Galloping ahead of the herd
Written: May 9, 2001 (Updated May 9, 2001)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Adventure, horses, courage, horses, character, and last but not least, horses!
Cons:Somewhat dated (written in the 40's).
The Bottom Line: Adventure fantasy for the horse-crazy kid! Without delving too deeply into philosophical issues, it teaches about loyalty, courage, and the nobility of the horse.
Walter Farley's Black Stallion series begins with this book, which he began writing while still in high school. It was several decades old when I first read it, and will be even older by the time I pass it on to my children, but it should always endure as a great book for children and young adults.
The story begins by introducing us to young Alec Ramsay, who is traveling by ship from visiting his uncle in India back to Flushing, New York, where his parents await his return. Alec's age is not given, but he is in high school, so I'd assume he's at least 14 or so (a little older than the boy in the movie which you may be familiar with).
Along the way, the ship puts in at a port in Arabia, where it takes on two passengers: a mysterious Arab man and a giant, wild black stallion. Alec is fascinated by the stallion, in spite of the fact that the horse killed a man on the docks, and he nightly leaves sugar cubes for the horse to eat.
One night, off the coast of Portugal, a storm blows up. The ship is struck by lightning and goes down in the storm. Alec sees the Arab who is apparently the owner of the Black go under the waves, and he runs to try and save the horse. He is able to get the stall door open, and the Black plunges out - taking Alec with him as he runs by. Fortunately, Alec has a life vest on, and once in the water, he is able to grab hold of the lead rope still attached to the horse's halter. Tying it to his waist, he allows the horse to pull him along.
The Black's instincts lead them both to a small desert island. There, Alec must learn to feed himself - and in the process he finds a way to feed the Black, who would otherwise have starved. While alone on the island, he gains the trust and love of the wild stallion. He is the only person in the world who can handle the horse, and he takes him home with him to Flushing.
Down the street lives a retired race horse trainer, Henry Dailey. His barn is the only place to keep the Black... and of course, he soon discovers what a horse he has living there! Naturally, the next step is to get the Black ready to race - not an easy task, considering he has no papers and is a wild stallion!
Alec is a very likeable character - level-headed yet impassioned, mature and independent, setting a high standard of realistic, moral integrity. The Black is a horse straight out of a young kid's fantasies - untamed, fierce, strong, dangerous, fast as the wind, beautiful... and loving only one person, the boy, Alec.
The story is well told, gripping, and it is written at a level which will be challenging (in a positive way) to a child. My copy of the book (a paperback much worn and about ready to fall apart) is marked inside the cover: "To Lori, from Karen" - and Karen was my best friend in fourth grade. So obviously I read it and loved it when I was 8 years old, and I can't imagine any horse-crazy child who would not be instantly captivated by this introduction to a great series.
The only drawback to the book is attached to the fact that it was written in the mid-40's. While the reader can easily identify with the people, he or she might be confused by some of the details which go along with the time period. At the same time, this includes a kind of very shallow education about the country at that time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be good to explain, to a child to whom you're giving the book as a gift, the time period that's involved.
This initial book in the series is followed by over a dozen more, some of my favorites including: The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt; The Black Stallion's Filly; and The Black Stallion's Courage. There's a small subseries called The Island Stallion - at least one of which ventures into a science fiction aspect - and Farley wrote a biography of the great horse Man o'War which is not to be missed by any horse-happy kid.
The Black Stallion used to gallop through my dreams - and especially my daydreams - as a child. He should continue to race at the front of the herd of children's books!
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