I’ve introduced a winged horse into my online series, The Memory Book. Like so many characters in any writer’s work, she just showed up, more or less.
Who can’t adore the thought of a horse with wings? Why hadn’t I written one into a book before this? What’s next, except to begin to pour through documentation about them?
Per usual, I started my search using Google. A Google search can be a either a delightful trip down the rabbit hole to a sweet tidbit, or more like Alice’s confused, tangential plunge into a puzzling metaphor, complete with bakery products laced with magical qualities.
My personal experience, up until this time, with flying horses has been the Disney cartoon sequence in Fantasia. Winged equines, namely Pegasus, his wife-mare (unnamed) and their family, frolic through paradise to the tune of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (Pastorale), Movement 1. (Allegro ma non troppo). Mixing grace with humor, and a frightful storm, the sequence has always been my favorite, bringing to the screen one of my fervent childhood wishes, to ride a winged horse.
I found that winged horses have been portrayed in more art than I ever imagined, when I stumbled onto a Pinterest page stuffed with horses flying, rearing, curled comfortably, and flying. In writing this I wished for one word that could be used for their class, family or species. There isn’t one that has been agreed upon.
There seem to be differing opinions about “Pegasus” being either a proper name or a breed. He’s been referred to in literature as “the pegasus”. Or, he is one member of the breed pterippus. After all, he was born of Medusa and Poseidon, he’s immortal—he must still be around somewhere—and he had a human brother named Chrysaor. Another detail about his birth is that he was foaled when Medusa was slain by Perseus.
I like the word pterippus. Its roots are Greek for “wing” and “horse”. A herd of these guys would be pterippi. There is some speculation—wrong, I suspect—that winged horses are unicorns without horns. As in the Fantasia sequence, the unicorns, Pegasuses—the name of the flying horse family—and centaurs are all distinct creatures, and whether they interbreed, well, there is a subject for another blog.
My spongy Internet search did bring up an intriguing number of other winged creatures besides the ubiquitous Pegasus, who had many riders and top billing in multiple myths and adorned a bygone gas station. The archangel Gabriel kept a horse named Haizum, a gift from God. This horse could travel among different experiential planes, rather like Al-Buraq, the steed Mohammed rode. A “buraq” is often portrayed as a horse with human heads—perhaps they are the progenitors of centaurs, who differ only in having additionally the torso of a human.
Tianma is a “winged celestial horse” who, according to the Chinese, might have had dragon scales. Yes, I couldn’t avoid getting around to dragons eventually. They do, perhaps because of their edgy natures and talents such as breathing fire, occupy an elevated place in fantasy realms. But I don’t want to talk about a subject that has already been throughly explored. Even Indian folklore includes a dragon whose name is unpronounceable and almost equally impossible to spell, along with magical white elephants.
There are a number of fantasy novels featuring winged horses. Having read none of them, I don’t know how good they are, but it’s pleasing to know that the winged horse is getting some notice. Competing with dragons is pretty tense.
The winged beast in my novel will speak, of course. She has little to say but when she does her words cut to the chase, so to speak.