Display Full Text
[page 37] SUBSTITUTE STEEDS by Bee Bowman The hose has long been a friend of the heroes of literature. The most obvious, of course, the Western hero-- where would _he_ be without his horse to go "thataway?" And the Medieval stories of knighthood in flower would lack much action were it not for those ponderous steeds who bore the hero knights in full armor to their rendezvous with dragons and damsels. But the gallant horse hardly suffices for our heroes of fantasy and science fiction. A mere horse, obviously, would be entirely our of place on Mars or Venus, or other exotic settings. Let's look at some of these unorthodox steeds who solve the problem of transportation in lands of the imagination: In _Glory Road_ (Heinlein) we have the eight-legged horses. These animals were slightly equine, but with pads rather than hoofs, and were omnivorous rather than "hayburners." Like the conventional horse, they had lovely, soulful eyes. They are said to be smooth-riding creatures (eight-point suspension). Saddling the beasts presented some problems--each pair of legs had a leather yoke over it, the load distributed by the poles flexing laterally, one on each side, and mounted on this was a chair with back, padded seat and arm rests. A tiller rope ran to each arm rest to guide and/or stop the animal. Less luxurious and certainly a less domisticated @domesticated@ form of transportation, were the sandworms of _Dune_ (Frank Herbert). To call the worm, a thumper was inserted in the sand, and the giant worm would hear and come to investigate the drumming. With whiplike hook-staffs, the rider would mount the worm's back, for as long as [page 38] the edge of the worm's segment was held open by the hook, open to admit abrasive sand into the more sensitive interior, the worm would not go beneath the desert. A miss with the hooks, and the would-be rider might be inside, rather than on top, of the worm. Once safely aboard the worm, however, the hooks could be shifted down the curve of the worm's immense side to make the creature roll and turn, allowing the rider to guide it where he wanted to go. Dangerous, but swift travel in the desert wastes. A two-headed serpent bore his master through the sea (sea horse???) in _Swords of Lankhmar_ (Fritz Leiber). Perched atop the dragon's head, and guiding it with a blunt-hooked pike, Karl Treuherz rode through the sea, keeping his mount in line with generous amounts of German profanity. Serpent riding apparently has its uncertainties, also. Closer to the orthodox horse family are the zebras used as steeds by the Amazons of _Tritonian Ring_ (Sprague de Camp). Described as "horses with a giddy color scheme," they seem to be quite ordinary zebras, as other equipment of the Amazons was derived from the rhinoceros and the ostrich, all familiar to our own world. The hero of this adventure also tangles with an outlaw horse, reminiscent of the Wild West, in that he is put to a test by attempting to ride the wild bucking horse, Thandalo. Here, then, the author has given us familiar animals in an unfamiliar setting. Lt. Van Horst, hero of the ERB _Back to the Stone Age_, tamed a prehistoric mammoth, who not only provided transportation through the Pellucidian jungles, but rescued his master from several disasters as well. ERB's heroes (and villians @villains@) often rode unusual beasts, who provided their riders transport through the sky as well as on terra firma. Somehow appealing is the use of dinosaurs as steeds, albeit probably slow and cumbersome to manage, and undoubtedly lacking the intelligence and companionability of the conventional horse. Pegasus has his relatives in SF, too--if not in ordinary winged-horse style, at least in the idea of air-borne transport. The mighty dragon steeds of Zaar (_Thongor_ series, Lin Carter) were not pretty to look upon. They boasted bat-like wings, forty feet from tip to tip, and had a long snakey neck with a hawk-like head, hooked beak, and crest of bristling spines. Resembling the pterodactyl of prehistoric times, these creatures were saddled and bridled; however, communication and guidance came from a magical headband by which thought-waves of the human brain, empowered and magnified, controlled the lesser brain of the monsters. These were the grakk. Another of Thongor's beasts, but this more friendly, was the patient zamph, a land traveler. The samph were saddle beasts, rather rhinoceros-like, dull indigo in hue, with short, stumpy legs hoofed with tough three-toed pads. They had horny beaked snouts like a parrot and small pig eyes. The ears were short and [page 39] tender, and a concave shield of horn and bone protected neck and shoulders. They were guided by reins affixed to small iron rings in the zamph's sensitive ears. Although weighing three or four tons when fully grown, they were docile vegetarians-- slow-witted but faithful creatures who could carry huge loads for days on end without tiring. They came to have affection for their msters, and while certainly no Man O'Wars, were as faithful as we have come to know the mundane horse to be. Back to the air, to the exotic dragons of _Dragonflight_ (Anne McCaffrey).[page 40] Bronze, brown, green, or blue, each type had its own characeristics-- but most beautiful off all was the golden dragon. Instrumental as war steeds in fighting the Threads from the Red Star, the dragons were more than mere means of transportation. Possessing telepathic power, they communicated with their riders, and the "special" rider could communicate with other dragons than his (or her) own. the fact that their heads measured some six feet will indicate the over-all size of these beautiful and intelligent monsters . These are but a few of the substitute steeds of fantasy and SF literature. But they perhaps point out the fact that nothing, even the spaceships of the future involving mass transportation, or the jet-pack permitting airborne individual movement, can replace the longing man holds for the living beast who offers not only mere transportation from place to place, but companionship through harrowing adventure. The same basic urge that in reality was felt by the cowpuncher for his horse in the wilds of the pioneer West, compels even the most daring hero of fantasy to seek out some sort of utilitarian company in other worlds. In _A Treasury of Western Folklore_ edited by B. A. Botkin, the western code regarding horses is set forth. For instance, no matter how hungry the owner of a horse may be himself, he takes care of his mount before looking after his own oomfort. If he cares to engage in conversation with another person, he dismounts from his horse and loosens the cinches to give the animal's back some air. Only in a serious emergency will he lend his horse to another, for the horse is easily spoiled or crippled by the wrong person riding him. If alert to such formalities, the reader will often note in reading fantasy that the author has written a similar code for his substitute steeds, be they dragons or zamphs. The masters of their fantastic beasts cherish them as companions and assistants for the job to be done, whether under the earth or out in the stars. In all probability, the name of the steed will not be "Doney Gal," but if it were, almost any science fiction hero could voice the words of the cowpuncher of the Old West when he sang, "Rain or shine, sleet or snow, Me and my Doney Gal are on the go. We travel down that lonesome trail, Where a man and his horse seldom ever fail." "Substitute Steedst" is, indeed, a substitute for Frank Denton's promised article on the horses of LotR. We do know that Frank is working on this article, and will (even if we have to cast a spell) promise it for the next issue of HOOM. For some reason--whether vacation, library conferences, or Cousin Margaret's lembas--it did not arrive before the deadline for pubbing this time. So, Gollum's Grandmother stopped sweeping out her hole long enough to dash off an article which she had been toying with for some time. The illustrations were already on master for Frank's horse article, and are not particularly appropriate to zamphs. As revenge for a missed deadline, an aching back, and a blue complexion, we will illustrate Frank's article in the next HOOM with horses from outer space!