Friday, 7 February 2014

PBOTD: 7th February - Mary O'Hara, My Friend Flicka

I had My Friend Flicka in my  pony book collection right the way through my childhood, but it remained resolutely unread. Why, I'm not quite sure. I read everything horsey, so what was it about the Flicka books, and their sequels (because I had those too), Thunderhead and The Green Grass of Wyoming?  Perhaps the answer lay in the fact the only paperback editions available in the UK in the 1970s were the Dragon ones, which were split into parts. The books were considerably longer than the usual paperback length, so it was to Dragon's credit that they didn't edit the book but let it spill over into a second volume. 

Lippinncott early editon
Dragon launched the book with much fanfare, which included a competition giving you the chance to win your own Flicka.  Someone did win that Flicka: Pony Magazine of March 1967 announced that Barbara Slack, of RAF Topcliffe in Thirsk, had achieved the dream. 

Dragon's launch competition,1966
Once I finally did read the Flicka trilogy, I wondered why I'd waited quite so long. It was very well worth the wait. 
Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1943, illus Tunnicliffe

Hero Ken is a world away from his capable brother. Ken's school report is disastrous, and his ex-soldier father, Rob, cannot prevent his frustration from showing. His altogether more sympathetic mother, Nell, is more on the side of her dreamy son. In a last ditch attempt to give Ken something to focus on, he's given the chance to have a colt from the family ranch. He chooses Flicka, but she is terribly injured by wire, and it is only through Ken's devoted nursing that she pulls through. 

Dragon paperbacks, 1966
Dragon paperbacks, 1966
Dragon paperbacks, 1970s
Mary O' Hara's ranch novels were based on her own experience in Wyoming. She married again in 1922, and with her husband moved to the Remount Ranch. Alas, Mary's husband was nothing like the heroic, if stubbon, Rob of her novels, and the real life Flicka died of her barbed wire wounds.
Although the books might be a romanticised version of Mary's life, they are not unrealistic. Life is a constant struggle, and Rob and Nell's marriage totters under the strain of trying to earn a living through horses. The series remains one of the few horse stories to give a sympathetic portrait of depression. 

My Friend Flicka was first published in America by J P Lippincott in 1943. It has been reprinted many, many times. One of the more interesting UK editions is the Eyre & Spottiswoode edition, published in 1943, and illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe. The Dragon edition first appeared in 1966, with a later reprint at least of part two, which had a different cover. I haven't been able to find a matching edition of Part One. My Friend Flicka is still in print.

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For much more on Mary O'Hara, see her page on my website


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