Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fictional Horses--Special Guest Stars

By Eliza

I was following a Twitter conversation recently that had to do with favorite fictional horses. The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, and so on. As a horse-crazy kid, I read all the books in which these horses starred. But there are also the horses who appear in books--written for children and adults--that offer more cameo appearances, but are still key figures. I was always scouting for the stray horse in any book I picked up as a kid, and I still do it.

Here are some of my favorite books that include "special guest star" horses, in no particular order.

1. The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander. Melynlas, the beautiful gray stallion belonging to Taran in Lloyd Alexander's books, The Chronicle of Prydain. (Regal Prince Gwydion gives Melynlas to Taran as a gift; he's the foal of Gwydion's own mighty war mare, the golden-maned Melyngar. I just could not get over the way in which Gwydion knew Taran needed a real horse to fulfill his own destiny. There's a sort of animal whisperer in the Alexander books named Medwyn, and he recognizes Melynlas from pure family resemblance. And considering I was intrigued by Thoroughbred bloodlines even as a kid, I loved the way in which Melynlas' heritage contrasted with Taran being a foundling.

2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. This book is actually less horsey than one would think, considering it is set in early-ninteenth century England. This grown-up book about English magic is one of my favorite books of all-time, so I am very relieved to announce it does, indeed, include horses. The most prominent of these is Firenze, a beautiful white mare belonging to an enchanted servant. Part of the book concerns how ravens symbolize the Raven King, a magical figure at the center of the novel, and at one point an actual raven lands on Firenze's white flank, creating a tableau immediately recognized as a harbinger of luck.

3. The Hidden Hand, by E.D.E.N. Southworth. This nineteenth-century adventure story features a dauntless young adventurer named Capitola Black. Her pony, Gyp, is a crucial part of the story--her horsemanship is part of what makes her such a fierce adversary for the villainous Black Donald--and a well-matched partner for the canny heroine.

4. Giant, by Edna Ferber. In the film version of Giant, the heady filly My Mistake morphs into a black stallion (as so many literary horses do onscreen.) But in the written version of Edna Ferber's story of Leslie Lynnton, a Virginia girl who marries a Texas cattle rancher, My Mistake brings the couple together, and some of the best parts of the book concern how Leslie frets over her horse's journey to Texas, and what happens between horse and woman once they get to their new home--there's a fight over the horse, a moment when My Mistake is forced into a heavy Western saddle instead of the tailored English tack she is used to . . .great detail and key parts of this hefty, panoramic American book.

5. D'Aulaires' Greek Myths, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. This classic compendium was one of my favorite books as a child and the one that has most satisfyingly transferred to my own children's bookshelves. (My husband loved it too; we have multiple copies at the house.) The D'Aulaires understood horses. They wrote about how Poseidon created horses in the shape of the waves, and how Bellerophon rode Pegasaus to glory. The illustration of Hades' gloomy but beautiful black horses, held only by bits and reins, pulling the carriage that takes Persephone down to the underworld, is magnificent.


  1. One of my favorite fictional horse characters (brought to life in a movie last year) was Little Blackie in True Grit. RIP Little Blackie, you gave it your best.

  2. Love this -- I still have a post card from Marguerite Henry that I got in 4th grade. Misty of Chincoteague and Album of Horses were my absolute favorites. :-)

  3. Oh, I love that Album of Horses. I think I have every book MH wrote. You are lucky to have that postcard! A treasure!

  4. How about My Friend Flicka, or The Red Pony...but not exactly your point theses are not cameo appearances but terrific.

  5. Gyp! Gyp and Capitola are great! And she thinks she's giving Gyp away to Black Donald at the end, but he takes another horse and leaves Gyp for her, since he recognizes that those two belong together.

    I'm teaching that book this spring. I could skype you in to give a horse guest lecture.