I love my truck. It’s a 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac that I got new and immediately dubbed Mister Joe Fixit after my favorite incarnation of the Incredible Hulk (because it’s ill-tempered, slightly underpowered, but mean looking and always gets the job done). I know I won’t be able to keep him on the road forever, but I’m sure gonna try. I’ll probably cry on the day I have to give him up. To everyone else, though, it’s just a truck.
Would Aesop have thought so? Or Snorri? Or Vyasa? If told of a chariot driven without horses (yet with the power of 300) that could shield you from rain and snow, produce lights to make journeys possible through night and fog and play the songs of countless musicians, would they have found the description dull? I doubt these famed fabulists would turn their noses up at such a conveyance. In fact, I’d bet folding money they’d find it fantastical.
And yet we fantasy fans still dream of getting from place to place astride a dragon, or a bolt of lighting, or an eight-legged horse. Cool as modern technology is, we want our own personal Shadowfax, or Falcor, or Toothless.
The internet is full of lists qualifying and quantifying the “Best” such steeds. As the author of book where the main characters are half-orcs that ride giant war pigs into battle, I figure I may as well throw out my own personal favorites. Rather than stick to books, however, I’d like to share my top picks from the various mediums of fantasy entertainment. Starting with…
Favourite: Battle Cat
I count myself lucky to have been an 80s kid and nothing consumed my early childhood more than the Masters Of The Universe. Yes, there was a cartoon, but it was the toys that most attracted me. Even at 4-5 years old I was aware in the difference in presentation between the two; the tonal shift between the smoky, slightly sinister artwork shown on the toy packaging and the more vibrant, friendlier approach of the animation. And boy-howdy did I dig the toy art! One of the first on the shelves, was this gem:
A bright green tiger with yellow stripes and spikey, crimson armor! The fact that he could carry an axe-wielding barbarian on his back was just a bonus. You may be asking yourself why Battle Cat isn’t placed in the cartoon category (coming up next). The reason is simple: he was annoying as balls in the show! Like He-Man, the showrunners gave Battle Cat an alternate ego in the form of Cringer; a Cowardly Lion persona that was only slightly less egregious than the growly voice of Battle Cat delivering lines that were reminiscent of a frat boy trying way too hard to be tough and cool. I found it interesting to note when revisiting the show as an adult that the writers seemed to be conflicted on whether He-Man’s feline companion should speak. There are quite a few episodes where neither Cringer or Battle Cat utter more than the occasional roar. This is how I prefer the character–a big, feral, scary beast that will wreck your shit if the blonde Adonis on his back doesn’t do it first!
Honorable Mention: Tauntaun
Do I even need to say why?
“Moon Star of Limbo, give me the might, the muscle, the menace, of MON*STAR!” This was what the villain of Silver Hawks (a giant, space Yeti with an eyepatch) chanted during every episode to transform into an honestly less scary robot version of himself. Gnarly as it was to watch this guy’s skin rupture as he swelled into a red version of Darth Vader on steroids, the best thing about him to me was the giant, space squid he rode through the cosmos. Honestly, as a kid I don’t think I even knew this colossal calamari had a name, but it did have tentacles AND laser cannons sprouting from his armor-encased body, not to mention the rocket booster.
I find most sea creatures to be off-putting at the least. Most are made of nightmares. But ones that can survive the vacuum of space? What cartoon villain (or six year old boy with dreams of terrorizing the galaxy) wouldn’t covet that ride?
Favourite: Cudley the Cowlick
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became a phenomenon in the 80s. One of the many, many, many products from the franchise was a comic book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures. Though the Turtles were born in the pages of comics, this title was a kid-friendly spin-off of the mega-popular cartoon. And in its pages was a method of travel I will never forget. No, it’s not the Turtle Van. It’s a large, disembodied, free-floating, sentient cow head with the ability to transport beings through time and space…in its mouth. True story. And this being’s name is Cudley. Cudley the Cowlick. I mean, it’s not the way I’d ever want to travel, but if that were part of the deal in order to be a Ninja Turtle, then so be it!
