Thursday, 6 March 2014

PBOTD 6th March: Diana Pullein-Thompson - I Wanted a Pony

I know I did I Wanted a Pony (1946) as part of the Pony Book Advent Calendar, but I am going to put it in again, partly because I am very fond of it, and also because having featured Three Ponies and Shannan, it seems a good idea to get the first bit of the story in! If you've read Three Ponies and Shannan, you'll remember that its heroine, Christina, meets Augusta, heroine of I Wanted a Pony, at the Pony Club camp, and (eventually) they become friends.

Collins 1st edition, 1946
I Wanted a Pony is the story of how Augusta came to get her pony, Daybreak, and it was Diana's first book. She started it at the age of 16, and it's an amazing piece of work for one so young: arguably, it's the most popular of her books.

Collins Junior Fontana, 1956
Sadly, it's not a book the author has retained any fondness for. She regards it as derivative, drawing its plot from her mother's A Pony for Jean. There are similarities. Like Jean, Augusta is on her own, and like her, she is beset by cousins. Unlike Jean, Augusta's cousins are a truly unlikeable lot. They are utterly convincing in their sneering, their snobbery and their sense of entitlement. Augusta is no goody-two-shoes - she is though, her own person. Although temporarily bowed down by her cousins' attitude to her, and her aunt's obvious, and often expressed, view of Augusta as a badly behaved nuisance, Augusta is never completely floored by her family. She knows perfectly well that their opinion of her riding is completely accurate.

Armada, 1966, cover Peter Archer
The cousins do nothing to help Augusta, and, thrown on her own devices, she goes out for a walk one day, and discovers a deserted farm on fire. She manages to save the farm, and as a reward, is given some money. It's enough to buy a pony, so off she goes to the sales. There she finds a grey pony - beautiful, but with a problem that Augusta doesn't quite get to uncover before she buys him. Buying the pony is itself fraught. Augusta doesn't have quite enough money, so resorts to selling the silver buttons from her coat, and her church hat. The pony, who Augusta calls Daybreak, is hers. Their ride home is blissful, but the moment Augusta puts a bridle on the pony, things go wrong. He headshakes, incessantly.

Armada paperback, 1970s
I'm sure everyone who has read the book now has the diagnosis welded into their brain. The browband's too tight.
Collins Pony Library, 1973
Did you believe that section of the book? I did. It never occurred to me to think of it as unrealistic. It was just the sort of thing that happens with an animal. Not all critics agreed, however. Margery Fisher thought that:
"Few readers, whether they know about ponies or not, are likely to accept the situation in I Wanted a Pony.... where Augusta discovers in a few minutes what everyone else (including the vet) has failed to deduce in months about the grey pony - that its unpleasant habit of tossing its head is not due to a brain-tumour but to the fact that an unusually broad forehead makes all bridles uncomfortable. This contrivance to bring the pony within Augusta's limited means is unusually bad." (Margery Fisher, Intent Upon Reading, 1961.

|Armada paperback, 1980s
Sometimes you're just lucky: you find the trick to a pony that no one else has. I did in fact like the fact that Augusta didn't have a special "feel" for Daybreak, or some mystical communion with him that sorted the problem out. It was just plain common sense: the sort of thing that anyone might eventually work out, and not wispy sentiment or mysterious, half-felt power.

I liked Augusta's calm independence, and of course I loved the end, where she confounds her horrible cousins by winning at the local show. Eldest cousin Jill, convinced as is her mother that she is the best rider for miles, and can win on anything, has a disastrous outing on her expensive new show jumper. It is a thoroughly satisfying piece of schadenfreude, made even sweeter by the fact that Augusta's other cousins, Stephen and Barbara, give Augusta the credit for what she's done.

And isn't that what we'd all like, in life? The bully to be confounded, our dreams of horses come true, and all those around us to admit that actually, we were right all along. No wonder I Wanted a Pony was such a popular book.
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I Wanted a Pony was first published by Collins in 1946, with a cover and internal illustrations by Anne Bullen. Collins published it in paperback as part of its Junior Fontana imprint in 1956, with a new cover illustration. Armada, the paperback arm of Collins, put the book out in 1966, the 1970s and in the 1980s, firstly with a cover by Peter Archer, followed by an uncredited artist, and the usual photo cover. In between the paperback editions, I Wanted a Pony made an appearance as a part of the Collins Pony Library in 1973, with a new cover. 

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For much more on Diana Pullein-Thompson, see her page on my website.

2 comments:

Lucy R. Fisher said...

I've been looking for it for years, unable to remember the title. I'd forgotten she was Augusta - but Daybreak! Of course! Augusta is a bit of a horse-whisperer, and has a very funny narrative voice. Off to order it NOW! Thank you so much.

Jane Badger said...

Oh good - I do hope you enjoy it just as much! I still love it, I must admit.