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Judith Tarr

A Shadow of Things to Come: Andre Norton’s Huon of the Horn

Between Huon of the Horn (1951) and Rogue Reynard (1947), I almost wonder if Andre Norton had some thought of making a career, or at least part of one, translating or adapting medieval texts. The two are very close in structure, style, and storyline. Huon seems a little less stiff and a little more comfortable with its yea-verily-and-forsooth prose, but it’s still a fair plod to get through.

The two texts (I won’t call them novels) share quite a few elements. Rulers with anger-management issues holding councils and demanding the presence of nobles who have stayed home for Reasons—bad ones for Reynard, justifiable for Huon. Royal favorites murdered both accidentally and intentionally. Royal messengers subjected to a range of adventures and tortures, and sometimes a combination of both. Impossible demands and impossible quests, and wicked villains scheming to destroy the moral and the good.

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Dreaming of Wild Horses

The worlds of fantasy are rich with horses and horselike creatures. Kelpies, Pucas, Pegasi. Unicorns. Companions, horned Khentor horses, Mearas. And that doesn’t even include the more common or garden-variety horses and ponies who populate favorite novels and series (it never fails when I put up a post like this; someone is sure to mention Bela).

In our own world, certain breeds have achieved near-fantasy status. The Arabian—oldest breed in the world, its enthusiasts will tell you. The “Romantic” breeds: the horses of Iberia, the Lipizzan, the Vanner, the Friesian. The magically shimmering coat of the Akhal-Teke. The great warhorses, from the Great Horse of the Western knights to the small, tough, indestructible Mongol horse. The Marwari with its unique ears that meet at the tips. The tiny and incredibly long-lived Falabella, and the huge Shire horse, and the Clydesdale of beer-wagon fame. And many a USian child’s potentially achievable dream, the Chincoteague pony.

But even more than these, and maybe before any of them for many horsekids, the wild horse is the horse of dreams. The horse who can never be tamed. The epitome of freedom.

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Tripping the Light Fantastic in Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith’s Derelict for Trade

After the earnestness of Atlantis Endgame, this entry in the Solar Queen series is quite a lot of fun. Norton’s own solo works in the series feature a somewhat raffish, somewhat beat-up spaceship with a crew of Free Traders and a tendency to fall into the worst kinds of bad luck. “What’s the worst that can happen?” isn’t a rhetorical question for the Queen. Not only does it happen, the crew has to go through complicated contortions to get back out of the mess—and just about every time, they fall right back into a new mess.

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Combining Talents in Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith’s Atlantis Endgame

When I’m reading a collaboration, I always catch myself trying to see which of the collaborators wrote which part of the book. Sometimes it’s easy—maybe even too easy if the two or more talents don’t mesh. Other times, it may not be possible to detect the specific contributions to individual scenes and plot elements, but if I know the authors’ solo works, I can guess at which aspects belong to which contributor. A really successful collaboration makes the most of its authors’ strengths, and the result is a work that neither might have produced on their own. It’s a best of both (or more) worlds.

Atlantis Endgame, for me, is one of those successes. Whereas Sneeze on Sunday reads like a Hogarth novel with very little Norton interpolation, this one seems to be a much more equitable combination of talents.

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Horses, Murder, and the SCA: Mary Monica Pulver’s Price and Brichter Novels

We all have commenter Fernhunter to thank for this post. Not too long ago, they recommended Mary Monica Pulver’s Price and Brichter series of murder mysteries as relevant to my interest. As they put it, “He’s a cop. She raises and shows Arabians. They are in the SCA.” (The Society for Creative Anachronism, for those not in the know.)

I could swear that I had at least read Show Stopper. I have been aware of Murder at the War since shortly after it was published in 1988, but I had never actually got hold of a copy. Then lo and behold, I discovered that the whole series is available in ebook. And one fine weekend, I snagged the lot.

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Tempting the Devil in Andre Norton’s Sneeze on Sunday

This is clearly a collaborative novel. As one commenter said, it reads as if the collaborator wrote it, and Andre Norton filled in a few blanks. Grace Allen Hogarth I am not familiar with, but her bio makes it clear that she was a prolific author in her own right, as well as a children’s book editor. This was not a case of senior writer supports junior; these two were peers.

For the most part I don’t see Norton, except for the very occasional instance of a character doing something “somehow” or without really knowing why they do it. The physicality of the characters, especially the men, and the inner lives and sexual and romantic feelings, are totally not Norton. That has to have been Hogarth.

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Understanding Horses: The Horse as Healer

There’s been a fair bit of buzz on the interwebs lately about a horse nicknamed “Docteur” Peyo. He’s fifteen years old, a former dressage competitor, and he visits terminal cancer patients in a hospital in France. Apparently it’s his decision, his owner just goes along as escort. He decides which patient he will see, by lifting a foreleg at the door. Then he spends as much time with the patient as he chooses.

