think it’s her place to be a Harper and who are jealous of both her talent and the fact that she has fire-lizards. She also makes some friends and allies, as she begins to settle down in her new home. The second book of the series is more about daily life as a Harper, and about making friends, working at what you love, and settling down in a new place. Part of the reason this book has stayed with me I think, is that it was the first time I’d ever considered this as a way of life. I could make art everyday as part of a community.
The other crafts can jibe that we want to know too much about what is not strictly our business, but I’ve always felt knowledge of matters minor or major makes for better understandings. The mind that will not admit it has something more to learn tomorrow is in danger of stagnating.
Working together, side by side and sharing information has always been the most attractive way to work for me. One of the themes of the book is the interconnection of all the people in the world, and how they all have to work together in order to survive. Sharing information is part of that, because closely guarded secrets get lost with the death of a Crafts Master and have to be reinvented. How much better would it be if that information had been shared so that advancements could be made with our having to redo work first?
As she settled in, Menolly also made some great observations on the relationship between work and play. The life of an artist involves a lot of play that is also hard work. Creative work takes a lot of mental energy, and is exhausting in ways that aren’t always apparent at first sight.
Boys of fifteen Turns, her age, were already serving on boats at the Sea Hold. Of course, an exhausting day at sail lines and nets left little energy to expend on running or laughing. Perhaps that was why her parents couldn’t appreciate her music-it wouldn’t appear to be hard work to them. Menolly shook her hands,letting them flap from her wrists. They ached and trembled from the constricted movements and tension of an hour of intensive playing. No, her parents would never understand that playing musical instruments could be as hard work assailing or fishing.
It was the first time I’d every really thought of it as work that had to be done and sometimes wasn’t fun, but that was mostly always rewarding.
The rewards of living a creative life in the company of other passionate, creative people is why this book has stayed with me all these years. Like an old friend,I can go back to this book when I’m feeling lost or alone, and the story of Menolly reminds me that I’m not alone at all. There’s a community out there that I’ve become a part of. It reminds me of the excitement of trying new techniques and playing with my work. It reminds me that while I might feel like a fraud who isn’t as good as he wants to be, there are people out there rooting for me.