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May 12th, 2019

Black Stallion re-read

When I was very young I read a bunch of Walter Farley's Black Stallion novels. I even wanted to be a jockey, until I saw Feynman on TV and wanted to be a physicist, at around age 8.

I've just re-read the first two. They hold up decently. It helps to know, now, that those were written in the 1940s -- the first one published in 1941, when Farley was an undergraduate! Alec says 'Gosh' an awful lot, and there's an Italian immigrant straight from Central Casting (of the many bambinos, not Mafia, variety). The first book is part desert island survival, part settling in in Flushing, part "can we race?" I liked the second one more (Goodreads is divided on this point), it was quite high tension (like, put the book down at times because eeeeeee high tension) and didn't seem obviously insulting to the Arabs in it.

The second book also has an unresolved murder and I don't know if it's a loose plot point or simply "things happen that aren't about the protagonist but affect him anyway. It also has some unfortunate "ugly = evil" but that's not confined to 1940s writing.

Knowing the date of writing puts some things in context. The series starts with Alec on a steamship from India, while the second early on has a detailed flight of a flying boat -- not even a straight transoceanic one, but hopping from NYC, to Trinidad, to Brazil, to Liberia, and so on until Aden. Passengers stay in hotels between hops. This must have cost an awful lot of money...

I jumped ahead to The Black Stallion Revolts, which I doubt I ever read before, and the tension is high again: A&B are trying to go somewhere and I don't actually know if they'll get there -- sometimes travel trouble in Farley is just raising the stakes, and sometimes it kills almost everyone and change's the survivor's whole life.

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Damien Sullivan
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