No child who watched Fantasia as much as I did could grow up without being a little bit in love with centaurs.
They’re one of the creatures from fantasy I’ve always loved, alongside unicorns. I was never one of those kids who went through a horse phase and yet I’ve always loved equine-like characters in fantasy.
A lot of that is probably down to how much I loved My Little Pony and The Silver Brumby when I was younger. The Silver Brumby, in particular, is a show I loved a lot; to me it always felt like The Lion King – if the The Lion King was set in Australia and was about horses.
Not only that but, as I’ve mentioned before on my blog, I wasn’t exactly a fantasy reader when I was a little girl. I was certainly a fantasy watcher – lots of ’80s movies, like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story, have a lot to answer for when it comes to my love of the genre – and I loved fairy tales and plenty of books that had fantasy elements, like The Magic Finger and The Worst Witch.
When I was little, though, before I discovered Jacqueline Wilson, who was my favourite childhood author, and Harry Potter, the majority of the books I read were books about animals. I was animal-obsessed and convinced I was going to be a vet (oh small Jess, my sweet summer child, you were never scientifically inclined), so I loved Dick King-Smith’s novels and series like Animal Ark, Puppy Patrol and the Home Farm Twins.
This means I was bound to love unicorns and centaurs, because they’re creatures that combine my early reading with my later love for the fantasy genre in a way creatures like vampires and witches can’t.
So why aren’t centaurs in more fantasy novels?
Well, often when fantastical creatures make an appearance in fantasy (and especially in fantasy with a woman lead), they’re the love interest. Vampires, werewolves, faeries, and even dragons are regular fantasy hunks. Even the star of The Last Unicorn has time enough to turn into a human so she can fall in love with a prince.
I can’t help wondering if there’s a lack of centaurs as central characters because authors and readers alike don’t know how to imagine them in a romantic relationship – especially if their partner isn’t also a centaur. Personally though, as someone who falls somewhere on the aro/ace spectrum, I’d love to see that kind of relationship more often in the fantasy genre. The idea of a relationship that isn’t built on if/when/how the people in that relationship are going to have sex sounds like a really refreshing relationship to read about.
(And if you think the idea of a centaur romance is weird – and believe me, I understand why – is it really any different to a human falling in love with someone who can turn into a wolf?)
In fact considering one of the big myths surrounding unicorns is that they’re attracted to virgins, maybe unicorns and centaurs should be aro/ace fantasy mascots?
Ultimately I very rarely come across centaurs as central characters in fantasy novels, and I can’t help feeling that authors are missing opportunities to write whole new cultures and characters and stories. We have plenty of stories about vampires and werewolves and faeries and dragons, so when are we going to show centaurs the love they deserve?
Centaurs I’ve read
“Centaurs are not the servants or playthings of humans,” said Firenze quietly.
– Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
It’ll shock none of you, I’m sure, to learn that one of my favourite characters in the Harry Potter series is Firenze. I love Professor Trelawney as much as the next person, but I would definitely sign up for Divination classes if a cool centaur was my teacher. Firenze is wise, and naturally wise enough to recognise that his own kind’s (understandable) disinclination to involve themselves with humankind isn’t going to solve anything.
Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”
– The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Chiron is one of my favourite father figures in fiction. His relationship with Achilles and Patroclus is so beautiful and I love that the two of them are finally able to acknowledge their feelings for each other during their time with Chiron because, with him, they’re safe from Achilles’ mother. Not only that but Chiron, like Achilles, doesn’t overlook Patroclus, and instead teaches him how to hone his own strengths and how his strengths are valuable even though they’re not the same as Achilles’.
They glimpsed the centaur and his lady; she held a parasol and he a string market bag, and they were just another couple out for a stroll, buying vegetables for their supper.
– Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
We don’t even know this centaur’s name, but he and his lady pop up several times during Lazlo’s dreams in Strange the Dreamer. I once saw Taylor mention perhaps one day writing a short story collection of tales from Weep and finally writing about the centaur and his lady, and I need that story desperately.
Centaurs on my TBR
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones
All over the multiverse the Magids, powerful magicians, are at work to maintain the balance between positive and negative magic, for the good of all.
Rupert Venables is the junior Magid assigned to Earth and to the troublesome planets of the Koyrfonic Empire. When the Emperor dies without a known heir, Rupert is called into service to help prevent the descent of the Empire into chaos. At the same time, the senior Magid on Earth dies, making Rupert a new senior desperately in need of a junior. Rupert thinks his problems are partially solved when he discovers he can meet all five of the potential Magids on Earth by attending one SF convention in England. However, the convention hotel sits on a node, a nexus of the universes. Rupert soon finds that other forces, some of them completely out of control, are there too…
I’ve heard that there’s at least one centaur in this book. Whether they’re a central character or not I don’t know, but Jones is an author I’d like to read more from and this is a story that’s always interested me – and look at that beautiful cover!
Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo
Malora knows what she was born to be: a horse wrangler and a hunter, just like her father. But when her people are massacred by batlike monsters called Leatherwings, Malora will need her horse skills just to survive. The last living human, Malora roams the wilderness at the head of a band of magnificent horses, relying only on her own wits, strength, and courage. When she is captured by a group of centaurs and taken to their city, Malora must decide whether the comforts of her new home and family are worth the parts of herself she must sacrifice to keep them.
Centaurs are in the title and on the cover of this one, so there better be plenty in the book! This one doesn’t have the best ratings on Goodreads, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to centaurs. There’s something I never thought I’d say. I love the idea of a centaur city, and I’d really like to see what Klimo’s done with that concept.
Divine by Mistake by P.C. Cast
The most excitement teacher Shannon Parker expected on her summer vacation was a little shopping. But then her latest purchase–a vase with the Celtic goddess Epona on it–somehow switches her into the world of Partholon, where she’s treated like a goddess. A very temperamental goddess… It seems that Shannon has stepped into another’s role as the Goddess Incarnate of Epona. And while it has some very appealing moments–what woman doesn’t like a little pampering now and then?–it also comes with a ritual marriage to a centaur and the threat of war against the evil Fomorians. Oh, and everyone disliking her because they think she’s her double.
Somehow Shannon needs to figure out how to get back to Oklahoma without being killed, married to a horse or losing her mind…
I haven’t read any P.C. Cast – an author of paranormal romance novels who’s probably best known for her House of Night series – and this novel sounds absolutely bonkers. My library has a copy, though, so once the world is back to normal and we can visit libraries again you can bet I’m borrowing this one. To be honest, I find it refreshing to come across a portal fantasy romance novel with what I’m guessing is going to be a centaur love interest, as opposed to all of the vampires, faeries and gods we tend to see.
So if you’re in the mood to join me and read something with centaurs getting the ‘screen time’ they deserve, why not do it in Firenze’s outdoor classroom?