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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wild Again, Beguiled Again, a Child Again

A wild carpet of moss glided beneath the colt’s flying feet. Squirrels, terrified by the thunder coming down on them, scurried to trees and climbed speedily for self-protection. A rabbit flattened himself out in a hollow. Black Sand raced through open areas, too, masses of wild flowers, dandelions and buttercups, a thousand colored heads, all dancing in the spring breeze.  
The path grew narrow with trees and brush closing in on them. Pam slowed Black Sand to a canter, careful that there were no obstacles in his path. Long, willowy branches slapped against her body.  
Suddenly, the colt reared, uttered an insane neighing shriek and, in a single leap, charged off the path. She managed to keep her seat, realizing what had happened. The tree branches had lashed him, and he had taken them for a whip. - Walter Farley, The Black Stallion and the Girl
Whenever I pick up a book like this, I am once again ten years old, lost in thrilling dreams. Isn’t that a wonderful gift, to be able to relive youth?

The most wonderful memory I have of my paternal grandfather is watching him read, after I told him what the book was about, The Black Stallion’s Filly, by Walter Farley. My grandfather and I shared a passion for horses, and as he read the story, his little granddaughter watching his face intently, beads of perspiration formed on his forehead. A racing aficionado, attending the Kentucky Derby every year with his eldest son, my Uncle Jim, my grandfather could not have been more completely absorbed by this fictional Derby account written for young people.

Back to The Black Stallion and the Girl:
Pam’s blood caught fire. She released her hold on his mouth. Never had she known anything like it, a furious, magnificent soaring flight! She pressed her face hard against his neck, her body light, almost fluid like his. She was one with him, flying with him, and she had no wish but to soar forever, wherever he would take her.
Also connected with my childhood reading of Walter Farley books are memories of the bookmobile driver who came to our little grade school every Tuesday. His name was Jay, and he always remembered which of the two little horse-crazy girls, my friend Kathleen and I, had had the new Walter Farley book first, so if I had been first to borrow the last one, it was Kathleen’s turn to be first with the next. When Jay died, my world was shaken. He was not an old man. It was my first experience of someone dying who was not old and who was an important friend.

Copy on the back cover of the paperback book in my hands says that this story was inspired by Mr. Farley’s own “free-spirited and horse-loving” daughter. Following the last page of the novel, I was happy to find, is a short biography of the author.
Walter Farley’s love for horses began when he was a small boy in Syracuse, New York, and continued as he grew up in New York City, where his family moved. Unlike most city children, he was able to fulfill this love through an uncle who was a professional horseman. Young Walter spent much of his time with this uncle, learning about the different kinds of horse training and the people associated with them.  
Walter Farley began to write his first book, The Black Stallion, while he was a student at Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School and Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. He eventually finished it, and it was published in 1941 while he was still an undergraduate at Columbia University 
. . . . In his life he wrote a total of thirty-four books. . .  
Mr. Farley and his wife, Rosemary, had four children, whom they raised on a farm in Pennsylvania  and at a beach house in Florida. Horses, dogs and cats were always part of the household.  
In 1989 Mr. Farley was honored by his hometown library in Venice, Florida, which established the Walter Farley Literary Landmark in its children’s wing. Mr. Farley died in October 1989, shortly before the publication of The Young Black Stallion, the twenty-first book in the Black Stallion series. Mr. Farley co-authored The Young Black Stallion with his son, Steven.
The Black Stallion and the Girl was published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Thanks to Yearling and to whoever wrote the biographical note at the end of the book. The story was thrilling – all Walter Farley’s horse stories are thrilling! – and it made me happy to read about his family life, too.

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