Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

10931946Horses! Again! Not a fan. I don’t know what a horse did to me in a previous life, but the only horsey thing I can think of that I’ve loved in the past 29 years is Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken – remember that movie? My aunt used to take us horseback riding when we were little and I was never impressed. Perhaps Mr. Ed had something to do with it – I hated that show.

Anyway, I had a copy of Black Beauty growing up (who didn’t?), but I never read the thing due to my horse aversion. I would hold it, smell it, and generally love it – but no reading about the horse inside was allowed. A strange child – absolutely. And to be honest, the only reason I bought the book as an adult is because it was part of the Penguin Threads editions. I feel like I should write Penguin a letter now and thank them profusely for providing the proper incentive to read a book about a horse.

Black Beauty tells the story of a horse living life in England during the Victorian era. I was surprised to learn that the narration is told by Black Beauty himself! Getting into a horse’s mind was quite fascinating and even I crumbled a bit under his trials and tribulations. Beauty goes through many owners – some wonderful, many wicked – and learns much about the ways of humans and horses alike. Seeing humanity through his eyes was somehow more powerful, more engaging, and extremely more damning than through ordinary human eyes. You’ll be hard-pressed not to shed a few tears at Beauty’s ending, even if you have been known to turn a cold shoulder to these beautiful, majestic creatures.

Sewell’s writing is nothing less than lyrical. Every so often, I did find myself slogging through some of the more obvious preachy moments about such things as bearing reigns and the like. Characters would have conversations entirely devoted to making a rather bland point about how to rightly treat a horse. I’d sooner have seen these ideas depicted through the novel’s actions rather than repeatedly summed up through dialogue. But I know Sewell’s intentions weren’t necessarily to write a masterpiece, but instead to bring light to a troubling problem.

I also found Sewell’s rainbow of human characters well done. Yes, many are morally upright and well behaved and others are downright cruel – fairly black and white. But she also populates her story with all the in-between which always makes for more convincing moral tales in my own opinion.

Don’t let the horse keep you away from this story! It was lovely and a great book to share with a child you know and love. So many important lessons, fun characters, and a swiftly plotted pace can only make this book the beloved classic known and beloved by so many over the past decades. Spending an afternoon with Black Beauty was time more than well spent!

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cropped-classicsclub3I’m on a roll with my Classics Club reads this year! How about you?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I tried reading this book several times as a kid, but it always ended up on my DNF pile.  Not sure why as I remember being fond of the idea of a wardrobe transporting me to a secret land.  There were cubby holes in my house that I pretended did this very same thing and I was convinced the small woods behind my house (really some trees and a few shrubs) were a magically enchanted forest.

Everyone knows the story – four siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) stumble across the magical wardrobe during a game of hide and seek.  The wardrobe transports them to the land of Narnia where the evil White Witch rules and has thrown the world into perpetual winter, without Christmas.  With the help of the children, Aslan (Lion and King of Beasts) has returned to set things straight in a battle of good vs. evil.

I’m not reading this novel as a Christian allegory – yes, I know that it’s meant to be one.  You can’t hide from it as there is absolutely no subtlety AT ALL to the story’s religious overtones.  Instead, I really wanted to see how the story held up separate from that fact as most children aren’t reading it in that light anyway.  And this is most definitely a children’s story.

The very idea of a magic wardrobe leading to a wonderful new world is brilliant – what kid won’t find this enjoyable?  Imagination and creativity are nurtured in such fairy tales and I adore any book that steps outside the bounds of reality. Narnia is masterfully and whimsically drawn as a winter wonderland hiding a frozen hell.  I also love how the color white that’s so often used to symbolize purity and good covers this evil world ruled by a snow ‘queen’.

The children themselves are hit and miss with me.  Peter and Susan as the eldest siblings are flat characters who receive almost no attention.  Edmund and Lucy are much more well-rounded.  Poor Edmund as mislead traitor and Lucy as brave explorer and independent thinker.  As for the White Witch and Aslan, I wanted to know them better – to understand their motives.  I hated feeling like one is just bad and the other just good – what makes them this way?  Is this all they are?  So frustrating and I don’t really see how they can teach us anything.

I wanted to like it – I really tried to, but everything just fell limp and lifeless at the end.  Lewis built a gorgeous world with non-dimensional, cardboard characters.  Are the rest of the stories any better?  I’m not inclined to keep reading.  To be honest, I had more fun reading about the controversy of which novel to read first, The Magician’s Nephew or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (you can see which side of the argument I fall).  Very young children will still probably find this tale enchanting – obviously, they do since this novel has remained so topical and present 62 years after its first publication.  So, in general, no one agrees with me and that’s perfectly okay!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Friday and super weekend.  The Litwits meet this Sunday at my house – 4 pm – to discuss The Night Circus!  Looking forward to seeing everyone!