content by

Judith Tarr

A Horse for Every Human

Horseman’s wisdom says, There’s a horse for every human and a human for every horse.

Horses, like humans, are individuals. They have likes and dislikes, quirks and foibles, and particular ways of dealing with the world. When they interact with humans, they may get along splendidly. Or they may clash on every possible level. Or anywhere in between.

I like to say, “My horse is perfect—for me!” He may be your worst nightmare, but he’s my dreampony.

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A Collaborative Effort: Andre Norton’s Return to Quag Keep

For the most part I’ve been reading and rereading Andre Norton’s solo novels. She wrote so many, and there are still quite a few left to go. Once in a while however I’ll pick up one of her collaborations, to round out a series or to satisfy my curiosity about what she intended to happen next.

Quag Keep has a typical abrupt Norton closing, and it’s typically open-ended as well. The adventure is finished but the adventurers from our world are still trapped in the world of the game. There are clear pointers toward a sequel, but Norton never got around to finishing it.

Jean Rabe’s posthumous collaboration answers quite a few of my questions about What Next.

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Reading Horses, Part III: Riding a Well-Trained Mount

If you want or need to write about a character riding a horse, or are a reader curious about what riding actually feels like, the best way to find out is to do it. But that isn’t always easy to make happen, and even if you do, there’s a big difference between a first ride and a hundredth or a thousandth. With riding, experience really does count.

There are some parallels with other and maybe more familiar sensations. Riding a bike or a motorcycle requires balance and attention to the details of steering and terrain. Driving a car or truck over rough roads asks some of the same things of your body as riding a horse will—staying in your seat, balancing as the vehicle shifts. Riding in a boat can give you some idea of what riding a horse is like: a really good canter is remarkably like navigating a series of waves, and a trot can remind you of a sharp chop on a lake.

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Rolled by the Dice in Andre Norton’s Quag Keep

There’s something quite satisfying in a historical sense about reading an Andre Norton novel based on Dungeons and Dragons and published in 1978, just four years after the game’s first box appeared in the world. It was so new that the novel uses the general term wargaming rather than calling it D&D as we would now. New, already expanding in popularity, but not the cultural icon that it’s become.

The world of fantasy wargaming, late Seventies style, is seriously in Norton’s wheelhouse.

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Reading Horses Part II: A Clean Horse Is (Sometimes) a Happy Horse

Just being with horses is a deep pleasure for a horse person. For some, it’s all they need. Even the smell of a horse can be enough. That distinctive and slightly pungent odor, to the true horse aficionado, is the sweetest fragrance in the world.

But humans are busy creatures, and they like to be out and about and Doing Stuff. This is as true of horse people as anyone else. The horse in the pasture is a lovely thing, but the horse in hand is even lovelier. [Read more]

Neither Here Nor There: Andre Norton’s Operation Time Search

Unlike the nearly contemporaneous Moon of Three Rings (1966), Operation Time Search (1967) didn’t impress itself indelibly in my mind. I remember two specific things about it: the tattoo on Ray’s arm and the villain seeing it and snarling, “Mu,” and the ancient evil called the Loving One. Other than that, all I can remember is that I enjoyed it at the time.

Also unlike Moon of Three Rings, this one did not hold up on rereading.

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Reading Horses, Part I: Being With the Horse

Genre fiction has an ongoing fascination with horse cultures. Sometimes it’s indirect—the Western lives forever in the likes of Firefly and various regions of the Star Wars canon—but it crops up everywhere. Fantasy of course goes all-in for preindustrial worlds, which lean toward animal rather than mechanical transport.

And yet most modern readers and writers have little direct experience with actual horses. Of those who do, many may have been near a horse once or maybe ridden one a time or two, but day-to-day, in-depth contact is rare. I suspect that’s why fantasy horses so often act like motorcycles. Motorcycles are easier to comprehend, these days, than horses.

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Andre Norton Goes Historical in Shadow Hawk

I know I read this book. I remember the title. That’s all I remember. But I did read it, devouring it along with every other historical novel in my small-town public library.

