That Psychic Horse Thing

Okay, having just finished a read through C.J.Cherryh’s excellent sci-fi/western books “Rider at the Gate” and “Cloud’s Rider” I am left with a burning question…

What’s up with that psychic horse thing?

These books could be seen as a sort’ve anti-Mercedes Lackey–about as widely different as you could go while still holding to the basic (and obviously widely universally relevant theme) of “People with psychic horses.” Rather than your happy white four-footed boy scouts of Lackeydom, Cherryh’s are psycho black alien animals who communicate mostly in random images and occasionally go rogue and kill large numbers of people. They’re also hated and feared by most of the populace. And the villain is actually a horse-crazy teenage girl, which I thought was a nice twist, and for once there’s a world where your psychic horses do not exist in a vaccuum, but in response to psychic predators and an alien ecosystem locked in a sort’ve mental arms race.

But still, it causes me to contemplate that burning question–what’s up with the psychic horse thing? Or, perhaps more accurately–what’s up with the sci-fi/fantasy “psychic-bond-with-charismatic-animal” thing? I cast my mind back through reading material past–some of it excellent, some of it drivel–and I come up with all kinds of examples, from Pern through everything Lackey’s ever written to half the stories in “Sword and Sorceress.” Horses, cats, and dragony things seem to be the top contenders, with wolves running a close fourth, but it could be anything–I know I’ve read about psychic seagulls, and the late Marion Zimmer Bradley use to mention the story about the priestesses with the sapient purple rhinoceri at least once a foreward. It’s gotten so cliche that you have to write like an angel for me not to fling the book across the room the first time the hero starts having telepathic fits with her magic flame bunny, but presumably it wouldn’t be such a cliche if readers weren’t out there eatin’ this stuff up.

I will go out on a limb here and say that this seems to be largely a chick thing. It may be a teenage thing, as well. I could be wrong. If it was just horses, I could probably understand it–it seems like most girls who don’t have to actually muck stalls go through a horse-crazy phase at some point, god knows why. (I did. It lasted right up until a six hour bareback ride in midwinter, which taught me that sometimes it’s better to just let go before taking a tree or a hoof to the head. Then the next day when the pain set in, I learned that sometimes the tree is preferable. But I digress.) Time and again, incarnation after incarnation, it would appear that a good chunk of the populace thinks it would be Insanely Cool to be telepathically linked to something. Anything. Even things with a brain the size of a cashew, that craps wherever it happens to be standing.

Is this an extension of the whole “familiar spirit” thing? Should we blame Disney for turning our notion of familiars from captive servile demons to happy cartoon animals? Is it the fact that usually our Plucky Psychic Hero has to get Chosen, Selected, Sorted, Picked, Weeded, Impressed, Imprinted, Impaled or whatever (the verb being not nearly so important as the capitalization) and thus is revealed to be much cooler than the average run of mortals, thereby feeding the reader’s sense of inherent specialness? (I mean, hell, that’s why I liked ’em.) Is it that we’re all, each of us, locked up in our respective skulls until death (and possibly beyond, since nobody brings back useful field reports from that undiscovered country) and maybe if we had a telepathic gerbil, it would always understand us and we’d never have to be lonely?

I note that no one ever seems to get godawful bored of their psychic Buddy, Companion, Comrade, Steed, Friend, Partner or Pet (again, term not nearly important as capitalization.) Which is impressive, since you’d think being stuck hearing the same person’s thoughts day in and day out until you expire would get ungodly tedious, a sort’ve personalized Sartre play with the other person played by a psychic lungfish. The issue doesn’t seem to come up, however. Nor does anyone ever seem to snap in a schizophrenic fit, screaming “The voices in my heeeead! Nooooo!” at the lost of their mental sanctity, and there are few reports in the literature of anyone being too embarassed by the mental passenger to conduct a normal love-life. (Or use the bathroom, but since no one in fantasy novels ever uses the bathroom under any circumstances, evidentally possessing Bladders of Holding or something that gets them through the adventure without stopping, it’s probably not significant.)

Yes, these are the questions that plague my days. No, I don’t get out often enough.

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