A Few Good (Fictional) Horses
Horses have been tied to our concept of brave gunslingers, valiant knights, and dashing heroes. Mention the name Napoleon Bonaparte, and most of us conjure this image in our mind: that of the legendary French leader crossing the Alps atop a rearing stallion. Little do we comprehend that this memory is actually a painting by Jaques-Louis David, depicting an idealized view of the Emperor with his Imperial Army at the Great St. Bernard Pass. On the other side of the planet, historic sheriff Wyatt Earp should always be with a horse. Otherwise how could he traverse the desolation of the desert, fighting outlaws along the way?
Before the emergence of steam power and automotive engines, cavalry was extremely evocative—nothing beats the sight of soldiers riding into battle astride. Prior to that, the notion of the gallant knight smiting enemies atop a fearsome steed caused enemies to cower in fear before them.
These historical figures on horses inspired numerous fictional horses as well. Projecting the majesty of the warrior on horseback, mounted heroes are prominent in works of fiction. Let’s take a look at these notable fictional horses.
Ichabod Crane’s borrowed horse in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is not a thoroughbred, but is actually a work animal. Mr. Crane furiously rode the winding paths of Sleepy Hollow atop Gunpowder while being chased by the Headless Horseman.
Irving described this horse as “a broken-down plow-horse that had outlived almost everything but its viciousness. He was gaunt and shagged. With an ewe neck, and a head like a hammer; his rusty mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burs; one eye has lost its pupil, and was glaring and spectral, but the other had the gleam of the genuine devil in it.”
But Gunpowder proved true to his name, the above description notwithstanding. Like an ignited powder keg, he burst forth and carried Mr. Crane across the bridge and away from the perils of the Headless Horseman.
He is Zorro’s intelligent—if poorly disciplined—mount, immortalized in several movies and novels. Toronado, sometimes Tornado, is popularly described as jet black, thus complementing the hero’s black outfit. Zorro and Toronado can be remembered for their one incredible stunt: as Zorro is pursued by the authorities atop a parapet, bullets whizzing past, the masked vigilante would jump onto the waiting saddle of Toronado, once again eluding capture. The horse rears with the sunset as the background before galloping away, carrying his master.
In Miguel de Cervantes’ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Rocinante is the eponymous hero’s overworked, haggard, skinny, and stubborn horse. Rocinante managed to carry Don Quixote along south central Spain, despite his condition. He travels aimlessly, leaving Don Quixote with no choice but to give in to where the horse wanted to go. Needless to say, Rocinante’s clumsiness and stubbornness often led the man from La Mancha to trouble.
In Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, Artax is the horse of the hero Atreyu, a pairing that was retained even in the book’s movie adaptation. To save Fantasia from the onslaught of the Nothing, the Empress sends Atreyu on a series of quests. One such quest took him, atop his beloved Artax, through the Swamp of Sadness, leading to a scene that broke many a kid’s heart. Who could forget the moment when Atreyu tries in vain to extricate the slowly sinking Artax from the bog in the Swamp of Sadness?
The Horses from The Lord of the Rings
In this epic book by JRR Tolkien, and the movies adapted from it, horses are the main mode of transport, despite being set in a land with giant speaking trees, massive eagles, and hulking spiders. In fact, an entire region’s culture, Rohan that is, is based on these majestic creatures. Famous ones are:
· Shadowfax, the silvery grey steed that Gandalf himself chose. The lore of Middle-Earth says that Shadowfax can understand human speech and can run faster than the wind.
· Roheryn is the steed of Aragorn, said to have been given to him by Arwen, the love of his life. It bore the Ranger, who would be king, into countless battles.
· Snowmane was the mount of the King of Rohan. He was killed in the Battle of Pelennor Fields along with King Theoden, who was crushed by Snowmane after the horse was hit by a black dart. This irony was not lost to time, however—their gravestone reads “Faithful servant yet master's bane; Lightfoot's foal, swift Snowmane.”
The famous battlecry “Heigh ho! Silver away!” echoes this famous horse. Silver is the great white stallion ridden by John Reid—otherwise known as the Lone Ranger— as he rides through the Old West, fighting injustice alongside the Native American Tonto. Despite his fame, however, Silver is only the Lone Ranger’s second horse. A chestnut mare named Dusty was his first steed but unfortunately, she was killed by an outlaw that the intrepid hero and Tonto were pursuing.
Works of fiction involving heroes continue to fascinate, even though horses have arguably become obsolete. With the addition of this faithful equine companion, their names of heroes and horses become inseparably tied to each other, adding color and life to their stories.