Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another way to get a pony...

I thought horse stories had taught me all the ways you could end up with an equine - steal it, borrow it, capture it in the wild, unwrap it on Christmas morning or find it trotting serenely down the road looking lost and sad. But now, I discover a new way; get one as a real estate promotion back in the anything-goes 1950's! According to an article in the August 13, 1956 edition of Life magazine, entitled "A Galloping Popularity For The Pony," ponies were given away with houses in one Oklahoma suburb. Accompanying the photo below of the little girl riding hell-for-leather on a Shetland is the caption:

In her backyard in Midwest City, Oklahoma, Mary Good, 7, races her Shetland. Pony came free with house, one of 30 given away by builders with sale of $22,000 homes in development.

Also interesting is the information earlier in the article that Montgomery Ward listed ponies in its catalog. $179.95 cash for an untrained, purebred Shetland colt, or $18 down and 15 months to pay! Montgomery Ward apparently had two pages of animal listings, including ponies, dogs and donkeys for sale. The catalogs of Spiegel's and Sears Roebuck also sold donkeys and ponies in those wacky 1950s; Spiegel, at least, sold even more exotic creatures, like spider monkeys and zebras. Of course, in the wacky 1990s and beyond, you could/can buy puppies and horses and just about anything else online. The big difference these days is, you're burdened with the downer knowledge that most animals should not be bought online (with sources like Petfinder, websites of good breeders, etc., being the obvious exceptions) and that takes all the fun out of it.

August 13, 1956 issue of Life
Dollar Times - inflation calculator
Montgomery Ward on Wikipedia

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Thanksgiving Treasure (1974)

Thanksgiving, finest of holidays. A four-day weekend, loads of food, no gifting pressure, no massive buildup of holiday cheer, just a parade (switching between the slickness of New York and the hokiness of Philadelphia), a dog show (the Irish Setter won this year!), and food. Turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and olives and buns and more stuffing and gravy and pumpkin pie and whipped cream (the deliciously fake kind that comes in a little plastic tub), and I think I forgot to get some of the apple pie. Excuse me.

Back with pie. Despite the fact that this is a pretty big American holiday, it's never really been popular as a setting for fiction. That makes me all the more tickled to coordinate an appropriate book for today. To be honest, this is not all that horsey, but it does have a horsey theme. And it is a compelling book. Given its unusual pedigree, that's impressive all by itself. It was originally created as a novelization of a CBS made-for-TV-movie, along with three other books about Addie Mills, an adolescent girl in 1940's Nebraska. Everything about these books tells you they're from an earlier era, one where people didn't own a ton of stuff, didn't decorate to impress, didn't have junk food and toys bulging from every cabinet. The author vividly recreates a time when youngish adults were still deeply affected by the Depression years and the world wars, grumpy old codgers abounded, and everything was a lot more basic.

The Thanksgiving Treasure
Gail Rock, il. Charles C. Gehm
1974, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

I would have happily given up any member of my family or any friend, including Carla Mae, to have a horse, but the mere mention of the word was enough to guarantee an argument from my father. He had grown up on a farm, and he saw nothing thrilling about a horse. He simply did not respond to my fantasies of riding at a gallop across the plains beside Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

In November of 1947, Adelaide "Addie" Mills is growing up in Clear River, Nebraska, population 1,500, with her widower dad and her grandmother. Her dad's a curmudgeon, and has a long-standing feud with another local crank, farmer Walter Rehnquist. Rehnquist is a semi- hermit who threatens people with his shotgun if they trespass on his farm at the edge of town. Addie's always been content to accept her dad's view on the matter of the feud, but a combination of the season of overtures and the discovery that Rehnquist owns a horse gives her an idea; the Pilgrims and the Indians became friends over a shared meal on the original Thanksgiving, so why not invite the family enemy to the holiday dinner? Her dad's reaction is predictable.

"Well, think again before you come up with another damn fool idea like that!"

