Wednesday, 10 August 2011
When I was a young girl, any book that featured a horse on the cover would be snapped up - regardless of content. This is how I discovered such gems as My Friend Flicka, Snow Cloud Stallion, and, the best of them, The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell.
It is hard to review a story that was so much a part of my childhood. I read and re-read this book. I plagiarised it shamelessly when I attempted my first stories. I dreamed that I would see Thowra whenever we went out into wild country. To my brother's disgust, I even tried to read it aloud to him. For me, it is absolutely magical and difficult to look at objectively.
I'm trying hard to think about and articulate why I loved it so. As a girl, it was a book that took me into another world, with strong graceful horses and Australian terms for flora and fauna. Thowra was shown to be a magnificent stallion, wise and beautiful, and it appealed to me tremendously. It really was absolute escapism. I was horribly dismayed to learn, as I got older, that brumbies are not the stunning horses I believed them to be - in fact, are known as being rather 'scrubby'. Similarly, I imagined Thowra with a coat of shining silver - I've since learnt that the term 'creamy' probably means a palomino horse rather than a white.
With some of these childhood assumptions shattered, I thought I would try reading the book once more and see how I felt about it, with some of that rose-tinted attitude stripped away.
What did I find?
A book that still charmed me, even disregarding nostalgia and warm feeling. This tale of Thowra, the silver stallion, is written very well, with warmth and clear love for the subject matter. The life of these wild horses is shown to be tough, with threats from lack of food and Man constantly affecting them - and yet there is joy to be found.
Thowra is never given 'magical' abilities. All of the ways in which he outsmarts the men and the other horses comes from bushlore, knowing the country better than they and using rocks to step on and hide his tracks. He is clever, but only insomuch as he is forced to be, thanks to his creamy coat which is desired by all men who see him. He is a somewhat mischievous character as a foal, but grows into a wise horse as he matures, and I liked this character development.
I liked the fact that Mitchell didn't anthropomorphise the characters at all - although there are occasional lines of dialogue between the horses, they are not given human qualities. They are horses, and driven by all the issues that affect horses, such as searching for grass during the winter season and seeking a mate.
The Silver Brumby is a very natural book, full of grace and passages that demonstrate Mitchell's great love for horses. It is a book I would not hesitate to give to a pony-mad girl now - the language and the story are timeless, and very beautiful. In terms of pony classics, Thowra easily stands alongside Black Beauty, and I would love to see more people reading and enjoying this remarkable story.