Honourable Mention: Mr. Fixit
Not my truck. The actual Big Guy. That is a piggyback ride on God Mode.
I spent entire days during Summer Break in the mall arcade. When Golden Axe appeared in ‘89, the game sucked me (and roughly two weeks allowance worth of quarters) into its fantasy world of blade-slinging combat, potion-stealing imps, and rideable monsters. The original game had a cockatrice-like creature you could sling a leg over, as well as two breeds of dragon. And by breeds, I mean one was blue and one was red and the red one was better.
A sequel to the game, Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder, was released later with new characters to play. Only the dwarf from the original game, Gilius, made a return appearance, but arthritis must have caught up to him, for he is now riding upon the shoulders of the giant, Goah, and is nothing more than decoration since you’re controlling the giant. However, a former axe-wielding dwarf now using an axe-wielding giant like a Segway is something that makes my nerd-brain very happy. Keep in mind, the game still had the feature of mountable monsters which led to the ludicrously rad occurence of a giant mantis being ridden by a giant man who is being ridden by an elderly dwarf.
Honourable Mention: Any mount earned in Vanilla WoW (‘cause let’s face it, that used to be an achievement).
Favourite: Throne of Power
Dwarves have long been a staple in fantasy, and their traditional build within the genre doesn’t exactly make them natural horseman. Though several incarnations of dwarven cavalry have been imagined by various creators (mostly using a boar), I think that Games Workshop got it right by avoiding the issue altogether and realizing that the only thing worthy of carrying a dwarf into battle was…another dwarf. Back before GW flushed one of the greatest fantasy worlds down the toilet by destroying their Old World setting for Warhammer, they conceived that the dwarven High King should not even have to bother to stand up while fighting. Enter the Throne of Power. It’s a cumbersome sedan chair carried on the shoulders of four stalwart dwarven warriors so their king can rest comfortably while they wade into the ranks of the enemy. From the Throne, the king can swing his enchanted axe at opportune heads while reading aloud all the enemy’s previous slights against his people from a weighty tome called the Book of Grudges. Oh, and the Throne itself is replete with powerful runes that deflect and/or absorb the injuries sustained by both King and bearers. Here’s to couch potato combat!
Honourable Mention: Throne of Everblight
Not to be outdone by their competitor, Privateer Press has their own throne for their games HORDES. Instead of a dwarf king sitting on a chair it’s an ice elf sorceress standing on a tower formed from the blighted energy of a dragon’s will mutated into physical form. Get it? Neither do I, really, but who am I kidding with an honourable mention? This is better than the other throne in every way!
Jim Henson is a personal idol. The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are masterpieces, far as I’m concerned. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my favorite fantasy steed from a movie is the landstrider. Like most things in the world of The Dark Crystal, this creature is so ugly it’s endearing. And bonus points for the fact that, like all Henson creatures back in the day, it was actually built.
Tied for Favourite: Goblin Cavalry mount
I’m not sure the creatures ridden by the goblin knights in Labyrinth have a proper name, but I got to see one up close during a special exhibit at the Centre For Puppetry Arts in my hometown of Atlanta, and man, it was a dream come true!
Favourite: The Luggage
Not so much a steed as an entity of pure chaos, but who needs to ride a dragon when you can imperil yourself by leaping atop the lid of a homicidal storage chest/portable pocket dimension/bodyguard that would literally eat Cthulhu with ease and impunity if you were threatened? Yeah!
Honorable Mention: Great Bearded Deer-Hogs AKA “barbarians”
These are the swine bred by the half-orc gangs of the Lot Lands for riding and for war. I hope they make your list of favorite fantasy mounts after giving The Grey Bastards a read. LIVE IN THE SADDLE!
The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French is available from Orbit Books now.