She tries to shop the idea to her best friend, Carla Mae, whose large family, she argues, won't even notice an additional face at the table. When that fails, she pulls out all the stops and argues that if no one wants the old grouch at their table, they should take a Thanksgiving meal
to him. Carla Mae is not enthusiastic -

"You're crazy!" she said. "The only reason you want to go is to see that stupid horse!"

- but gives in. Addie sneaks food off the table and then the two ride their bikes off into the darkness of a Thanksgiving afternoon. Rehnquist grudgingly lets them in and samples the food, but cuts to the heart of Addie's motivation -

"I'm a pretty smart old gink," he said, "So don't fool around with me, sister. Tell me the truth!" "I told you, it's the spirit of Thanksgiving, and ... I was worried about your horse."

It turns out the pinto mare is named Treasure, and Rehnquist is on the fence about letting Addie ride her until she mentions that her father won't let her ride.

A very short, quick book which moves along more by virtue of atmosphere and character than plot. It's not really a horse book - Treasure, while a pivotal part of the plot, is not actually in most of it.

This book - and the series it was a part of - has an odd story. The book was an early example of a book based on a visual medium, in this case a TV movie which originally aired on CBS on November 18, 1973. The movie was released on VHS as The Holiday Treasure, packaged with the far better-known prequel The House Without A Christmas Tree. Addie's adventures are based on those of the author/screenwriter, Gail Rock, and continue for two more movies/books, both of them also holiday themed. A Dream For Addie (the book) aka The Easter Promise shows Addie idolizing a famous actress who returns to her hometown of Clear River, and in Addie And The King Of Hearts, Addie develops a crush on a teacher.

IMDB for The Thanksgiving Treasure (1973)

Flying Dreams - a fan page for the film trilogy

Collecting Children's Books blog - the books
Roy Rogers website
Valley, Nebraska

Other Editions
1) A Bantam Book/Scholastic edition from 1976 (with, unfortunately, some writing on the cover)

2) A Dell Yearling edition (1986)

3) It also appeared in Redbook Magazine as a serial in November of 1974.

And the TV movie
The actress who plays Addie actually broke her leg falling from the horse during filming.

About the Author
Roberta Gail Rock (1940-____)
Rock grew up in Valley, Nebraska, which seems like a basic name even for the Midwest, and moved to New York to work in journalism. She worked as a film/TV critic for Women's Wear Daily, and did freelance writing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews, reining and racehorses

Around this time last year, a depressing bit of publishing news emerged. Tart-tongued book review bible Kirkus Reviews was closing after 76 years. The Nielsen Company, in full-scale retreat from the often awful world of magazine publishing, shut down Kirkus and Editor & Publisher. And then - reprieve. A shopping mall mogul bought Kirkus, which was named after founder Virginia Kirkus. New owner Herb Simon is also the owner of the NBA's Indiana Pacers, and part owner of a bookstore.

Editor & Publisher
was also saved. The Duncan McIntosh Company resurrected the shuttered publication, sans its editor and star reporter, only to fire its remaining editorial staff late this year - the memo announcing the re-structuring is a little classic in bad writing:

"Editor & Publisher magazine will be utilizing more individuals for the print edition who are experts in their individual fields as opposed to reporters who track down experts and put the expert’s story into the writer’s words.

So, a few review from Kirkus of recent horsey releases: young adult fantasy novels Pegasus and House Of The Star, Jane Smiley's A Good Horse, a Ted Lewin picture book about a New York City barn, Stable and 2010 National Book Award winner (and racetrack fable) Lord Of Misrule

By Becky Hanson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The largest reining show in the world kicks off this week in Oklahoma City. The National Reining Horse Association's NRHA Futurity and Adequan North American Affiliate Championship Show runs from November 25 through December 4, 2010.

Growing up with the elegant, long-legged, fiery Thoroughbreds of C.W. Anderson and Walter Farley as my ideals, I never had a notion of the West or Western riding. Then I grew up, began to realize that I could die, and started taking riding lessons. (In that order, which is, frankly, not the best order to do it - ideally you learn to ride before you learn that you can die, as that makes the whole process less fraught.) Once you give your fragile self to a large, skittish animal for safekeeping, those short, calm 'ranch-type' horses take on a whole new appeal. I went to a reining show a few years ago and what impressed me most was how, at the end of each round - a round that included galloping, spinning and bursts of speed - the horse stopped quietly at one end of the ring, the rider dismounted at his/her leisure, and they walked out in what can only be described as a mosey. I like a horse who can mosey.

