Charles R. Saunders has posted a very helpful blog entry for the bovinically-challenged on his website. Saunder’s utterly bad-ass Sword-and-Sorcery heroine, Dossouye, is partnered in her exploits by an equally deadly “side-kick” named Gbo. Gbo is not to be trifled with, nor is he an Asian water buffalo. Mr. Saunders sets the record straight.
I first read about Dossouye and Gbo in Amazons! around 1980 (the story in question was “Agbewe’s Sword”). At the time, I was struck by how unique CRS’ pairing of warrior and bull was in fantasy fiction. Unique, but not unlikely. Having grown up around cattle all my life, it seemed far more probable that a (woman-) warrior would bestride such a steed than, say, a dragon. Bovines, even domesticated ones, are formidable beasts. Generally speaking, for any herd animal to survive, it must possess one of two traits: speed or lethality. Bovines aren’t renowned for their speed. There is a perfectly logical reason why the very capable predators of sub-Saharan Africa have never wiped out the Cape buffalo. Cape buffalos are bad news.
Reading CRS’ blog got me thinking about other war-like bovine steeds. I remembered the cover to an old RuneQuest supplement that featured an “Amerindian” barbarian of Prax astride a war-bison. Too cool.
Of course, while not bovids of any kind, Saunders’ gunkwu and chipimbere, which feature in the latter installments of the Imaro series, fulfill a similar function. Mr. Saunders recently stated on his forum that the inspiration for the gunkwu came from the Arsinoitherium. James Gurney (later of Dinotopia fame) depicted Imaro on a charging chipimbere for the cover of the DAW edition of The Trail of Bohu.
I’ve long enjoyed speculating about Howard’s Hyborian Age. I read Conan the Buccaneer (which featured De Camp and Carter’s envisioning of Hyborian Age Amazons) a little while after I encountered Dossouye and Gbo. Rereading REH’s essay, “The Hyborian Age,” at some point later, I got to ruminating about what Howard’s Amazons might really be like. With Saunders’ creations in mind, it got me to wondering whether such women-warriors might not ride rhinocereses. Just as Howard tied in his akaana to the harpies of classical myth, might not the legendary linking of virgins to unicorns have an older, bloodier origin in an age undreamed of? Just a thought.
*Art by Mahattan