A while back someone commented on one of my Famous Horse Story reviews and said that she had been hunting for a while for a series of book that she had read back in her schooldays and she thought Famous Horse Stories may be the one. But she mentioned that some of the books had been in first-person perspective from the horse, and that immediately rang a bell for me for a different book that I had read as a child… but I couldn’t remember what it was…
We’re a bit spoiled with the internet these days. It seems like you can type in any old nebulous thought and the internet interprets it into exactly what you were trying to think of. But I didn’t have too much luck with my vague search for first-person horse stories, especially since I couldn’t really remember anything other than that. This nagged at me for two days while I intermittently attempted different unsuccessful internet searches.
Of course, Black Beauty always came up. It has to be one of the most famous horse stories of all time (if not THE most famous), and it is in first-person perspective from the horse. I knew Black Beauty wasn’t what I was thinking of, but one day inspiration struck – hadn’t those childhood books been Black Beauty sequels… or something??
The answer was the “or something” bit. Three sisters – Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson – had written six stories (two by each sister) and published them in two volumes. Each short story was told by a different horse, and each horse was a relation of “the famous Black Beauty.”
My next challenge was finding copies of these books, which was actually more complicated than it should have been, since the stories have also been published each individually and then all six in one volume. I really wanted the same two volumes that I had read as a child, and thanks to the power of eBay I made it happen.
All of that was an extremely long introduction for six short stories that really aren’t that amazing, although they are perfectly good horse stories that I quite enjoyed revisiting.
The horses in Black Beauty’s Clan are Black Beauty’s youngest brother (Black Ebony), and then multiple-greats nephew and niece (Black Princess and Black Velvet). Each story takes place at a different period of time, and thus examines a different part of the working horse’s heritage. Ebony lives in the 1880’s and 90’s. One of his masters also operates a coal mine, so we get the perspective of the ponies who worked the mines, among other things. Princess is alive during World War I, and is sent to France to fight there as part of her story. Velvet’s tale takes place in the 1930’s, when motorcars have greatly eliminated the need for horses – his story is mostly focused on his life as a show jumper, and the decline in the horse’s role in the working world.
I preferred the stories in Black Beauty’s Family, which focused on two of Black Beauty’s ancestors, and one niece just at the end of Black Beauty’s timeline, and thus were stories set earlier in history. Nightshade is alive during the Napoleonic war, and part of his story involves carrying a highwayman. Black Romany lives in the 1840’s and describes a cross-country adventure. Blossom’s story was quite different from the others – one might think of the other stories as being about upper class horses, but Blossom’s father was a carthorse, so her story is one of more drudgery and difficulty in the late 1800’s.
There is a lot to enjoy and learn in these stories, although as short stories they all could have been fleshed out into something more involved. Swaths of time are frequently skipped over, and there isn’t the character development that Sewell’s original had. Velvet’s story especially ends on rather a down note, and I’m not sure any of these stories could be labeled as “happy” per se, as they take place during difficult times. But each gives an interesting glimpse into a different time period, and is the type of historical fiction that I quite enjoyed as a child.
These books are definitely more story-oriented rather than lesson-oriented – Sewell’s book was strongly polemic, but Sewell also wrote her book as a direct response to the cruelty she saw around her. The Pullein-Thompson sisters wrote in the 1970’s, and while animal cruelty is always an issue that needs to be discussed, they didn’t have the specific these-are-things-that-we-need-to-fix like Sewell did. Instead, their stories are more of a record different periods of the past, rather than Sewell’s snapshot of Life Today.
While these aren’t my all-time favorite books, I’m quite happy to add them to my collection. They don’t have the emotional depth or impact of the original Black Beauty, but still are decent and interesting stories that I greatly enjoyed revisiting.