So it's safe to say I'm a little biased in favor of the Farley books. Just a warning.
The tribe of the horse-crazy has its own version of what constitutes a classic book. Those who dream of riding in the Maclay Finals cherish The Monday Horses. Wannabe cowgirls love Glen Rounds and Will James. Social climbers love the gracious plenty of C.W. Anderson, whose little characters never just had a horse, they had Man O'War's more promising grandson. The depraved have a lingering kitchsy fondness for the sort of horsey series where girls named Stevie can't decide what's more important, prepping Algonquin Star Of Wonder for the big show, helping their BFF adjust to her diabetes or winning back their boyfriend from the mean girl with the super-expensive horse.
And the non-horse-obsessed world has its own version of classic books with horse themes. The Red Pony is the most obvious case of disconnect - a book about a horse that's actually as much about the horse as it is about the 2004 presidential race, and whose ending has caused serious cases of nausea in generations of innocent children. Other classics - Smoky, My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty- are Classics, capital C. But they're not particularly amenable to younger readers because of the sophistication and density of the writing, as well as the relentless realism built into the stories. They may be marketed as children's books, but they were not written for children and it shows.
One place where both worlds come together is in the 1941 book The Black Stallion. I've never heard of a horse nut who dismissed this book's position as a classic even if it wasn't in their personal top 10, and its success as a 69-year-old book that's still in print (and the connection with a critically acclaimed film) seems to have given it respectability in the wider world.
The series as a whole is an intense fantasy, far more wild than any other horse book.
The series as a whole is an intense fantasy, far more wild than any other horse book.Alec Ramsay is shipwrecked on a desert island with a magnificent killer stallion who he tames, takes back to
The Black Stallion
1941, Random House
Alec heard a whistle - shrill, loud, clear, unlike anything he'd ever heard before. He saw a mighty black horse rear on its hind legs, its forelegs striking out into the air. A white scarf was tied across its eyes. The crowd broke and ran.
Alexander 'Alec' Ramsay, Jr. watches in disbelief as a huge black stallion is, with a great deal of trouble, loaded onto the tramp steamer taking him home from a summer in India. The boy has learned to ride while visiting his Uncle Ralph in
When rescue arrives, Alec and the Black are bonded, but the horse is still savage and wild with others. Alec's parents look askance at this scary horse, but let him keep him down at a neighbor's rickety barn, along with a huckster's tired grey gelding, Napoleon. The neighbor is Henry Dailey, a former racehorse jockey and trainer.
There they stopped and waited for Henry. Finally he showed up - a short, chunky man with large shoulders. He came toward them walking in jerky, bowlegged strides. His white shirt tails flapped in the night wind. He wiped a large hand across his mouth. "Right with you," he yelled.
The Black promptly jumps out of his pasture and goes running off into the dawn streets of
Suddenly the Black bolted. His action shifted marvelously as his powerful legs swept over the ground. Fleet hoofbeats made a clattering roar in Alec's ears. The stallion's speed became greater and greater. Alec's body grew numb, the terrific speed made it hard for him to breathe. Once again the track became a blur, and he was conscious only of the endless white fence slipping by.
But, of course, they do make it to
This single book sparked 17 sequels, a film, a TV series, four Breyer models and a stuffed animal, a dinner theater attraction in Orlando, and has recently given rise to a literacy project aimed at encouraging first graders to read.
TV series (aka The Adventures Of The Black Stallion)
Breyer model #401 (1981-1988)
Breyer model #3030 (1983-1993) The Black Stallion Returns set
Breyer model #3000 (1982-1985) The Black Stallion and Alec
Breyer - model #1153 (Model and Book Set)
Breyer - plush toy
An example of a tramp steamer
Postcard of Arlington Race Track, likely site of the match race
1941 Random House (hardcover) with Keith Ward illustrations (above)
1941 Random House (paperback)
1977 Random House (trade paperback)
1979 Scholastic Books (paperback) movie tie-in with photo cover
1991 Random House (hardcover) anniversary edition with Domenick D'Andrea illustrations
1991 (trade paperback)
Big Black Horse (1953) adaptation illustrated by James Schucker
The Black Stallion (1986) Beginner Books (hardcover) with Sandy Rabinowitz illustrations
Movie Photo Book
Blog commenting on the series