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Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Waffle About Tolkien's Horses

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Have you noticed how many of the horses in The Hobbit end up dead? And that's the children's book of that universe!

I don't know why I have suddenly been thinking about this subject, but it's one that enters my mind now and then. As a child, I had walls covered with posters of horses and horse figurines(mostly plastic) on every level surface. A normal little girl, of course. I lived in a flat, so no chance of owning one and anyway, they were expensive, so even finding an agistment paddock would have been out of the question. 

But I dreamed of horses like Shadowfax. Oh, yes!

If I've got any of the details below wrong, please forgive me, Tolkien experts, and don't write rude comments about it! It has been a while since I read these books, though it was multiple time, and I just wanted a pleasant Sunday morning wander through them.  

In The Hobbit, most of the horses are ponies. When Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves leave Hobbiton, only Gandalf is tall enough to ride a full sized horse. And Tolkien gives his ponies personalities. And then he has the lot of them eaten by the goblins, when the company sleeps in that cave above the goblins' halls. 

As if that isn't enough, several of the ponies lent to them in Laketown are eaten by the dragon, 

The only ponies to survive to the end are Beorn's, lent to the Dwarves when he has hosted them and sent them on their way - and that's only because he insists on their return at the edge of the forest and lurks in bear shape to make sure it happens. He's not silly! And considering what happens to the company in the forest, it's even more sensible! Giant spiders, for starters. Beorn would know about them and other scary things in Mirkwood, even if it does also contain a colony of Elves. (But these are not aristocratic Elves like the ones in Galadriel's realm or Rivendell. They're the lower class of the Elven community.)

I suspect Tolkien got rid of the horses because he needed the Dwarves and Bilbo to be on foot when they encountered the various dangers along the way. If the goblins hadn't eaten the ponies in those dark caves, Gollum would have done so. And you can't lug them up the Lonely Mountain, can you? 

In Lord Of The Rings, he's not so awful to his equine characters - and they are characters and they mostly have names. Who can possibly forget Shadowfax, king of the Mearas? Or Bill the pony? When the hobbits' ponies are scattered at Bree, the only horse they can get is a skinny nag bought at an outrageous price from an awful man called Bill. Bill the pony has to be left behind eventually, but he is reunited with his adoring master Sam Gamgee and even gets revenge on his former owner with a kick in passing. The other ponies, following Fatty Lumpkin, Tom Bombadil's pony, are not eaten or burned by dragon fire, as they would have been in The Hobbit, when the author needed to lose themThey end up quite happily employed at the inn in Bree. 

In LOTR we meet an entire nation of horse lovers, the Riders of Rohan. Their horses are their life and soul. They are the best among ordinary horses, though there are also the Mearas, which are a truly special breed, stronger, faster, more intelligent than the regular variety. And the best of those is Shadowfax, who ends up carrying Gandalf. He is dazzlingly white and was performed by two Andalusian horses in the film version, as I was hoping and expecting. 

Horses from Rohan, black ones, are stolen from the herds for the use of the Black Riders. They are brought up in Sauron's realm, so become used to it, but I always felt sad for those animals born to the light and the plains, living in the darkness of Mordor and carrying the Black Riders - and then being swept away at the ford along with their masters. After all, they were just ordinary horses, if the best quality, not flaming-eyed demons. And I do wonder whether the nasty Black Riders were at least kind to their horses, which, after all, they had to rely on.  

The Ranger horses are special too. They aren't pretty, but they're tough. Rangers need that. And when they came to the terrifying Paths of the Dead, the Ranger horses were fine with it, while the Rohan horses had to be blindfolded, as I recall. 

Apart from those poor Black Rider horses, the only equine death was Snowmane, King Theoden's mount, who died in battle and fell, crushing his master under him. The horse got a grave and a memorial anyway. Not his fault! 

There were Tolkien elements in the SF TV series Babylon 5, in which the Black Riders were captured humans in black spaceships, unable to be separated from their "mounts". Even the villain, Bester, grieves over a beloved woman who had had that done to her. 

Interesting, isn't it, how even Tolkien's horses made their way into our culture?


Mandy said...

I never made it through the LOTR series, and with this post, you're kind of making me glad that I didn't. I've seen all of the movies, but yet somehow it completely escaped me that most of the horses in the Hobbit end up dead! :( However, anytime I think of Gandolf, I definitely picture that beautiful white horse he rode. They did a great job casting the horses. Well, actually, they did get a great job with all of the LOTR movies. I'm hoping to one day get to New Zealand and see the beautiful landscapes they filmed on. :)

With Love,

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oddly, most of the equine slaughter happened in the children's book! Maybe it's because most of the horses in LOTR were named and it's harder to kill off a named character for no good reason, other than to get it out of the way.

New Zealand is well worth a visit, so go when you can. The place is stunningly beautiful and I wouldn't be surprised if they're still running LOTR tours.

Stephen Dedman said...

Tolkien was obviously determined to make his characters walk as much as possible; one of the reasons he gave for rejecting an early screenplay for LotR is that the nine were carried much of the way by eagles, rather than having to walk.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Stephen! I hadn’t heard that about the Eagles. It would have chopped the film down to about fifteen minutes! 😂