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Judith Tarr

Writing SFF Horses: Notes on Breeds and Riding

Every so often when I put up an article in this series on SFF Equines, the commenters give me all kinds of ideas for new articles. And they ask great questions. Last time was no exception.

This batch of questions centers around a couple of common themes, namely horse breeds and riding. I’ll take the shortest one first, and then circle out from there.

[It’s Question Time on the Old Horseblog Today!]

Coming of Age in a New World: Andre Norton’s Horn Crown

This is a strange book. It reads well, the pacing is brisk, the characters are memorable if not always likeable. Chronologically it’s the first of the Witch World books, though it was published fairly late, in 1981.

It’s also the most sexual of the books in the series. Not that that’s saying much—it’s still PG-rated for some nudity and a small quantity of sexual imagery. But after reading as many Norton novels in a row as I have, I’m a bit gobsmacked by a book about, for real, sex. As in, characters coming to maturity and voluntarily giving up their virginity.

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Fantasy Equines: Where There’s a Form, There’d Better Be a Function

To the non-horse person, a horse is pretty much just a horse. There’s the really big one like the beer-wagon Clydesdale and the really little one like the Mini doing therapy at the hospital. Then there’s the one that races and the cowboy one. And the wild one. The rest are black, brown, white, or spotted, and sort of blur together.

Which is how I sometimes think movie people pick their horse actors. I know it has more to do with what the wranglers and trainers have available than with straight-out lack of knowledge, but sometimes I do wonder.

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Another Life, Another Geas: Andre Norton’s ’Ware Hawk

I’m glad my whim and the vagaries of my bookshelves brought me to ’Ware Hawk after The Gate of the Cat, though it was published earlier (1983 versus 1987) and falls earlier in the chronology of the Witch World books as well. It was no problem to move back in time to a period soon after Trey of Swords, years after the Witches of Estcarp moved the mountains against Karsten, and this is a much better book. I can mercifully forget the adventures of—who was that again? What adventures?

[Ah. Relief.]

Working Around a Horse’s Death Wish, in Real Life and Fiction

I was going to write about horse breeds and fantasy worlds, but I’ll save that for later, because there’s a more topical topic for us this week. Considering that half the US is burning and much of the other half is underwater, and that whole swaths of the rest of the planet are in similar straits, I think it’s apposite to discuss how equines get through disasters. Or how they don’t.

How does that relate to horses in genre fiction, you ask? Well, if you’re a writer, you’ll be doing terrible things to characters, including your equines, and if you’re a reader, you may be wondering if the equines in the book are acting or reacting as they should (even if, logically speaking, they shouldn’t). [Read more]

Coming Full Circle: Andre Norton’s The Gate of the Cat

The Gate of the Cat, first published in 1987, is (as far as I can tell) the last of the solo-authored Witch World books, written while Andre was in the process of handing her world over to younger authors. She co-authored several more, and wrote some shorter works set in this world, but this reads as a sort of farewell—if also a sort of new beginning.

Both plot and characters come full circle here.

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In Praise of the Hard-Working Fantasy Horse

Yesterday was Labor Day in the USA, which mostly means barbecues, furniture sales, massive tieups on the highways as vacationers return home, and for many parts of the country, a rush to get ready for the start of school tomorrow. Occasionally we remember that the holiday celebrates the worker. And who works harder in a fantasy novel than the trusty and ubiquitous horse?

I have my favorites. I invite you all to tell us about yours in the comments.

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Human and Equine: Meeting Halfway

This is a segue of sorts from the Space Equinoids thought experiment, back toward terrestrial horses and the humans who live and work with them. I often call my horses Space Aliens in horse suits, and refer to them as aliens in the pasture. They’re very much their own creatures; even humans for whom they’re nothing but sports equipment or transport will have to understand the basics of equine psychology. Horses are just too big, too strong, and too self-willed to take for granted.

No matter how dominant the human, the horse still outweighs him, and horse instincts and psychology will rule unless the human finds ways to work with them. As the adage says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

[You can, however, ask him to do so.]

Edged Weapons, Time Travel, and the Unexpected: Andre Norton’s Trey of Swords

Trey of Swords is not actually a novel. It’s a micro-trilogy: three interlinked and consecutive novellas. The viewpoint character of the first two is Yonan, son of a Witch of Estcarp and a Sulcarman, and the third novella is narrated by his lifelong crush, Crytha, an untrained but powerful witch.

The chronology is interesting, because it happens shortly after Three Against the Witch World, while Kemoc and Kaththea are off dealing with the events of Warlock of the Witch World. Eldest Tregarth triplet Kyllan plays a role, and he and Dahaun are very much an item, but the other two are busy elsewhere. I kind of enjoyed seeing Kyllan from the outside, and watching him be competent and in charge, though of course Dahaun rules.

I did not remember this one at all.

[Read more]

When Humans Met Equinoids: First Contact with Space Horses

We’ve been building a spacefaring species of equinoid for a while now, but one thing we haven’t done is introduce the human element. I’ve had that in the back of my mind, as I’m sure many of you have. Now it’s time to see what might happen if our doughty space explorers of both species happen to meet.

I’ve got my own ideas about how that would play out, but there are so many options. I hope people will weigh in in comments with what they think would happen. So, I’m leading off, with what I hope will be the catalyst for some nice, chewy exchange of ideas.

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Werecats and Moon Magic: Andre Norton’s The Jargoon Pard

After the slog of Year of the Unicorn, The Jargoon Pard reads as if Andre took readers’ criticisms of first book, thought carefully about all of them, and wrote a better, tighter, stronger book. I was surprised to find I really liked it. I devoured it in an afternoon, and was actually sorry when it ended. When I first started rereading, I hadn’t remembered much except the title—I’m a sucker for unusual words—and a vaguely positive vibe about the book. As I got into it, I remembered more and more, including the fact that I enjoyed it a great deal the first time I read it, too.

This is a sequel to Year of the Unicorn, though that’s not immediately obvious. The structure by now is familiar. Our young, usually male protagonist tells his life story from birth onward. This time we’re told that our hero is named Kethan and he lives in Arvon. He’s the heir to one of the four clans, Redmantle—which points right away to the previous novel, in which Herrel is the rejected offspring of a lady of that clan and a Wererider who won her by magic and lost her after the child was born. Herrel was raised in the Redmantle keep of Car Do Prawn until he came into his Were heritage; then he went back to his father.

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The Sacred and the Equinoid: Horses, Spirituality, and Space

This part of the thought experiment is going to be tough, because if it was hard to set aside human assumptions about sex and violence, the ones about religion can be downright intractable. Just as it’s a given that sex must be an obsession and mass violence must be inevitable in a sentient species, it may be argued from the (Western, patriarchal) human model that every sentient species must worship some sort of god.

But is it a given?

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Dreamscapes and Nightmare Magic: Andre Norton’s Year of the Unicorn

Year of the Unicorn is one of the first Witch World novels, published in 1965. From the perspective of 2017, it fits into the larger picture in interesting ways. It was the third book of the series to be published, after Witch World and Web of the Witch World and before the trilogy-within-the-series featuring the Tregarth triplets, but reading it after the Gryphon books clarifies quite a few details.

This is the story of war orphan Gillan, who came to High Hallack on a ship of Alizon. She has no memory of her past. She was first adopted by a lord of the Dales and his lady, then after they died in the war, Abbey Norstead took her in.

When the novel begins, the war is over.

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All for One and One for All: Horse Herds in Space

One of the comments on the last post in this series of thought experiments wondered if I was projecting from terrestrial horse behavior to equinoid aliens. I replied that that’s the point. That’s what science fiction writers often do: they look at terrestrial species and extrapolate their biology and behavior into alien species.

At the same time, there’s a persistent assumption that equinoid sexuality has to be analogous to the human version. That every species will always have sex on the brain, the way humans do. That’s projection, too, and I don’t think it works with a species based on equines.

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