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Judith Tarr

Tracking Evil in Andre Norton’s The Scent of Magic

After the manifold frustrations of Mirror of Destiny, this sequel is, as the saying goes, a breath of fresh air. It’s the work of a mature and confident author who has mastered her personal formula and still managed to keep it from getting stale.

The third of the magical senses in this series is the sense of smell, and magic here is contained in a full range of scents both good and bad. Our main protagonist is the traditional Norton orphan, in this case a survivor of plague, Willadene, who has a most remarkable nose—it’s very nearly as keen as a hound’s. Willadene has a hard life at the beginning of the novel, indentured to her horrid relative Jacoba, who runs a dirtbag tavern frequented by thieves and scoundrels.

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SFF Equines Looks at the Andalusian

In my personal canon, the horses of Spain and Portugal are the “Iberian cousins,” relatives of my Spanish-descended Lipizzans. What the European Warmblood is now, and the Thoroughbred was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the ancestors of the Andalusian and Lusitano were to the equestrian elite of the Baroque era. When the Hapsburgs set out to create their own imperial horse, they started with horses of Spanish extraction. Later they crossed in other lineages including the Arabian, after war and disease had done severe damage to the Spanish bloodstock.

All the histories of the Andalusian point out that the Iberian Peninsula has been home to horses since the Ice Age, and cave paintings depict and often center them. When or how domesticated horses came into the region is much less well established, but we do know that there were horses in Iberia in Roman times, and that they were much prized. They were apparently convex in the profile: ram-nosed as the Romans said, or as we say now, Roman-nosed. The Romans liked their horses with, shall we say, assertive heads. Not for them the delicate concavity of the Arabian.

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SFF Equines Looks at Horse Breeds: The Arabian

Every horse breed has its myths and legends. There’s something special about each one, and story accretes to that specialness. Some of it’s true, some of it’s wishful thinking, but it’s all born out of love for one particular type and lineage of horse.

Of all the breeds we know in the West, especially the English-speaking West, the one that claims to be the oldest is the Arabian. Before Ladyhawke and the domination of the “Romantic” breeds in genre film and costume drama, the Arabian was the go-to fantasy horse. Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion and its sequels depict a boy’s (and girl’s) dream horse, the beautiful black stallion from the mysterious desert. Another and somewhat more realistic vision is that of Marguerite Henry in King of the Wind, the story of a real horse, the Godolphin Arabian.

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Touching Magic with Andre Norton’s The Hands of Lyr

One of the really interesting things about reading and rereading an author with a career as long as Andre Norton’s is the ability to see how her work evolved over decades—and how it stayed the same. Jumping ahead from the Sixties and Seventies to The Hands of Lyr, published in 1994, turns out to have been less of a leap than I expected.

All the classic Norton elements are there. The misfit protagonist—in this case doubled: Nosh the war orphan living with a wisewoman in an apocalyptic wasteland, and Kryn the heir of a broken noble house (complete with ancient sword). The dualistic cosmology: light versus dark, good versus bad, good gods versus bad wizard/demigod. The city of merchants and the criminal mastermind who preys on them. The love of gems and crystals tied in with an avowed belief in psychometry. The animal companions: the lizards called zarks, the water-buffalo-like varges (including one large varge), the alpaca-like, camel-like Ushur. The awkward character interactions and abrupt romance, and the rapid rush to the ending after a long, long, long, slow buildup.

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SFF Equines Looks at Horse Breeds: The Appaloosa

Recently I’ve been writing and thinking about horse breeding—as we do in the spring in the Northern Hemisphere—and pondering the issue of breeds. On the one hand, too limited a gene pool is a problem that can destroy a species. On the other, smart breeding within the parameters of a breed standard can both create and preserve a particular set of traits that humans find desirable. When that happens, that subset of the species has a decent chance of surviving.

Some breeds are quite restricted in what they will allow. The Thoroughbred studbook was closed long ago and no outcrosses are allowed within the registry. The Friesian, which breeds specifically and exclusively for a black coat, is quite restrictive in its requirements for breeding stock. The Arabian, which is happy to register crossbreds as such, allows no percentage, however tiny, of outcross breeding for registration as a purebred.

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Quietly Subversive’70s Fantasy: Andre Norton’s Red Hart Magic

I truly cannot remember if I read this book back when it was first published, around about 1976. It’s possible. If so, I’ve forgotten everything about it except a very dim memory of the inn.

But there are so many magical inns in fantasy literature, and Red Hart Magic is so clearly connected with the rest of the books in the Magic series, that I might be picking up on the tropes rather than actually remembering an earlier read of this particular novel. The themes here touch just about point for point with the rest of the series: the smaller image of a real building (Octagon Magic, with hints of the hidden house in Steel Magic and the puzzle-inside-the-doomed-magical-house in Dragon Magic and the house within the garden maze in Lavender-Green Magic), the children separated from their parents and sent unwillingly to live with a relative (all of the books), the girl’s grandmother sent away for health reasons to a place where the girl can’t join her (Octagon Magic).

