When it comes to fantasy creatures, we feel like dragons get all the credit. And we get it, they’re flashy and scaly and there’s fire-breathing and they have unnerving laughs, but they aren’t the only awesome flying buddies around. Just being able to fly is impressive enough, right? Right??
It seemed like a good moment to pause and give a little love to our favorite non-dragon air steeds. Here they are…
Hippogriffs and Thestrals—Harry Potter
Wizards have all the fun. Dragons aren’t the ideal ride in the wizarding world, but there are plenty of other options magic folk if you’re not keen on broom travel. There are a few caveats, of course. Hippogriffs won’t give you a lift unless you’re respectful and follow their rules of engagement. You have to maintain eye contact and give a bow and have a teacher as reckless and Rubeus Hagrid, because he’ll toss you right on its back with little-to-no consideration. Then there are the thestrals, who only appear to people who have witnessed death up close. So seeing them might be traumatic enough, but once you move beyond that (and their slightly frightening appearance) they make incredible air travel buddies. Both options are excellent for any number of stealth operations, including busting your own godfather out of temporary holding so he doesn’t get his soul dissolved, and catching a ride to the Ministry of Magic to stop a bunch of nasty people from stealing a prophecy in a secret wing.
Stupid Bat!—The NeverEnding Story (aha-a-aha-a-aha-a)
First of all, the Stupid Bat probably isn’t stupid. He’s just very sleepy, and thus slow to get started when the Night Hob decides he needs to continue the quest to defeat The Nothing. But look at him! He’s adorable. And he can totally fly in his sleep, so it’s fine. Bat also gets a nod for his unique flying apparatus—in order to leave his wings free, the Night Hob balances on a bar under his tummy, basically transforming him into an adorable mammalian hang-glider.
Sky Bison—Avatar: The Last Airbender
All of the bending disciplines in Avatar: The Last Airbender are first come to humanity from animals who naturally have the elemental abilities. For the Air Nomads, their teachers were the Sky Bison, who also serve as traveling companions. Avatar Aang’s bison familiar Appa is Team Avatar’s mobile home, and the brief time where the group loses him is utterly devastating. (Don’t ask us to watch “Appa’s Lost Days” again. Just don’t.) Flying bison seem to be very rare in number following the genocide carried out against the Air Nomads, but they’re well on their way to restoration through Aang’s children and grandchild nearly a century on. Aang’s son Tenzin lives on Air Temple Island with his family, where they’ve bred quite a few more bison, which is extra fortuitous once Avatar Korra awakens airbending in a fair portion of the world’s population. They need those Sky Bison to get them out of trouble.
Pegasus—Clash of The Titans
It’s long been humanity’s dream to slip the dusty bonds of earth and soar through the heavens; to this end, Greek mythology gave us Pegasus, a divine winged horse. The horse-child of Poseidon and Medusa, Pegasus is born when Medusa is decapitated by Perseus. After spending some time with the Muses, Pegasus is tamed by the hero Bellerophon and aids in his fight with the Chimera. Pegasus had a rebirth in modern pop culture, notably in the 1981 Harryhausen film Clash of The Titans (and the slicker, but maybe less soulful, 2010 remake), in which Perseus tames the noble steed. The whole point of The Clash of The Titans is of course to RELEASE THE KRAKEN, and the only way Perseus can get close enough to THE KRAKEN’s head to decapitate it is if loyal Pegasus flies him up there.
Alicorn/Pegacorn—She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
No disrespect to Pegasus or his earthbound unicorn cousins, but it’s hard to top a horse that has wings and a magical horn. In the original 1980s version of She-Ra, Adora’s horse Spirit is first transformed into the intelligent alicorn Swift Wind as they escape the Horde together. In the current reboot, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Swift Wind starts off life as an ordinary horse nicknamed Horsey; unable to yet control her powers, Adora accidentally transforms Horsey into an alicorn, also granting him speech and intelligence. This version of Swift Wind names himself, and shows a strong sense of individualism; he would never consider himself Adora’s property, but he does become a close and loyal ally to her and the rest of the Princess Alliance.
Eagles—The Lord of the Rings
Everyone who loves to start nerd fights will inevitably shout “but why didn’t Gandalf just ask the freaking eagles to fly the whole Fellowship to Mordor, what the actual—” and then we all boo that person because there’s a reason. And the reason is the eagles are not interested hanging around, waiting for a wizard to call them. Gandalf was real lucky he convinced those birds to do what little they did because world-saving shenanigans are very much not their idea of fun. It’s like having three wishes or tokens, you’re only allowed to call the eagles so many times, otherwise they might never talk to you again, and that would be a problem. But when you can call on them, they are pretty much the sweetest ride out there. They’ll get you out of tight situations like Being Held Prisoner Atop a Wizard’s Tower, and Getting Harassed by Goblins While You’re Stuck in a Tree, and Impending Death By Lava. Pretty handy friends to have, so long as you’re not always them to be the designated driver.
Originally published in August 2019.