Monday, 5 November 2007

A cheery sort of post


Well actually it isn't, not even remotely. I was reading Pullein-Thompson Archive's excellent blog, in which the question of ponies in pony books dying came up, and that set me thinking. I think it's in DPT's Pony to School in which Seaspray, Pier's and Tilly's grey pony, dies of tetanus. This made a terrific impression on me at the time, as I can't think, offhand, of any other pony book I read as a child in which a pony dies, and I think it was a particularly strong bit of writing on DPT's part.


People are killed off, though generally before the book starts (Jill's father, Carmen's parents in Sheila Chapman's books). Heartland is unusual I suppose in establishing the heroine's mother as a character before killing her off in the first book.


There is of course Ginger, in Black Beauty, which in some ways I think is the least miserable of the deaths: you feel relief that Ginger's awful sufferings are at last over, although there is also the grief that she had to go through it all in the first place. Other ponies I can think of who die are John Steinbeck's The Red Pony - not a book to be read if you're feeling a bit under the weather - and there's Pamela MacGregor Morris' Lucky Purchase, in which the lucky purchase, who is old at the start, dies when the book is nearly over. This is another one that really affects me: the whole thing is treated very well, with the depths of emotion the heroine suffers suggested but not hammered home. The magic pony in Patricia Leitch's Jinny book of the same name dies, but I can't think offhand of any others by her. I have read a few Heartland titles, but can't remember if any horses die.


K M Peyton's race horse in the last of the Ruth series (Free Rein - but that might be the American title - apologies for not being able to remember the UK one) dies too.

My mind is a complete blank at the moment as far as ponies dying in any of the Pullein-Thompson's books go. Do let me know what else you can think of.

I'm interested in the whole thing I suppose because pony books are often accused of being poorly written genre fiction; and although some are, I think that's just as unfair as saying Ian Rankin must be bad because he writes genre fiction, when this is very far from the case. The best pony books don't shy back from tackling real life; or indeed, death.

14 comments:

GeraniumCat said...

Goodness, yes, I remember the pony dying of tetanus, though wouldn't have remembered which book, and I shall never forget crying over Ginger (I wasn't supposed to be reading it under the bedcovers!)But at least it made children more prepared for the possibility of bad things happening - my best friend's pony nearly died of laminitis and I'm sure that, if the worst had happened, we'd have coped better with the aid of books which helped to give a framework to our feelings.

jayshah said...

I remember another tragedy in 'Riding with the Lyntons' when one of the twins' ponies (I just know whichever name I put, Jingle or Jangle, it will be the wrong one!) got out on the road and had to be put down because a car smashed her leg. If anything this was worse because the human heroine feared she was responsible for having left the paddock gate open, until much later in the book when it transpired that in fact the remaining pony had learnt to open it.
This leads me on to William Corbin, who's managed to kill off an equine in each of his two horse books but writes so well that I wasn't really put off. In 'Horse in the House' the disaster is all off screen and described after the fact, partly through Melanie's nightmares about losing her former pony (she left the paddock gate open, pony was hit by a car and her father had to shoot it; the pony not the car unfortunately). Then only a few months ago, I discovered William Corbin's other one, 'Golden Mare', in which it is the eponymous heroine who actually dies, but here the scenario is sad yet uplifting. She's an elderly mare, she comes to the end of a happy life after a short illness, and the boy who loves her imagines/believes that in spirit she's gone to a better place, as I hope and pray all our horses will. Would that other writers could handle this sensitive subject so well.
But I've read some other 'death stories' which I probably won't reread. First was 'Battlecry Forever', an American racing story contemporary with, and rather in the same mould as, Joanna Campbell's 'Thoroughbred' series (sorry, I can't remember the author offhand). This may or may not be modelled on Dana Faralla's 'The magnificent Barb', which though much older, came my way only this year. In both of these the eponymous hero comes good against all odds, wins the big race, and then promptly dies of a heart attack - a very nasty shock for the reader! In each book the horse leaves one or more offspring behind, but I'm not at all sure that makes up for it.
It's not only death stories that upset me - excessive cruelty to horses in fiction is something I can't stomach these days. I'm not sure now whether I'll be able to reread the Follyfoot books, which I haven't unpacked in many years, with all the bad things that happen to the various horses before they get rescued. (Some of them die or are put down, as well.) And my copy of 'Pony Thieves' has been up for sale, so far without success, since the first and only time I read it. The latter probably hit me particularly hard because a) at the time, one of our cats was ill - he didn't recover - and b) the much-abused heroine, Breeze, although not an Arab, reminded me in most other respects of my own lovely mare.
geraniumcat is probably right that fiction can prepare children - gently I hope - for the most awful possibilities. But there are definitely good and bad times to read sad stories; perhaps, like Jinty in Pat Leitch's 'Cross Country Pony', we should wait till morning to read the sad parts, so they don't seem so traumatic.

haffyfan said...

I can't read Black Beauty..the treatment of partially Ginger left me traumatised from a very young age.

I think 'good' pony books don't shy away from issues (just look at The Hermits Horse - admittedly in today's society it would have a nastier angle I think) and lots of the equines die or at least suffer terrible injuries/illnesses etc. Seaspray and Jingle, as mentioned meet nasty ends as does Apollo in Black Pony Inn. Mestizo from Sheila Chapman's Mystery pony meets a rather grizzly end (but no one seems to care and thankfully too much detail isn't gone into!). Various Brumby characters die but I guess that is normal in the wild and the fighting scenes are awful (but alas true).


You can't say K M Peyton doesn't tackle real life and issues regardless of the age range she is addressing. She is in a class of her own when it comes to addressing social issues and her books feature characters from all walks and phases of life. Dogswoods demise in Free Rein (Last Ditch) was both shocking but a perfect ending too ( I am just glad Shiner in Blind Beauty did not meet the same fate).

Susan Millard's Against The Odds, again for older readers, even tackles the subject of rape which I think is a first in pony book terms and is very sensitively portrayed.

Susan in Boston said...

When I started to make a list, I realized that American horse books abound with dead horses and ponies. Jayshah mentioned Dana Faralla’s The Magnificent Barb, sadly the sequel “Black Renegade” had a similar ending (why? really….what was the point?).

Jean Slaughter Doty’s juvenile expose of the show jumping world’s underside “The Crumb” does not end well for the titular character, and in her book Yesterday’s Horses, a mysterious virus is killing off dozens.

Ponies in Marguerite Henry’s world aren’t safe either, the scenes in Stormy, Misty’s Foal where the young boy goes out with his grandfather and the other men of Chincoteague after a hurricane/flood, marking all the places in the water where the dead animals float, (many, many ponies among them) never fails to bring tears to my eyes (all the more so because it was a true story). And in her San Domingo, Medicine Hat Stallion, the horse gives all delivering the mail for the Pony Express.

The list goes on…..Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka has Flicka’s poor crazed dam Rocket killed trying to jump wire, Marjorie Reynold’s Sire Unknown has a boy’s pony shot by careless deer hunters.

Are there just more harshly realistic American books out there? Or maybe it’s just that I’ve come across more, since I’ve only been collecting the British books for a few years. Come to think of it, the only British books that came my way as a child (outside of Black Beauty and National Velvet, which are universally known) were Vian Smith’s books, which are much darker than other British books I’ve come across as an adult….Smith’s work was popular here, and a number of his books came out in US editions, so possibly that grittier world view is what “sold” in the US?

Gillian said...

At the end of 'Skewbald, the New forest Pony', by Allen W Seaby, that title pony gallops off with a rope around its neck. The end of the rope gets caught near a deep pit, and while struggling to free himself, Skewbald falls in the pit and breaks his neck.

It's reported secondhand, via a newspaper, but it a rather unexpected ending to an otherwise typical 1920's 'life of a pony' book.

Susan in Boston said...

Yikes! After reading Haffyfan's description of Susan Millard's Against the Odds, and Gillian's of Seaby's Skewbald, I think I'll retract that comment about British books being a bit sunnier...clearly I just haven't come across as many of the dark ones. Well, not yet, but that's about to end, because as it happens, I ordered a copy of Against the Odds this past weekend. What timing!

mokey said...

Has anyone here read "The Marvellous Mongolian?"(1974) by James Aldridge. I'm loath to reveal the ending because it is such a beautiful book, and I would love you all to read it first! I'm not sure any of the vintage English pony books deal with the trauma of foaling (ok, this book is not as graphic as Steinbeck's "The Red Pony", so don't be put off!) That's all I'm going to say - the bulk of the book is such an enthralling, epic journey. It is told in the form of letters exchanged between human characters in England and Mongolia.

haffyfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
haffyfan said...

I have the The Marvellous Mongolian but havern't got round to reading it yet...I think it will have to be palced on top of the 'to read' pile!

Susan In Boston...it's a really good story and quite nice to ahve one aimed at an older market for a change.

Jane said...

Mokey: I have the Marvellous Mongolian in stock, so will whisk it off the shelves and read it pronto.

Geraniumcat: I do agree with what you say about children being more prepared to cope if they have had some experience of death in books, particularly if it's in the context of a book which you've generally enjoyed and have positive feelings for.

Jayshah: I'd forgotten Riding with the Lyntons (oh the shame - it's one of my favourites), but that was an horrendous moment. I think the huge tension the whole situation creates is very well explored. AND I'd forgotten Horse in the House.... Like you, I find the Follyfoot series hard going: much more so than the WOrld's End series, although there are a fair few animals rescued in that. I must re-read them and try and work out why.

Haffyfan: I do think Susan Millard's book is good. I like all of the J A Allans, and think they're infinitely better pony literature than Heartland.

SusaninBoston: Yesterday's Horses was another I'd forgotten about: in many ways I think it's one of the most disturbing pony books I've read, as you see the way the continued deaths alter people's perception of the heroine's vet mother, when absolutely none of it is her fault.

Gillian: Yes, Skewbald is a grim one, though most tales-told-by-a-pony tend to have their tales of awful mistreatment, the ponies don't tend actually to die.

Susan in Boston said...

Haffyfan

Thanks so much for reassuring me about Against the Odds....it was definitely going to be on my shelf anyway, but it might have gone unread for a long time!

I'm slowly gathering a set of the J.A. Allen books as they pop up in the US...somehow it's less painful to pay overseas shipping for a vintage hardcover than it is for a paperback...I don't know why that is, but for me it's a definite factor!

Gillian said...

I meant to ask, who illustrated that Black Beauty cover in the original post ?

It looks rather like Sheila Rose's work. I like it anyway.

winnie said...

There is also a death scene in 'Pony from the Farm' by Mary Gervaise, shen Susan's much-loved Black Agnes collapses and dies just prior to the girls putting on a circus display act in aid of a childrens' hospital. I'm not a huge fan of Mary Gervaise, but that bit of the book always has me reaching for the tissues.

Jane said...

Gillian - it is Sheila Rose. It's even better inside, and one of my favourite Black Beauty editions.

Winnie - oh yes. Like you, not a Mary Gervaise fan, but the Black Aggie bit is a real tear-jerker.