Reading it now, as an adult with my own bibliography of Egyptian historicals (including one on the Hyksos), was an interesting experience. I thought about how to approach it before I started, and decided to take the path of lesser stress: to read it as another Norton adventure story, and not worry excessively about historical accuracy or lack thereof. For one thing, our knowledge of ancient Egypt has expanded tremendously in the past sixty years, and the ways in which we interpret the data have changed at least as much.

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Agency and Mind Control in Andre Norton’s Ice Crown

Now that I’ve read and reread a wide range of Norton novels from the Fifties to the early years of the new millennium, I’ve concluded that, for me, her “golden age” ran from the early Sixties through the mid-Seventies. Her official “Golden Age of SF” books of the Fifties have a distinct retro charm, and her later works kept on trucking for decades, delivering the patented Norton themes and settings and the occasional new one—and then there are her many collaborations with younger writers, some of them truly fine. But from about 1962 until about 1976, she wrote the novels that spoke to me most clearly and influenced my own writing the most.

I managed to miss Ice Crown at the time (1970). It hasn’t displaced any of my favorites from the period. But it’s classic Sixties/Seventies Norton.

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SFF Horse Behavior: Fear Factor

Quite often when I talk about my life with horses, listeners will say, “I love horses, but I’m (a little)(a lot) afraid of them.” As often as not they add, “They’re so big!”

Horses are big. Even a small Mini weighs as much as a largeish adult human. A full-sized horse weighs in, on the average, at half a ton, and the big Drafts will double that and more.

It’s not just the avoirdupois. It’s the size of the animal even when it stands on all fours.

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Worlds Beside Worlds: Andre Norton’s Wraiths of Time

There’s a whole universe of fiction and highly creative nonfiction constructed around the rediscovery of ancient Egypt. The Curse of the Pharaohs! Ancient Egyptian magic and sorcery! Mummies and pyramids and hieroglyphs, oh my!

Andre Norton generally wrote in her own worlds. She often paid tribute to her antecedents, but she tended to weave her tales either away from Earth (in space or time, or in alternate universes) or in a fantastical present. It’s rather rare for her to tackle history (or prehistory), and when she does, she still puts her own spin on it.

I can see why bibliographies of Norton works would pair Wraiths of Time (1976) with Android at Arms (1971). Both were published in the Seventies. Both feature protagonists of African ancestry, and both are portal—I won’t say fantasies. They’re more science-fictional. Portal adventures, with ancient rituals and psychic powers.

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SFF Horse Breeds: Attack of the Pony Brain

Last time when I talked about ponies and the custom of mounting small children on them as a progression toward riding a full-sized horse, I mentioned, briefly, the phenomenon called Pony Brain. Commenter princessroxana then asked, So just how wicked is that pony brain? On a scale of Despicable Me to Maleficent?

My response was immediate and reflexive: Thanos.

I may have been exaggerating. But not by much.

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Twists and Turns in Andre Norton’s Android at Arms

This book did not go where I expected it to go at all. The title, to start with: I expected something like Forever War meets I, Robot. Protagonist finds himself kidnapped and hauled off into space to fight. I just read a Norton novel that did exactly that, Secret of the Lost Race.

For a fair few chapters I kept expecting this to happen. Planetary prince Andas expects to be chosen as the Emperor’s heir, but wakes up on an alien world with an assortment of other, more or less equally royal, noble, or politically powerful people. Or are they people? There’s been an interplanetary conspiracy to replace influential personages with android doubles.

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SFF Horse Breeds: “And I Want a Pony.”

Ponies are iconic. Ponies are a legend. They’re a catch phrase for the impossible dream. “Sure, and I want a pony.”

There’s history there. Horses have been solid working partners in many regions of the world, working on farms, in mines, in the woods, and in war. Ponies—who are not baby horses; they’re born small and mature small, sometimes very much so—have made notable contributions, for example in mines in the Britain and elsewhere, and as all-around working animals in the Shetland Isles. They’ve lived wild, too, in the Dales and on the Fells, and on the other side of the Atlantic, famously on the barrier islands of Chincoteague and Assateague. [Read more]

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