Black Stallion's Ghost

When I was a boy my mother enrolled me in the Weekly Reader Book Club. Every month we got a different book from different genres, a newsletter and a Superkernel comic book, which sadly I have none left of, just a poster. Not having a set genre in a kids book club is a good thing. While some of the things I’m drawn to today I still was back then there was still room to open up to other genres and try to build up my interests. I just eventually fell into sci-fi and superheroes with some exceptions.

One of those books you see above, The Black Stallion’s Ghost. I had heard of the movies but I hadn’t seen them. I’ve never really been drawn to horses. Once they put me on a pony and I didn’t like it. I don’t know if it was my fear of heights or what but they had to get me off pretty fast. Anyway, this book is one that’s haunted me (no pun intended) all these years. See, one time I tried to get my mom to read it to me. Unfortunately, I also couldn’t stop peeing so I kept running back and forth to the bathroom. Eventually she gave up and it sat ignored in my book collection until recently. When my mom got really sick I saw this and felt the need to complete some unfinished business. Sadly, she passed before I could complete it, the downside of the “Chapter By Chapter” review series on my website being how long it takes to finish a book. I just finished it this week if you want to take a look at the more detailed reviews, but there are spoilers attached so be warned. This report will be without spoilers and give a general overview of the book and my final thoughts on it.

The Black Stallion’s Ghost by Walter Farley

publisher: Random House (1969)

I did not get this book in 1969. I wasn’t even born until 1973 so I’m guessing that they had these around since it would say if this was a later edition, right?

PLOT: Taking a break before the next races, Alec Ramsey and his horse, referred to as The Black, head to a farm near the Everglades to relax. It’s not going to be a pleasant vacation, however, During a trip through the swamp, our heroes come upon Captain Philippe De Pummel, a show horse trainer, and his amazing horse Ghost. Ghost can perform without a rider because the Captain trained her to react to the right music cues. This is supposedly amazing. However, the Captain has a darker plan. He wants the Black to mate with Ghost, believing a racehorse as amazing as the Black Stallion and his wonderful Ghost would breed a foal worthy of being trained. With the races coming this is a bad idea for the Black, but the Captain is used to getting what he wants…and will take drastic action to see his horse mated with Black.

ANALYSIS: The Black Stallion was Farley’s first book, and it spawned sequels (now written by his son, Steven, since Farley passed away in 1989) as well as movies and a television series. Horses were his usual topic in his other works as well since he learned a lot about horse training from his uncle. This book was definitely written with young horse enthusiasts in mind. Which was the problem for me. I don’t know about horses, as I stated above. Maybe Farley’s hope that discussing horse training in adventures such as this may draw kids to look into it? I don’t know, but some terms flew past me and I can only guess why a male racehorse shouldn’t breed before a race. (Female is obvious.) It sounds like he knows what he’s writing about, but I didn’t and that kind of hurt my interest in the story.

Another was, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers at this point, the Captain is a superstitious man and between his plan to trick Alec (part of which required Alec to be in the right place at the right time, which required a lot of luck) and those superstitions we get a distracting subplot about a horse god named Kovi that may or may not be real. It’s kind of ambiguous what happened but you’ll see in the Chapter By Chapter reviews I developed some of my own theories as the story went along. Still, the Kovi stuff kind of derails the story by creating a different story that for a moment connects to the Captain’s original scheme.

Critically speaking, however, that was my only problem. Farley did a good job establishing the atmosphere of a horse and rider new to the swamp, Alec’s mix of concerns about the Captain and the mild bonding they share as fellow horse enthusiasts, and the fear of the storm and the swamp at midnight mixed with the whole Kovi superstitions. I’ve seen reviews by average people claiming that the Kovi resolution didn’t pan out as they would have hoped, but it’s ambiguous how this part of the adventure ends and I like that. It leaves a potential return for the Captain or at least Ghost. Some of those reviews also noted that some of the scenes may be a bit scary for really young readers, as it does involve a character dying with a horrible expression and the Captain not approving of the Black’s mating rituals. I don’t want to say any more than that, but it’s tame enough for pre-teens and a bit younger depending on what you think your kid can handle. This isn’t for little kids who would get bored or scared at some of the sequences.

If you’re not into horses, or rather if the young reader you plan to buy this for isn’t into horses, this may not be the book for him or her. If they are, however, the book is still being published and it might be worth checking out. Using this link will grant me a stipend from Amazon (which includes paperback, but I wouldn’t link to it if I thought the price was wrong or the book bad. As for me, I’m glad I finally read this book, but I don’t see myself reading it again. My tastes are pretty much set and while I can read a young reader book if it’s good enough and matches my tastes, this one just didn’t work for me. It’s good, but not for me, so it will at some point leave my collection. But at least I finally read the darn thing. I’m not sure mom would have cared if she was still of good health but sometimes you just feel like you need to get a thing done.