Thursday, 30 January 2014

PBOTD: 30th January, Primrose Cumming - Silver Eagle Riding School

Primrose Cumming, were she writing today, would never have been able to publish the sheer variety of books she did. Out of her twenty books, only three made a series. If she’d been writing today, Silver Snaffles would have been the start of a lengthy series: today, publishers like series, and like to commission children’s books as a series, because series sell. Perhaps if Silver Snaffles had not been published just as World War II started, in 1939, there would have been more pressure from her publishers to do so. Silver Snaffles, however, remains a one off, and is probably all the better for it.

Primrose did, however, write one series, which was about the Silver Eagle Riding School. The Silver Eagle Riding School (1938) was the first pony story to be centred around a riding school. Almost all previous pony books featured children who, if they didn’t have a pony at the beginning of the book, did by the end. It wasn’t the first book to feature what became a well worn trope of a family who have fallen on hard times, and who, in order to keep their horses, need to put them to work: that was  Eleanor Helme’s Mayfly, the Grey Pony (1935). Poverty is relative in pony books. The families experiencing these hard times still have roofs over their heads, and destitution is not knocking at the door.

A&C Black, first edition, 1938
So it is with Mary, Josephine Chantry and their younger sister, The Doctor, the only one of them still at school. The Chantry girls’ father has died, and he has left them with no money with which to maintain their establishment. Their strict uncle has the answer: the girls must sell their horses and must take suitable courses to make themselves employable.

They resist, aided by their mother, who is finally pushed to fury by Uncle Edward’s bossiness, and start up a riding school with their horses instead. They only have three, but this doesn’t seem to hold them back.  What does hold them back are their characters: Josephine doesn’t really like her mare Anna being ridden, and has a tendency to swan off and leave Mary with all the work. The Doctor comes up with continual  mad schemes which threaten the riding school – perhaps her finest moment is deciding to play cowboys and Indians with the a little boy whose first lesson it is, and tying his arms up and gagging him before dragging his pony off at a gallop. It does not end well.

You cannot help but feel for poor Mary as she tries to make a success of the riding school despite her sisters. Eventually, with the help of an obliging American girl, she does, and the series continued in 1940 with a rare foray of the pony book into wartime: Silver Eagle Carries On.

A&C Black, reprint

Silver Eagle Riding School was published as a good thick hardback first edition, with that lovely thick pre-war paper, and the neutral toned dustjacket so popular in pony books of the period. There were several reprints, all of which, as far as I'm aware, used the same Cecil G Trew cover illustration, with the addition of green stripes top and bottom. 


~  0  ~

For a full illustrated bibliography of Primrose Cumming's books, plus a biography, see here.

No comments: