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Judith Tarr

TV Dramas with the Right Amount of Horse Fantasy: Free Rein and Heartland

Horse people have to find good horse-themed movies and TV where they can, and mostly they have to put up with errors that aren’t evident at all to the non-horse person, but to them as knows horses, are painful to watch. Some things can’t be helped, particularly when multiple horses play a single role—we can spot the drastically altered conformation, the weirdly messed-up markings, the distinctly different gaits. A film or a TV show that gets it right, or manages to do so most of the time, is pure horseaholic gold.

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When It All Goes Wrong: Andre Norton’s The Defiant Agents

When I read the cover copy for The Defiant Agents, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be a comfortable read. It wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, but I was glad to get through it, and I won’t be going there again. Of all the Norton books I’ve read and reread for this series so far, this for me was the most cringeworthy.

We’ve talked at various points about how some of Norton’s works have held up better than others. Some manage to entertain in a cheerful retro way, with their tin-can rockets and their recording tapes and their female-free universe. Others are a little too much of their time, as we’ve taken to saying around here.

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Power, Freedom, and Horse Movies: The Silver Brumby and The Man From Snowy River

After I finished reading Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby, I had an irresistible urge to find out if there was a movie. Sure enough, there was, and it was a Prime Video option: The Silver Brumby, aka The Silver Stallion. 1993. I dived right into it.

What I wanted out of it was visuals. The landscape. The animals and plants. I wanted to know what a snowgum looked like, and what kind of mountains Thowra ranged through.

I got that. I also got insight into what makes a film likely to succeed, versus a book which can go much deeper into detail and—significantly here—can offer viewpoints that might not sell so well to the wider audience of film. Mitchell’s book belongs to Thowra’s—his viewpoint for the most part, and he is the protagonist. It’s all about him. If you use the term gaze, what you get here is the brumby gaze. The eyes and mind that tell the story are primarily those of the wild horse.

[The film shifts the whole thing to the human gaze.]

Adventures in Space and Time: Andre Norton’s Galactic Derelict

Galactic Derelict is another Andre Norton novel I almost-remember reading. I remember the opening, with a Norton Hero(TM) riding into a camp in the desert. I very vaguely remember that this iteration was Native American—Apache, he turns out to be.

I had forgotten that Travis Fox is in Arizona, and I wouldn’t have known that I’d end up living not all that far away from where his ranch is supposed to be, along with the secret Canyon of the Hohokam where he meets a crew of time travelers masquerading as archaeologists. That turned out to be a nice bonus. I know the landscape, and I can imagine going for a horseback ride in the desert and running across a dig. Archaeological sites are rather thick on the ground out here. There are Hohokam villages everywhere.

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Epic Fantasy Starring Horses: The Wild Magic of The Silver Brumby

For years my horse friends have been telling me about the Australian classic, Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby. It’s a must-read, they said. It shaped our youth. You can’t miss it.

Finally one of my writer colleagues took matters into her own hands while clearing out her book collection and sent me her childhood copy—hardcover, with illustrations. It’s a precious gift. Thank you so much, Gillian Polack!

We’re out of summer now in the Northern Hemisphere—but the Southern is just turning into spring. Aptly enough, then, here’s a Down Under version of the Summer Reading Adventure. [Read more]

Writing Fantasy Horses Right: Kristen Britain’s Green Rider

Green Rider was published when I was taking an extended break from the genre, during a period of Very Long Epic Fantasy Series, including one that’s done rather well on television. I heard about it because horses, had it in the TBR pile, but never quite got around to reading it. Then came this blog series, and multiple reader recommendations, and here we are.

Back in the day we would have reckoned this a clone of a clone of a clone, a distant descendant of Tolkien via D&D and the many Tolkien imitators of the Seventies and Eighties and early Nineties, but it’s a deft pastiche and there’s love in the way it follows its predecessors. It’s a direct descendant of Mercedes Lackey’s Herald series with a distinct dialogue going on, a lot of thinking and transforming. I’m very curious to know the chain of influence that led to the huge magical wall being broken by the evil Shadow Man with his zombie army—it’s not a Game of Thrones/ASOIAF reference, they’re just about contemporaneous, so, how? And most important for what I’m supposed to be doing here, it does the horses right. [Read more]

Blowing Up Assumptions (and Other Things): Andre Norton’s Uncharted Stars

Fans love this entry in the Norton canon. It’s got breakneck adventure, weird inhospitable one-climate planets, unspeakably grotty slums on worlds where the income inequality is off the charts, not to mention Free Traders, the Thieves’ Guild, the Patrol, and Zacathans. And Forerunners, both live and long, long, long dead.

