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Judith Tarr

Triple Threat: Andre Norton’s Three Against the Witch World

As I carry on with my reread of the Witch World books, I’ve come to realize that I don’t remember the plots of these books at all. I remember the characters. I remember who pairs up with whom. But the details of What Happened? Total blank. So it’s been like reading completely new books inhabited by characters I remember more or less clearly, but whose adventures add up to, “I know they all survived because they’re series regulars, but that’s about it.”

That sensation is particularly acute with the stories of Simon and Jaelithe’s three children. Each book stands more or less on its own, but they fit together so closely that the effect is straight-up fantasy trilogy. Events that are left open-ended at the start of the first in the series are resolved by the end of the third, but meanwhile, each protagonist gets to tell his or her individual (but interlinked) story.

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When Gender Bias Extends to the Animal Kingdom: C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy

All I remembered of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy before yesterday when I sat down and read it again was the part about the horse teaching the boy how to ride. That was going to be the subject of this week’s column, with reference to Col. Alois Podhajsky’s My Horses, My Teachers, and a rumination on the horse as teacher. That’s still on my list for Columns I Want To Write, but as I read the book, I went off in a different direction.

The book has serious problems for modern readers—the racism hits you right in the face on the first page—but it’s also rather less accurate on the equestrian front than I’d remembered. That dratted Suck Fairy, it splurts all over the damnedest things. Nevertheless, there’s still some good in it, and the idea that a human can learn riding from a horse makes perfect sense, if you know horses.

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Webs Within Webs: Andre Norton’s Web of the Witch World

In the second novel in the Witch World saga, the story picks up not long after the end of the first volume. Earth native Simon Tregarth and his witch, who has revealed to him that her name is Jaelithe, are now married, and Jaelithe has apparently accepted the loss of her powers—the inevitable consequence of sex. She is no longer a witch and no longer carries the jewel of her office.

Simon meanwhile is now March Warder of the South of Estcarp. The other key couple of Witch World, Koris and Loyse, are betrothed; Koris has become Seneschal and Marshal of Estcarp, and he and his love are living in Es Castle, far away from Simon’s headquarters. The political situation is as fraught as ever; the evil Kolder have been defeated but are not gone, and the rest of Estcarp’s enemies are still going strong.

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So How Does a Centaur Eat, Anyway?

This is entirely the fault of the staff writers. Also, the weather. I take no responsibility for the consequences.

So they were all a bit loopy from the latest blizzard, and got to talking, as one does, and shortly thereafter, I received the following:

Our staff writers were just debating how centaurs work (it’s been a long, slushy week, in our defense!), and how, for example, they would eat: do they have horse stomachs or human stomachs?

And here was I, in equally terrible but diametrically opposite weather–the heat had truly gone to my evil little head. I pondered for exactly three and a half seconds before concluding that that is a very good question. A very good question indeed.

[A Disquisition on the Alimentary System of the Centaur]

Beyond the Siege Perilous: Andre Norton’s Witch World

In Witch World we have one of the great portal fantasies of our genre. Simon Tregarth, World War II vet fallen on hard times, finds himself on the wrong side of the wrong side of the law. The bad guys are coming for him, and the only escape is through death—or through a mysterious magical portal guarded by the equally mysterious Dr. Jorge Petronius. It’s none other than the Siege Perilous of the Arthurian canon, and for the small price of everything a man owns in this world, he can be transported to “that existence in which his spirit, his mind—his soul if you wish to call it that—is at home.” There is a catch: The door only opens one way. There’s no coming back.

Simon is desperate. The bad guys are coming. He takes Petronius’ offer.

At that point the Fifties-style Mob thriller ends, the Arthurian echoes die away, and the real genius begins.

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Middle-earth Cage Match: Shadowfax vs. Bill the Pony

Here we have our two contestants for this week’s match, the first in SFF Equines history (but not, perhaps, the last): on this side the tall, white, shining, magical, beautiful king of stallions who deigns to carry the great Wizard; and over on that side, the short, brown, fuzzy, unromantic, pretty definitely not-a-stallion who is not asked whether he wants to carry the Fellowship’s baggage (but as far as Sam can determine, he’s willing).

A serious mismatch, you say?

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A Trip Through Retro Sci-Fi Tropes: Andre Norton’s Exiles of the Stars

After the pure heart-love of Moon of Three Rings, which blurs out the critical faculty and leaves me flailing happily if helplessly whenever I reread the book, I find I can read its sequel, Exiles of the Stars with a much colder and clearer eye. It’s not a heart book, but it’s grand fun.

