Friday, November 25, 2011

Eulogy for Anne McCaffrey

The novelist Anne McCaffrey died of a stroke this week. I haven't thought about the Dragonriders of Pern novels since I was in 4th grade, and when my friend Shack told me about her death I was, to be honest, thunderstruck. Not by her death (she was 85), but by a sudden eruptions of memories buried so deep I had utterly blanked them out. So I am compelled to give thanks, at this time of thanksgiving, for her life and work.

I might be excused for blanking out parts of my childhood. I don't think I've had as rough a time as many of my friends, but still, when you're in elementary school in the 1970's in Salt Lake City and you're a fat Jewish kid without friends, and your teachers seem indifferent to the endless bullying, and your parents are at war with each other... honestly, there is no way I can describe this without being utterly maudlin and pathetic. As one of my current friends says, "the past is a cancelled check." That said, the thing is, Anne McCaffrey's books were a gateway into another world - one of adventure and wonder. I used to leave class, when it got too much, and go hide in the library at my elementary school and read the Pern novels. I spent a lot of time in smart, tragic, scintillating Pern, riding dragons.

But here's the real point. It might sound like escapism in hindsight, but it was excursions into McCaffrey's universe (and those of L'Engle, Le Guin, Tolkien, Lewis, and Baum, among many others) that germinated my lifelong love of literature and its possibilities, that spurred me to become a writer myself and create my own little worlds, and that fostered my enchantment with medievalism. I have parlayed that grade-school fantasy bookishness into a career in which I am immersed in history and literature, fact and fantasy.

McCaffrey wrote 23 novels before her death, and I understand there's another on the way. I haven't read even half of them. But I am deeply grateful for them, and I bet there are a million other kids out there, in the past, present, and future, who might find in Pern a refuge from the stupidity and cruelty of real life and a vision of a better world, that they might strive for, dragons notwithstanding. Anne McCaffrey is dead, and she leaves a glorious wreckage.

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