Monday, 9 July 2007

Plenty of Ponies

I've just been reading Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Plenty of Ponies, which is one of her earliest works. It's the story of the Esmonds, whose parents have, contrary to usual pony book form, hit good times, meaning that they now have a pony each, a large house and plenty of staff. Lewis says: "It's much easier to be nice if you're poor." Charlotte, his sister, says "I should think it's extremely difficult to be nice if you're really poor and don't have enough to eat and live in a slum, but I agree that it's good for one to be poverty-stricken like we were."

I wonder if it's the idea of noblesse oblige that JPT likes: it's alright to have money, but you must do the right things with it: treat your fellows, staff and horses well and live a life that doesn't focus simply on what you can buy. The main adult figures in the Noel and Henry books, Major and Mrs Holbrooke embody all these things. June Cresswell, on the other hand, has plenty of money, but also a mother who is wilfully blind to her daughter's faults and determined to believe only the best of her in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The heroine of I Had Two Ponies is a classic spoiled little rich girl: so used to having her own way, and doing nothing for herself, that she is not particularly bothered when her two ponies are sent to a sale. She is, however, shown the error of her ways, realises that she has been behaving extremely badly and hunts out the two sold ponies. Two Ponies is, I think, the most moral of JPT's works (do tell me if you think differently) and has the character who goes on the greatest moral journey.

I've been trying to think of a pony book in which the heroine is poor and nasty; ground down by her poverty, but I can't. The most realistically portrayed poor girl is Ruth in K M Peyton's Fly-by-Night. Dinah, in Joanna Cannan's, Gaze at the Moon lives in a Council house. They are both poor but have loving families and masses of determination and a good deal of self-belief. Jill, of course, has a mother whose income fluctuates, certainly in the early stories, but matters never become dire. Perhaps that is anyway, one of the functions of the children's story: to act as a fantasy, where the worst never quite happens, or if it does, it's overcome.

11 comments:

Gillian said...

There's a line in 'Jill's Riding Club', where Ann has been reading her pony books to see if there's one about running a riding club. She says there is one such book, but it will be no use to them, as 'The children in it had boundless parkland at their disposal and were instructed by their uncle, who was a famous equitation expert, and although it made a jolly good story, she had chucked it out fo the window in exasperation as it wasn't true to life'.
I've often wondered if Ruby Ferguson is having a dig at the the Noel and Henry books here.

'Riders on the March' and its sequel, 'They Rode to Victory' (by CPT) feature some characters who really struggle with the poverty, and don't always have happy home lives. Also 'Who, sir, me sir ?' by KM Peyton, which has characters seriously affected by their poverty and background. These date from the 70's, when pony books were changing to reflect a more contemporary world.

Jane said...

That's a good point about Jill. I've been trying to think of any other pony books to which it could apply, and for the moment, can't.

I'd forgotten about the CPTs you mention - though that does remind me of Janice and Mike (?) in For Want of a Saddle and its sequels, who were also quite badly off. CPT always seemed much happier to cover a wider social spectrum than her sisters.

There's also Dark Horse, by Christine Dickenson, whose characters aren't even remotely well off.

Gillian said...

I forgot about 'the Lost Pony' and 'For Want of a Saddle', as I'm not particularly keen on those, and don't have them. They also feature Dick from the 'First Rosette' series, who is from a poor background, though again, he has a close-knit family.

The comments in the Jill book could also apply to 'We Started A riding Club', though not as closely. The club in that has no problem finding places to meet, and a grandfather who happens to know famed equitation experts. 'Noel and Henry' is still a closer match to Jill's description.

Jane said...

Ruby Ferguson was supposed to have been having a go at Enid Blyton's soppier efforts when she describes Mrs Crewe's works, so I think it is pretty likely she's having a go at JPT.

mutterings and meanderings said...

The Fanes are pretty damn poor in teh Eventers trilogy - the house basically falling in around them.

What about Jackie as in Jackie and Misty books - din't she win ehr pony.

There was a very old pony book I had when I was a kid where it was written as a 'how to' guide as well as a story. The two girls didn't have much dosh and fed their ponies 'mangolds' - what are they - and veggie peelings!

I lived in a council house and was given a pony - but I haven't written the story yet! ;)

Jane said...

Would the mangolds be A Pony in the Family by J M Berrisford? That was written as a "how to". I have a copy in stock so will have a look. I do have some 1930s how tos lurking around as well so will have a quick look at those.

The Fanes though are asset rich - though you can't as I know only too well, take a chunk of your listed effort down to the Co-op.

Shall look forward to your story!!

yaeli said...

Hi, I found your blog randomly when idly googling for stuff about the "Jill" books. Brought back lots of good memories of reading the books in the 80s. I was trying to remember the title and author of another pony book I had, inherited from my mother's collection (so it was probably written in the 60s). The story is about a girl and her brother and sister who move with their widowed mother to a tiny cottage near the New Forest. They save and save and buy a badly treated pony they have seen. They end up in an adventure, stopping a gang of ne'er do wells robbing the mansion home of an elderly colonel. The colonel turns out to be their mother's estranged father, with whom she fell out when she married a (gasp) American. They move to live with him and all get ponies. I remember the brother was called Martin. I'd love to try to find the book again... so if it rings any bells, do tell!

mutterings and meanderings said...

Jane, A Pony in the Family is the very one!

God, you're good!

Louise said...

The New Forest story you are looking for is The Ten Pound Pony by Veronica Westlake. One of my favourites but I have not come across anything else by her.

Louise

Jane said...

Hi Yaeli - this is one of my favourites, and like you I had to go round pleading until someone put me out of my misery and told me what it was. It's Veronica Westlake's Ten Pound Pony.

M&M - thanks. And thanks too for the link on your blog!

yaeli said...

Jane and Louise - thank you both. You are absolutely right, the book was "The Ten Pound Pony". Thanks for the information. I'll have to see if I can get hold of a copy and have it sent to Israel so I can enjoy it again.

Another favourite of mine, apart from the "Jill" books, was one called "Show Jumping Secret", I think by one of the Pullein-Thompsons.

So many great pony books...:)