Krip and Maelen, each in a different body than he or she was born with, voyage as crew on the Free Trader Lydis. Krip is still assistant cargomaster as he was before his adventure on Yiktor. Maelen as essentially his pet, since for her sins against her people’s Standing Words she’s been exiled to the body of a small, lemur-like Yiktorian quadruped called a glassia.

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The SFF Equine: From Companions to Dragons

Just as I sat down to start writing this essay, a friend who is also owned by multiple horses reminded me of an old saying: “There is no secret so close as that between horse and rider.”

And here I’m thinking about the connections in genre between Mercedes Lackey’s Companions, Anne McCaffrey’s dragons, and the origins of both: the bond between horse and human. Synchronicity! [Read more]

Spaceships and Magic: Andre Norton’s Moon of Three Rings

I still remember the first time I saw Andre Norton’s Moon of Three Rings. It was sitting on the New Releases shelf at the Carnegie library in the little town in Maine where we spent our summers. The summer was nearly over, and the family was moving from an apartment to a house on a lake twenty miles away. I was also changing schools.

It was a great deal of change in a small span of time. I was twelve, which is the age of wonder in any case, and here was a book with the most intriguing cover: a person in a cloak, carrying a wand, escorted by a strange-looking, lionlike, wolflike, but distinctly alien animal.

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The SFF Equine: Troublesome Tropes About Horses

Just about everybody knows what a horse is. Equus caballus. Odd-toed ungulate. Large herd animal. Prey animal. War machine. Transportation. Companion animal. Sports equipment. Racing vehicle. Semi-mythical beast. Not nearly as many people know what a horse is not. The horse in song and story, not to mention in film, sometimes bears only a tangential resemblance to the animal on the hoof.

We’re firm believers in positive thinking here—believe me, when you work around horses, negativity can get you splatted in three seconds flat—but sometimes it’s useful to talk about the ways in which the equine demographic is misrepresented or misunderstood in popular culture. Here we go, therefore, with a brief roundup of what the horse is not, as a pointer toward what he really is. (And as always, dear readers, please add your own experiences in the comments.)

[A horse is not…]

The Andre Norton Reread Begins: Andre and Me

When I was a baby science fiction fan, back when “girls don’t read this stuff” (but of course legions of us did), I read anything and everything I could find that had a spaceship or an alien on the cover. The scantily-clad (female) beauties I ignored; that wasn’t my demographic.

I never paid attention to the gender of the author, or noticed how heavily everything skewed toward male writers. That was just the way the world worked. I did learn that an author’s name usually meant I’d be getting a certain kind of book, and that if I liked one book by an author, I’d want to read more.

Andre Norton had a lot of those books. A lot. For the most part they were short, they were pithy, they had characters I could relate to and settings that captivated me. [Read more]

Genre Runs on Horsepower: Introducing The SFF Equine

Hello, people of! Some of you know me from my rereads of two mothers of modern fantasy, Melanie Rawn and Katherine Kurtz. I’m moving on now to a biweekly (or semiweekly) column on a subject that preoccupies me every day here on the farm: Horses!

From the time my grandfather sat me on a friend’s horse at six months old, I’ve been one with the tribe of horse people. I started riding in grade school, started high school with my first horse. I rode through college and grad school (and studied the horse in history, and of course wrote them into my fiction), then when I fled to the Arizona desert in search of peace, quiet, and low humidity, one horse led to two, then three, then a small breeding farm. When the economy collapsed, the breeding operation shut down, but the stallion and his mares for the most part stayed. They’re still very much a part of my life, and they’re my toughest critics when it comes to understanding the species.

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Rereading Katherine Kurtz: It’s a Wrap!

Here we are at last, at the end of the great Deryni Reread. Two trilogies. Two timelines. Both sets of stories continue in later volumes, but these are the core texts of the Kurtzian universe.

It’s been interesting to watch Kurtz evolve as a writer in these books. Especially compared to its sequels, Deryni Rising is a tightly plotted, intensely focused little jewel of a book. [Read more]

Series: Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapter 30 and Epilogue

Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic! Last time, Tavis and Javan forged an alliance with Camber and company, while Evaine rode into a massacre and emerged with a symbol of hope for the future.

This week we come to the end of the book. Camber discovers his destiny, while Evaine leads the family, and the Deryni, into the future.

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Series: Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapters 28-29

Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic! Last time, Camber’s brilliant plan went awry, as the conflict between Church and Crown came to a violent conclusion.

This week, Tavis and Javan forge an alliance with Camber and company. Evaine rides into a massacre and comes out with a symbol of hope for the future. And the Camber family makes plans for that future.

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Series: Rereading Katherine Kurtz