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Spring Comes to Horse World

We’re in the midst of Horse Birthday Season again here, that wonderful time of the year when, at apparently random intervals from a horse’s point of view, the equine population gets extra attention and Ceremonial Baby Carrots. We begin with the stallion at the end of February and end, in a rather nice feat of balance, with his younger sister in the middle of May. Everybody else bunches up in between, mostly in late April and early May.

This is a factor of horse breeding cycles. Horses can be born at any time of year, but optimal timing is in the spring, after the coldest weather has passed but before the summer heat. Here in Arizona, the window is narrower than it may be in cooler climates: We want the foals on the ground and their body thermostats well regulated before daytime temperatures hit the triple digits Fahrenheit.

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A Whole Different Kind of Time Travel: Andre Norton’s Lavender-Green Magic

Of all the Magic books, this is the one I thought I remembered the best. It turns out all I remembered was the folk ditty that inspired the title, and a few small bits about witchcraft. Everything else read as completely new.

Maybe the book I remember was another one built around “Lavender’s blue, dilly-dilly.” Maybe memory is just being weird. Either way, I did enjoy this, though with some fairly large doses of “Ummm… no.”

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Valdemar, Pern, and the Real World Horse-Human Bond

Science fiction and fantasy have a long tradition of cultures and characters based on Earth animals. Cherryh’s Chanur, to cite one of my favorite examples. Space whales in multiple space operas (I love me some space whales). And most relevant here, Mercedes Lackey’s Companions, who are openly based on horses, and dragons, who are not—but Anne McCaffrey told me herself that the origins of Pern’s dragons are a particular breed of horses and the riders who serve them.

In both cases, we have magical, marginally mortal creatures of high intelligence, who communicate telepathically with their Chosen or Impressed riders. Choosing of Heralds happens usually in young adulthood, though there’s no age limit on the process, and Companions do so in their adult form. Dragons Impress at hatching, again on young adult humans usually. The result is a deep, lifelong bond between the human and the animal, which when broken tends to result in the death of the bereaved partner.

[Real-world horses can’t compare, can they?]

SFF Equines Looks at Purpose-Breeding

Purpose-breeding is a term often used in animal husbandry to refer to breeding an animal for a particular purpose. Not just breeding “on purpose”—with planning and intention rather than just letting the animals sort it out—but for a particular use.

That use doesn’t necessarily need to be functional. You can breed a horse for halter showing and end up with something that may not be ridable or driveable and might not be all that sound for standing around the pasture, either. Or you can breed him for color or size or a particular shape of head. [Read more]

Turning the World with Andre Norton’s Fur Magic

There’s been an uptick in blowback lately from commenters who take issue with my reading Andre Norton’s works with the eyes of 2019. They explain, with varying degrees of equanimity, that she wrote these books many years ago, and things were different then, and why don’t I understand this? Why must I persist in reading them with the awareness of now instead of then?

That’s what a reread is. I was alive and reading in the Sixties and Seventies, when her for-me most problematical works were published. I read them then with a very different awareness of the world. When I reread them, I see things that weren’t visible to me as a tween and teen. It was indeed a different world. And that’s part of the experience of the reread.

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Genetic Engineering, Equine Style

Long before modern science cracked the genetic code, animal breeders had figured out that you can breed for specific traits. They watched to see what different individuals would produce in combination with others, kept the offspring who came closest to what they were looking for, crossed those to each other in hopes of enhancing the desired traits even further. They discovered that breeding relative to relative could have excellent results, but also that it could concentrate bad traits as well as good ones. And they learned to cull the undesirables—remove them from the breeding roster either through sterilization or by adding them to the food supply.

Humans have been altering their environment for millions of years. That includes the animals (and plants) that they’ve chosen to domesticate. Horses are no exception. In fact, as the Nature documentary on the horse shows, on every continent but Antarctica, people have been breeding horses and horses have been evolving to fit both their environment and their humans’ needs, whims, and fashions.

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Trying Hard to Get It Right in Andre Norton’s Dragon Magic

Dragon Magic is the most ambitious single Andre Norton novel I’ve read so far. It spreads across four historical periods in four parts of the world, plus the contemporary (as in 1972) United States. It tackles racism in various forms, along with the hierarchy of the schoolyard. And it throws in a handful of magic.

The setup is similar to that of Octagon Magic. Kids learn important life lessons after sneaking into an old house with a witchy reputation, which is about to be gutted and sold. In this case the magical object that keeps calling them back is a jigsaw puzzle depicting four different dragons: Norse, Mesopotamian, British, and Chinese.

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From Science to Spirit: Equus, Story of the Horse Explores the Animal’s Connection to Humans

The first half of the PBS show Nature’s two-hour documentary on the horse focuses mostly on the science: evolution, biology, psychology, and animal behavior. It prominently features a controversial method of training. Part Two, “Chasing the Wind,” continues with some of the science, particularly genetics, as well as history and the host’s own discipline, anthropology. It also touches on an aspect of the horse that is just about inescapable: its bond with humans and its long history as a sacred animal.

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