Monday, 20 January 2014

PBOTD: January 20th: Monica Dickens - Cobbler's Dream

Monica Dickens is probably best known now as the author of the Follyfoot series. She didn't, however, start off as an author of children's books, and today's book, Cobbler's Dream, (1963), was originally intended as a book for adults. The author was an active supporter of the RSPCA, and this book sprang from what she observed: the casual cruelty man metes out to animals, and the ever present need for organisations to try and combat it. 

Cobbler's Dream opens with a grim episode of brutality in which a cruel and selfish girl whips her show jumping pony because he has fences down. It's her fault, but she has no intention of taking any responsibility for her actions. Her father will buy her another pony. And he will believe whatever she says, and vicious with the knowledge of it, she taunts Paul with her plans for the pony's imminent destruction.

Michael Joseph first edition, 1963

Groom Paul has been taken on as an act of soon regretted charity, for he is an ex con. Whatever his background, he loves the pony, Cobbler's Dream, and he steals him and sets off to find a new home for the pony. He stumbles across Follyfoot Farm, somewhere the dispossessed and wounded, both human and animal, wash up.

Puffin (Peacock) paperback, 1967

There's no secret here about which of the two crimes Monica Dickens finds least reprehensible: the pony needed saving, just as so many others do who hobble through the pages of this book. 

Children's Book Club reprint

Cobbler's Dream provided the basis for the Follyfoot series commissioned by Yorkshire TV in the 1970s. Required viewing for the pony obsessed of the time, Follyfoot was more romantic than the original (the Cobbler's Dream Dora is more tweedy and awkward than the beautiful Dora of the television) and it lacked the sheer awfulness of some of the incidents described in Cobbler's Dream - which would have sat uneasily with the weekend teatime viewing Follyfoot was planned as. 

If your only experience of Monica Dickens is the Follyfoot series, Cobbler's Dream might come as something of a shock, but in its own right, it's a fine read.

The book was originally published by Michael Joseph in 1963, with a very pretty cover illustration by Maurice Wilson, who was responsible for the covers of Doreen Tovey's animal books. The Children's Book Club edition which followed failed to find something as attractive by quite a long way, with its awkward and unrealistic horses. Puffin published the first paperback incarnation of the book as part of its Peacock imprint, aimed at the older reader more able to cope with the cruelty described in the book. 

The book was retitled as New Arrival at Follyfoot in 1993, to ram home the fact that the book was in fact related to the other Follyfoot titles. Having not seen this book, I do not know if they retitled its characters (the Captain in Cobbler's Dream is the Colonel in the later books) or whether they simply went with the original text and hoped readers would catch up.


Mammoth reprint, retitled, 1993
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An excellent review of Cobbler's Dream by Caroline Sully
More on Monica Dickens

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