Peyo is an imposing animal. He’s big, as competition dressage horses often are, and he’s a stallion, with a truly impressive neck (which is one of the secondary sexual characteristics of an intact male horse). He looks like one of the horses of San Marco, or a Baroque equestrian portrait. And yet he’s wonderfully gentle.

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Collecting the Plot Coupons in Andre Norton’s Seven Spells to Sunday

In Seven Spells to Sunday we have another of Andre Norton’s collaborative novels for children, from the same publisher and the same era (mid to late Seventies) as the Star Ka’at series. According to the author bios, her collaborator, Phyllis Miller, had the idea, “inspired by a young reader who asked for a book about ‘real magic.’” But the book reads as pretty much straight Norton.

There are two protagonists, both misfits, both in foster care. Monnie is a tough, streetwise, not very nice almost-ten-year-old. Bim is about the same age, much more timid, and much beset with bullies at school and on the street. They live with a nice couple who have a daughter in her late teens, but they’ve both been bumped around the system and they both expect to be moved on sooner or later. There’s no talk of their being adopted. They clearly expect to keep living in other people’s houses until they finally age out of the system.

Then one day, in a vacant lot near the apartment, Monnie finds an old purple mailbox. Moved by an impulse she can’t explain, she salvages it and sets it up. She writes her name on it and, again for no explainable reason, makes up a letter to put in it, asking for mail in return.

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When the Dancing Horses Go Viral

Time was, and not that long ago either, when Olympic dressage was one of those sports that mostly got the reaction: Why? A search on “dressage is like watching paint dry” gets over 10 million results. The near-universal reaction has been that it’s bo-RING.

And then came 2021 and the Pandemic Olympics and the most unexpected people have concluded that, hey, dressage is cool. It’s horses doing these extreme dance moves. It’s like, wild. In a highly controlled dancey sort of way.

When Snoop Dogg thinks you’re cool, you have arrived.

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Beast and Fable in Andre Norton’s Rogue Reynard

Rogue Reynard is a real oddity in the Andre Norton canon. It was first published in 1947, then re-published in 1972 as a Dell Yearling Book. This series, according to the notes in the front matter, consists of works “designed to entertain and enlighten young people,” selected by a pair of learned professors.

It reads exactly like that. It is so earnest and so punctilious and so edifying. It’s a solid, or should I say stolid, example of the mock-medieval beast fable, complete with pretentious chapter headings—Chapter the first. Which telleth how King Lion kept Court and Baron Reynard appeared not thereat—and yea-verily prose. There’s funky capitalization and, in the Yearling edition I tracked down to a children’s bookstore in England, fancy Gothic title fonts.

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A Horse by Any Other Name: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons

I’ve talked before about how Anne McCaffrey modeled her famous dragons on horses, and specifically the Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. What I hadn’t done at that time was sit down and do a reread of a bunch of dragon books.

Recently I got the urge. There happened to be an eBook sale, one of those short-term grab ’em with the first volume deals, and I was looking for some high-quality work avoidance. Bonus chance to find out if I remembered the horseness of dragons correctly? Bring it on. [Dragons vs. Horses…]

Andre Norton Tackles Climate Change in Outside

Outside is amazingly topical for a short work written apparently for younger readers sometime before 1974. The illustrations by Bernard Colonna are lovely and oh so Seventies. I particularly admire the brother, who is around age 18, but is portrayed with Peter Max hair and a handsome porn ‘stache.

The story is told from the point of view of his nine-year-old sister, Kristie. Kristie and Lew live in a domed city. The world outside is an uninhabitable wasteland. The city inside is rapidly devolving into a similar state.

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Understanding Horses: Yes, Riding Is a Sport

Every four years, give or take, allowing for the occasional world war or pandemic, somebody somewhere starts up the old refrain. How can Equestrian be a sport? It’s too easy! You just sit there! Where’s the athleticism? This year there’s a bonus. Celebrity offspring makes the team. Obviously Daddy bought her slot. There’s no way she earned it for herself.

Riding is like writing. It looks much easier than it is. Everybody thinks they can do it if they just get around to it. Dash off some words. Sit on that horse and it carries you around. Simple, right? Easy as pie. [Read more]

Losing Control of the Plot: Andre Norton’s Perilous Dreams

Perilous Dreams is a collection of stories set in (and around and through) the dreamers’ Hive on the alien world of Ty-Kry. The stories are interconnected. The first two, “Toys of Tamisan” and “The Ship of Mist,” constitute a single long narrative. The much shorter “Get Out of My Dream” is a standalone of sorts, as is “Nightmare.” They do however hang together, and reading them all in sequence provides a fairly complete insight into their world.

I read the collection years ago, and remembered the titles, but not much else except that I had enjoyed them. I enjoyed them in 2021, too. They’re not perfect stories, but they are well paced, with fast action and reasonably engaging characters. They’re page-turners, in short. Good reading for a hot summer weekend.

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