Speaker for the Horse: Janet Morris on the link between riding horses and writing fiction

Friday, July 10, 2015

Speaker for the Horse: Writing and Riding

Here is a wonderful article, written by my gifted friend, author of heroic fiction, Janet Morris, who has come to discover the secret connection between her writing and being a lifelong horsewoman:

Speaker for the Horse: Writing and Riding

“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse.”

— William Shakespeare, Richard III

Riding horses and writing fiction have an entire dimension in common: the dimension of honesty. Riding a thousand-pound animal and writing for publication are equally risky, every time.

If you are an accomplished rider, you become one with the horse: your senses both contract and expand, so that your intelligence pervades your entire body and the horse’s body as well. All else but rider and horse and ground and decisive action toward a goal fade into obscurity; you and your mount become one flesh, one intelligence, one purpose. The same is true when writing a story.

If you are an accomplished writer, you become one with your story: your earthly body, place and time fade away. Your personality dissolves into character and narrative; you and your story become one flesh, one intelligence, one purpose.

Riding horses and telling stories were my earliest passions: from those adventures and joys I learned purpose, focus, and fearlessness. I learned to be ‘other’: human and horse sharing a single goal. I rode with my horses and told stories about horses, wrote poems about horses, and dreamed dreams of horses who would extend my abilities and make me part of a greater whole. Later, I told other stories but these always demanded that same transformation of character — of time and place and risk and focus — into ‘otherness.’

One can neither ride nor write well without transforming ego and intelligence: I must surrender all other thoughts and exist only for the task at hand. Exactly as personality telescopes into one’s body when astride a horse, just that way should one’s sense of authorial distance dissolve into story.

When riding, you think for the horse who allows you to guide him, but you think as that greater being, with six legs rather than two, with two heads rather than one, but with a shared purpose.

When writing fiction, your authorial and editorial reserve must dissolve: your goals are your characters’ goals; their world, their purpose, their flesh and blood supersede your own. You surrender to the multifarious experience of writing a door and walking through it into story, as you surrender yourself to the combined consciousness of horse and rider when you ride.

Now you are embarked: details from your body and mind link with another consciousness, and you live fully in a moment as you can never do without your partner, be it story or horse.

Many people who have horses, or even cats and dogs, begin telling you, “She says…” or “He says..” putting words in the mouth of the animal. When you begin a new paragraph as you write a story, the question in your mind may be “And then what happens?” Or the story, like your horse, may have its own ideas of where you two are going next or who is in charge. In that case, you hold on and enjoy the ride by taking control of the living, breathing entity that is sometimes horse, sometimes story, sometimes mystical – when both are one.

When people speak for the horse, they are taking a first step to story. The author’s responsibility in writing is much the same as the horseman’s in horse-keeping: when you ride and keep a horse, the horse expects its trust to be well placed — that you are doing and asking only what is beneficial to both. When you write a story, you accept this same responsibility toward the reader, and tell the story with clarity, with truth and honorably. If in either case these responsibilities are neglected or perverted, the animus of story, the otherness, called the Muse by some, will flee and leave the writer floundering, powerless, expelled from the story as a rider is thrown from a horse he has misguided.

Science now tells us that even gazing into the eyes of a horse (or dog or cat or other animal), and having it look back is the same as an embrace; gazing produces oxytocin, a hormonal affirmation of oneness in the human and the animal.

Looking into the eyes of a horse connects me to the natural world and the supernatural world. That connection is the root of story for me, and my well of inspiration.

Do we need our connection to horses and to the animal world to find the mysteries that make story a transcendency we all can share? It has always been so for me, and thus I think we do, and hope we realize what we risk before destroying too many of our connections to the world of the horse and other gifts from Nature.

As we, the humans, the ruling species on this planet, disconnect ever more completely from the animal world and from sharing our lives with animals, our need for story increases. Do we understand that we ride a story as we do a horse, into the unknown, and why we love it so? Some do. And those are the writers and stories I love the best, that take me into unknown country where I couldn’t go without a horse or story’s strength to carry me.

If you’ve read my work, you’ve probed thereby the close relationship of humans and animals, in particular horses, that has enriched my life.

Although I can’t give you each a horse, I can give you stories that include what horses have done to teach me and enrich my life. I try with every story to enrich yours.

In The Sacred Band, Janet Morris and Chris Morris’ novel of heroic fantasy, love never comes easy, and loyalty trumps all. In this excerpt from that novel, Nikodemos, called Stealth, young partner of the Band’s commander, is looking for the house where he found his missing horse and a passion such as he’s never known before — in the embrace of the Theban goddess, Harmony.

A secular adept of the Balance, Niko is irresistible, constantly sought but never ensnared by all manner of supernal and archmagical powers — until these portentous days, when a foreign goddess has taken his mare for safekeeping and given him a black stallion in exchange.

This goddess does not make things simple for Niko: she complicates his life, blurring allegiances and duty. His loyalty and devotion have always been to his commander and his calling.

The mare she took was dear to him. But now, so is she. He’s learning what kind of horse she’s given him, and what kind of hold she has on him….

Excerpt from The Sacred Band, copyright © 2011, Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Perseid Press.

Niko and the black stallion made good time, headed south. This horse healed like no other, worked like no other, had stamina like no horse he’d ever had between his legs. Its mouth was soft, its eyes were fiery, and it had gaits to please a god.

So when he reined it to the right along the General’s Road and it refused, he was surprised. He tried again. It wouldn’t follow the road. It wanted to take a fork he didn’t recall. Finally, when he was about to get off to see if it had picked up a stone or hurt itself some other way, it turned its head toward him with an arch and reproachful look and bit his left boot.

He thumped its muzzle. It let go. But then he thought that the black horse might know the way to its mistress’s house. Perhaps the horse was correct and he was wrong: the stallion clearly wanted to go to the left.

He loosed his reins and gave the horse its head. And the black trotted happily down the road’s left fork, past abandoned farms and fields that looked increasingly familiar, until it came to a sheltered lane where bushes with white blooms grew high on either side.

When the horse turned in and started down the lane, Niko looked up. Above his head, leafy trees made a pergola against a sky of cornflower blue. A twist, a turn, and they came upon a big white house.

It seemed to be the same house as before, or one just like it, set back from a circular drive strewn with pebbles. He slid off the horse. He didn’t remember the pebbles from the last time he was here, but that day he’d cared only about reclaiming his mare from the woman astride her, who’d led him here.

He hesitated. As he looked around, a grizzled man came from behind the house and walked toward him, whistling under his breath, dark hand held out to take his horse’s reins.

He shouldn’t give up his horse until he knew if he had the right house.

4 comments:

  1. Uvi, thanks for suggesting this fascinating topic to me, and keeping after me until I wrote the piece you wanted. It took a long time for me to write this, since telling a simple tale always is the hardest. Thank you for your vision and your challenge, and of course for your wonderful books which I love.

    ReplyDelete

  2. My pleasure Janet, love your writing, and the article came out just beautiful!

     

  3. Uvi, you were its inspiration. You can be my inspiration anytime.

    ReplyDelete

  4. Coming from you, Janet, this is a huge compliment 🙂

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