Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy. (Hosted by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn)
Fantasy is full of “mounts” of various sorts – and full of close relationships between rider and mount. [Oh, get your minds out of the gutter! 😉 I’m talking about friendships! ] I take this week’s topic to mean any “ride” much loved by its rider – which means I get to have a lot of fun with this one!
Ruth, the white dragon ridden by Lord Holder Jaxom (The White Dragon and other Pern novels, by Anne McCaffrey). I could, of course, have chosen any of the Pern dragons, but Ruth is unique, and his inner thoughts and relationship with his rather unorthodox rider are explored more deeply than those of most of the other dragonriders and their dragons (possibly excepting F’nor and Canth and F’lessan and Golanth.) Pernese “dragons” are genetically-engineered, intelligent beings who form a lifelong attachment to their rider at their Hatching. Both Jaxom and Ruth are unusual for their kind. As a young Lord Holder with no heir, Jaxom cannot leave his Hold to become a “proper” dragonrider. Ruth is a genetic sport, smaller than the typical dragon, white, and neuter, but also more intelligent than his fellow dragons (though they are hardly stupid!) The White Dragon is one of my favorite Pern books.
Temeraire, the dragon Captained by Will Laurence (the Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik) I love what Novik does with dragons in this series – and Temeraire in particular. I put him after Ruth not because I like him less (in fact, I love him more), but to contrast Novik’s dragons with McCaffrey’s. Novik’s dragons come in more breeds or varieties than the Pern dragons, as well as more sizes – Temeraire is so big that he carries a whole crew of riders, though he’s only bonded to his Captain. Pernese dragons fight an inanimate danger (the acidic Thread), not each other; Novik’s dragons are the Air Forces of their alternate-history Europe, and are bred and trained to fight each other. Most of all, the bond between Captain and dragon is different; while there is often love or affection, most Captains (riders) see their dragon as less than equal to themselves, while dragons, being long-lived, often outlive their first Captain and perhaps several more as well. And Captains retire when they can no longer manage to ride, which means leaving the dragon to a new Captain. What makes Temeraire and Laurence different is that he wasn’t trained to become a dragon Captain, so he’s more open to recognizing Temeraire as an equal and a beloved friend. And the two of them prove, over and over, that they are willing to sacrificed their own needs and wants for the sake of the other. They push each other to grow, too, though not always by choice. It’s one of the best friendships in contemporary fantasy.
The Companions of Valdemar (Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books). I won’t single out a particular Companion to focus on, the way I could with Ruth, but all of them have a tight bond with their Chosen, who become Heralds by virtue of being Chosen. There are some parallels with Pernese dragons and their riders: Companions have human intelligence; Heralds and Companions are bound together by love as well as a psychic bond, and rarely survive each others’ death; they communicate mind-to-mind, usually but not always with MindSpeech (telepathy.) On the other hand, Companions have a much different background than dragons (which I’m not going to give away because spoilers.) Some of my favorite Herald-Companion relationships are Talia and Rolan, and Alberich and Kantor. (I particularly love Exile’s Honor, the first book about Alberich and Kantor; it’s one of the best explorations of the Herald-Companion relationship.)
Bree, the Narnian Talking Horse who carries Shasta across Calormen and into Archenland and Narnia (The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis) As a Talking Horse, Bree is quite human-like in intelligence, though still rather horselike in his opinions. He’s clearly the dominant partner in the relationship; he’s older and more experienced than the young, naive Shasta. He also has his flaws; he’s disinclined to believe in what he can’t see, for instance, and he tends to show off and to think he knows more than he does. Nonetheless, the pair form first an alliance and eventually a firm friendship.
Cloud, the pony ridden by Daine the Wildmage (the Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce). Because of Daine’s “wild magic”, the animals around her tend to change, becoming more and more intelligent in the human sense. Cloud is a prime example, since she has been with Daine for years. Daine can speak to all animals in their own “language”, but when Cloud speaks with Daine, she sounds human – in fact, she sounds rather like an aunt or mentor. She’s clearly the older and sometimes the wiser of the two, and she has a tart wit and sardonic sense of humor that I enjoy. (Try listening to Full Cast Audio’s audiobook recording; the woman who voices Cloud is perfect for the part.)
Sungold, aka Tsornin, Harry’s warhorse in The Blue Sword. He’s “only” a horse, but a highly-trained one with a highly-developed sense of loyalty to his rider, and Harry (Harimad-sol) loves him. Since much of the book revolves around the King’s Riders and Harry’s training in riding and weaponswork, Tsornin becomes a nonhuman character of sorts, rather than simply a means of transportation.
Peachblossom, the warhorse ridden by Keladry of Mindelan (The Protector of the Small quartet, by Tamora Pierce). Peachblossom is a grumpy, irascible horse who comes to love Kel (and vice versa) after she saves his life by being willing to take him on. Unlike the Pern dragons or Valdemaran Companions, Peachtree is very much a horse, but Kel’s fondness for him and reliance on him are evident, and he has more of a personality than most ordinary horses in fantasy novels.
Greatheart, Beauty’s Great Horse (Beauty, by Robin McKinley). Greatheart is definitely “just” a horse, but I love the relationship he and Beauty have. It’s quite realistic in most ways, which helps make the fantasy parts of the book more believable.
Harry’s Firebolt (the Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling) OK, this is really stretching a point, since the broomstick is not alive – but Harry does love flying, and he loves his broomstick! I guess I could have included his first broom, the Nimbus 2000, as well.
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It’s funny; I thought I would end up with more non-equine mounts than I did. I almost included Avatre, Vetch’s dragon in Mercedes Lackey’s “Joust” series, but I haven’t read those books in so long, I wasn’t sure what to say about Avatre. I’ve read plenty of books with unicorns in them, but it’s rare that a unicorn agrees to be ridden, so I couldn’t come up with anything that fit the “beloved mount” concept. And while Mercedes Lackey does have some of her characters riding dyheli (a sort of deer-like creature), they are more like fellow members of the team than beloved mounts.
What about you? Any favorite “beloved mounts” from fantasy to share?