One of the less than lovely things about writing a book is acknowledging that your favourite lines of enquiry sometimes just don’t fit into the finished product. They are the wildest, most fascinating goose chases, but they just will not bend and be shaped into that book thing you’ve built. They won’t be twined into the narrative, or at least, if you try to do just that, you end up with a narrative that sprouts at extra branch just at the juncture where you need it to be a nice, neat, battened-down hedge. At this point, you can probably tell that my similes are currently somewhat overgrown, so I’ll prune them now and get on with the post.
In writing about girls and horses I knew I would need to tackle the subject of imaginary horses, and all the joys and creativity that come with them, and so I set about building a chapter which, in its earliest finished draft, incorporated reams of psychology theory on the development of the imagination, detailed descriptions of paracosms and, finally, the wildest, least controllable goose of all, metamorphosis. Because really, that’s what the little girl who tosses her mane and stomps her hooves is attempting: mutation into a horse. If you love something, what better fulfillment can you find than becoming it yourself?
Much of this remains in the book, but I had to lose the examples I found in folklore and legend of women transformed into horses or donkeys – although, interestingly enough, it is always as a punishment, not a sublimation. There’s Amina, a demonic, corpse-eating young wife in 1001 Nights, whose husband employs the help of a witch to magic her into equine form. “Donkeyskin” is a princess in Perrault’s classic renderings of traditional fairy tales who disguises herself as an ass to escape the incestuous desires of her father. Here’s Catherine Deneuve in the 1970 Jacques Demy film:
And lastly, Ocyrhoe, a nymph and daughter of a centaur in Greek myth who, Cassandra-like, foretells her father’s future and is punished by being transformed into a mare. This extract is from A D Melville’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses:
“Soon she was whinnying clearly, and her arms
Walked on the grass, and then her fingers joined,
And their five nails were bound in a light hoof
Of undivided horn; her mouth and neck
Increased in size; her trailing dress became
A tail; that hair that wandered on her neck
Fell as a mane down on the right-hand side;
And so her voice and shape alike were new,
And that weird change gave her a new name [Hippe – mare] too.”
What inspired all this metamorphic musing? Well, my friend Aimee just sent me a link to this piece on Wired by Olivia Solon about the French artist Marion Laval-Jentet who is, I feel safe in saying, the most dedicated pony girl in history.
Laval-Jeantet and her creative partner Benoit Mangin (working as the collective Art Orienté Objet) were keen to explore the blurring of boundaries between species in the piece, entitled May the Horse Live in Me. Laval-Jeantet prepared her body to accept the horse blood plasma by getting injected with different horse immunoglobulins over the course of several months.
When she had the actual injection, there was quite a performance:
As part of the performance piece she also wore a set of stilts with hooves on the end to feel at one with the horse. She walked around with the donor horse in a “communication ritual” before having her hybrid blood extracted and freeze-dried.
She explained to Centre Press that the whole process made her feel “hyperpowerful, hypersensitive and hypernervous.” She added: “I had a feeling of being superhuman. I was not normal in my body. I had all of the emotions of a herbivore. I couldn’t sleep and I felt a little bit like a horse.”
Here’s a video of May the Horse Live in Me:
EDITED TO ADD: and here’s a fantastic site dedicated to human–equine transformation.
UPDATE 23/11/2017: Thank you to Adrian Arrattoon for this video of Dutch-Iranian singer-songwriter Sevdaliza, filmed at Hollandesche Manege in Amsterdam: