Monday, January 19, 2009

Can I Get There By Candlelight?
Jean Slaughter Doty, il. Ted Lewin
1980, Macmillan

Gail Simmons rides her Welsh pony, Candlelight, through a rusted gate behind her new home, and discovers meets a lonely rich girl who wears old-fashioned clothing and is shocked to see another girl riding astride. Despite the evidence that something is odd, Gail decides to take the friendship as it comes. And Hilary is a good friend, for a while.

This weak but haunting story presents two horse-crazy girls from very different worlds sharing a summer delighting in one beautiful pony mare. As in "Summer Pony,"the approach of fall brings about a crisis. All of Jean Slaughter Doty's horse books have an element of melancholy, but here it becomes the book. The sense of something bad always about to happen is the main attraction, and despite the crucial presence of the pony and rider in the plot, it fails to ever become a pony book, which makes it very different from most of Doty's work.

I call it weak not because it fails to be a pony book, but because despite the effectiveness of the mood created, it has numerous serious flaws. A short book, it still can't quite support the slim plot, and after a long, fitful buildup with entirely unnecessary forays into Gail's family life, it ends abruptly. The main characters are fuzzy; Hilary is a slightly spoiled rich girl who doesn't want to go to boarding school and does something very nearly evil, and Gail is a rather dull middle-class girl who's a little worried about going to a new school in the fall too. The mare is initially given quite a personality, but fades into the background until the very end of the book.

Practical Information
Some glorious information about sidesaddle and carriage horses, which are two things not commonly seen in pony books.

Horses and other animals
Candlelight (Candy), a Welsh pony mare
Nanette, a small white dog

Social Aspect
There is considerable emphasis placed on the wealthy Hilary's lifestyle, with the mansion serving as a summer home, the Mama and Papa in Europe, the governess and maids and coachmen. It is, of course, a more interesting story for a child, the 'princess' lifestyle of a bygone age, but reading the book as an adult, I'm a bit more critical of the modern princess lifestyle of Gail, whose family is living temporarily in a small house while their big new house is built for them, who owns a purebred Welsh pony, whose mother apparently does nothing more onerous than shop for the new house...

Vaguely Northeastern, author was from Connecticut

Ted Lewin's illustrations are black and white drawings, even on the cover (unusual) and actually do fit the rather modern attitude of the book and the era, unmistakably belonging to the 1970's brand of realistic flatness.

Other Books
Doty's other horse novels include Summer Pony, Winter Pony, The Monday Horses, and The Crumb. She also wrote a dog book, Gabriel, and several nonfiction works on horses as Jean Slaughter (Pony Care, Horsemanship For Beginners, and Horses Round The World)

Bourgie Parents
Where's that footman?
Magic Gardens
Bulldozers on the Prowl

Other Information
The University of Southern Mississippi's de Grummond Children's Literature Collection includes materials about Doty.

Other editions

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