Murdoc Jern still can’t catch a break. He and his alien partner Eet managed to get the price of a ship out of the Patrol at the end of The Zero Stone, but in this heavily pragmatic economic universe, it’s not working out the way he’d hoped. He needs a pilot in order to get the ship off-planet but can’t afford a good one and refuses to take the one the Patrol keeps offering him. Meanwhile the clock is ticking and the port fees are piling up.

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All the Fine Fantasy Horses: Mary Herbert’s Dark Horse

As summer finally fades—though here in Arizona, that is a very long process indeed, with heat that persists all the way through October until that final, blessed break into winter—I’ve continued the Summer Reading Adventure, but with a shift as the season changes, from longtime favorites to a couple of recommendations from commenters. This time, I’m reading Mary H. Herbert’s Dark Horse, first of a series published from 1990 until about 1996. I missed it when it first came out, so it’s completely new to me. Next time I’ll dive into Kristen Britain’s Green Rider, which has been in my TBR pile literally forever. Finally, I say. Finally! I shall read it!

So then. Dark Horse.

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Throwback Planetary Adventure: Andre Norton’s The Zero Stone

I actually remember reading this. I remember the title, the ring it refers to, and the inimitable Eet. I don’t remember anything else, so most of it seemed new, but with a sort of distant echo of, “Wait, I’ve seen this before.”

Some of that has to do with the fact that I’ve been working through the entire Norton canon, and she certainly had her favored tropes and plots. The Zero Stone, though published in 1968, is a throwback to her planetary adventures of the Fifties, with its overwhelmingly male-dominated universe. You’d never know that the Witch World was well under way, or that this same universe could also contain the likes of Maelen of the Thassa and the alien Wyverns (the latter are even mentioned in passing).

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This Is How You Write a Horse: Dun Lady’s Jess

Whenever writers ask me how to do horses right, I refer them to Doranna Durgin’s Dun Lady’s Jess. It’s not only that it’s written by a lifelong horse person, or that it’s a kickass fantasy in its own right, or that it’s a nice shiny award winner. There’s nothing else quite like it.

There’s plenty of nice chewy genre stuff going on in the book. It’s a portal fantasy with parallel worlds. There are wizard wars and breakneck chases and nasty politics. There’s interesting worldbuilding: a world in which magic takes the place of technology, with spells for everything from cooking food to healing broken bones to waging war. The good guys have complex lives and motivations, and the bad guys are not evil Just Because. They have reasons, mostly having to do with money and power.

But when it all comes down to it, I’m there for the horses. One horse in particular, the dun mare of the title.

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Bouncing Through Realities: Andre Norton’s Quest Crosstime

This is a really interesting entry in the Norton canon. It’s a sequel to a pretty standard boys’ adventure, The Crossroads of Time, and Blake Walker rides the crosstime shuttles again, this time as an established wardsman. The book was published in 1965, and in the almost-decade between the two, science fiction was starting to change. For one thing, it had discovered girls.

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A Celestial Summer Reread: The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West

This is a beautiful book, beautifully written, infused with love of horses. It’s a lovely story in the mode of Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows, not to mention the Narnia books. Talking animals, strong moral code, more than a hint of the numinous.

When I first read it I enjoyed it, but it didn’t make the powerful impression on me that it’s made on so many others. It’s iconic, people are always begging me to write about it, and so there was no question that I’d include it in this series. But it never made it to my constant-reread rota.

Now I think I understand why.

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Worlds Beside Worlds: Andre Norton’s The Crossroads of Time

Somehow in my head I seem to have conflated this novel and its sequel with any number of Doctor Who episodes. It’s not what I would call time travel, it’s parallel worlds—kind of a stripped-down version of The Man in the High Castle, with portals. Our Norton Hero(tm), named Blake Walker in this iteration, slips sidewise through time, rather than back and forth from past to future. He’s always in the same present, but with different outcomes based on the results of key decisions in the past of each world.

Norton had a thing for portal stories. The Crossroads of Time, published in 1956, is one of her earliest, and it’s another solid adventure with a relatable protagonist.

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