Saturday, 18 January 2014

PBOTD: January 18th, Moyra Charlton - The Midnight Steeplechase

Here's another very early pony book: it's one of the earliest to switch the focus away from the pony who told his own story to the rider.

Author Moyra Charlton (1918-2000) started writing very young indeed. She was educated at home, and her first book Tally Ho (1930) was written when she was just eleven. That was a standard, horse-tells-its-story tale, not particularly different from what else was available in the equine market at the time. The Midnight Steeplechase (1932) was completely different. Dick Northcliffe, his brother Peter, and four others: Kenneth and Molly Stapletown and Joan and Tony Montgomery, are all at Burndon Castle, where most of them live.

Not for these children the relentless longing for a pony: money is not a problem for them, and there seems to be any number of equines available. The book is something of a morality tale. Although it includes a gymkhana, that's not the main aim of the book. The children are determined to hold a midnight steeplechase, however bad an idea it looks, and as time goes on, it looks a worse and worse one.


The 'chase is of course a disaster, and there are any amount of moral lessons the children have to learn.

The pony book has always been a moral genre, right from its beginnings with Dick a Little Poney (1800). The failings of bad owners are pointed out, and the horse is used as a device to illustrate the need for his riders to learn self control, humility, and consideration for others.

The Midnight Steeplechase is beautifully illustrated by Gilbert Holiday. It's still reasonably easy to find decent copies, and it's well worth seeking out if you want to understand something of how the pony book as we know it today came to be.

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For more on Moyra Charlton, see my website.

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