Friday, January 27, 2012

Locked Horns

In my novel-in-progress, two characters--an acrobat and his boss, the circus owner--argue interminably, getting exactly nowhere. I won't mention the topic of all that arguing; the point is the interminable arguing. A month or so ago, while working on these scenes and this relationship, the phrase locked horns came to mind. As it goes with the kind of writing I do, when an image seems fertile or resonant, I want to know more about, to see where it might lead me. So I googled locked horns, and learned quite a bit.
     As some of you likely know, this phrase is a literal reference to horned animals and the kind of trouble they can get themselves into.

If you have those complex things on your head, you best be careful. As I read in several places, the situation of locked horns doesn't happen all that often because most animals know how to evaluate the dominance hierarchy, and where they stand within it. As a help in this regard, animals know how to position themselves just so to show off their size and strength. Any animal can see, the theory goes, who's the Alpha, and the non-Alpha knows enough to back off. Nevertheless, errors are made, and then trouble for the lock-ed ensues. Here's another pair.

        As you can guess from these photos, and see in several online videos, including this one, once locked together, the two may not be able to unlock. Thus they cannot eat or drink, and they cannot move without the other. They drag each other hither and yon until one or the other dies, and then the still-alive one is trapped by the dead one, barely able to move, and so the two become locked together in death--a gruesome situation.

Here's a three-way, which I bet is not very common.

To understand all this, I probably spent about an hour--gazing at images, reading reports from hunters and others who had observed one of these to-the-death engagements, plumbing it. Only a few small details from this research will likely appear on the printed page, but I feel enriched by having learned all this. It won't be lost on you to say that many of such battles seem to be afoot or potentially afoot in this little world of ours today. 


Anonymous said...

Your comment are sad, but true. Kudos for checking. Also a word person, I looked up, "horning in" to find it means intruding. I guess that's the step before locking.

While the photos are hard to look at, I truly enjoyed your metaphoric comparison.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks. I think "head butting" is related to all this as well--another pre-locking activity.

Margaret P. said...

Love this entry. Very interesting...and gruesome.

Susan Messer said...

Oh, yeah. Thanks for stopping by.