And back to the Thoroughbreds... Mine That Bird, the gelding whose 2009 Kentucky Derby win charmed and surprised, has been retired. He'll have a retirement ceremony at Churchill Downs on November 28. The filly Zenyatta has retired (again) after coming a close, close second in the Breeder's Cup. And Philadelphia favorite Smarty Jones, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004, has been moved from Kentucky stud Three Chimneys Farm to Ghost Ridge Farms in Pennsylvania.

And in hyper-reality, Secretariat has made $55 million. It reportedly cost $35 million. I leave it up to those who understand box-office philosophy to decide if that's a winner.

National Book Awards - Lord Of Misrule
Ted Lewin website

The Bloodhorse - Mine That Bird To Bid Farewell At Churchill
ESPN - Zenyatta Retires To Lane's End Farm
Ghost Ridge Farms
Box Office Mojo - Secretariat

NYT - Editor & Publisher and Kirkus To Close

NYT- Kirkus Gets A New Owner - From The NBA

Editor & Publisher

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More tangents

"All hunting stories are the same," said Clovis; "just as all Turf stories are the same, and all--"
"My hunting story isn't a bit like any you've ever heard," said the Baroness.

I've been fond of the short stories of H.H. Munro, aka Saki, since I discovered them in my college library. During the hours I should have been studying, partying, or (probably) reading books that actually were part of my English classes, I read him instead. There was something mesmerizing about those highly artificial stories, so many of them just little constructions around a wasp sting from his constant narrators, Clovis Sangrail and Reginald.

Saki's characters tended not to go near horses - knowing, apparently, that horses can reduce the most elegantly self-possesed human to sweating, ineffectual mania in under thirty seconds. In the story The Rogue, however, a horse plays a pivotal role in a newlywed's life. And in Esme, Saki makes a wholly unique contribution to the genre of fox-hunting fiction. Esme is also featured in a collection of horse stories, Classic Horses Stories: Fourteen Timeless Horse Tales, edited by Steven D. Price.

"It sounds a queer proceeding to ask for a horse back when you've just sold him," said Mrs. Mullet, "but something must be done, and done at once. The man is not used to horses, and I believe I told him it was as quiet as a lamb. After all, lambs go kicking and twisting about as if they were demented, don't they?"
The Rogue

The Brogue - Beasts And Super Beasts
Esme - The Chronicles Of Clovis

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New in November

P├ęgase; Walter Crane via Wikimedia Commons

I was slinking along the Young Adult section of the library, trying not to look creepy and old, when I spotted a brand new fanatasy novel whose cover was not largely black, did not feature an expressionless virgin and whose title did not appear in a red ribbon floating across the heroine's cloud of violently floating hair. In short, a novel which did not appear to be about the Undead, the Fey, or the like. It was vaguely green, but grass green, not the poison green of a book about demons or wizards. My gaze lingered, and then my eyes widened as I took in the title.

I haven't read Pegasus yet, but I have high hopes. The pedigree is impeccable. McKinley's been doing fantasy for years; I particularly liked her two visits to the Beauty and the Beast tale, Beauty (1978) and Rose Daughter (1997). She's no Bella/Harry opportunist. Her vampire story, Sunshine (2003), was one of the better recent takes on the genre.

On the FAQ section of her website: I used to say that the only strong attraction reality ever had for me was horses and horseback riding.

So she appears to be ideally suited to tackle the flying horse legend.

Also being released in November:
Most Wanted by Kate Thompson (Nov. 23, Greenwillow, Harper Collins) historical fiction
House Of The Star by Caitlin Brennan (Nov. 9, Starscape, Tor, Macmillan) fantasy

Robin McKinley's website
Robin McKinley's blog
Penguin Putnam - Pegasus