PBOTD: January 17th, Marjorie Mary Oliver: The Ponies of Bunts

Marjorie Mary Oliver was one of the earliest writers of the pony story in which it is the children, rather than the ponies, who are the main focus. She was also one of the earliest writers to believe in the transformative power of the countryside, particularly when allied to ponies. In the legions of pony books to come, child after child moved out of the stultifying, pony-less city, and out to the countryside where, at last, they could have a pony because there was somewhere to put it. And with the pony came freedom, friends, responsibility and fun.

The children in The Ponies of Bunts (1933), right from the off, are obviously suffering. They are described as "poor little townies - they do look peaky." Much of the blame for this is put firmly at the feet of their mother, who is characterised as over-protective, so much so that on the drive from the station to Bunts she wants the children to ride with her in the car, because she is convinced that going in a pony and trap will be entirely too much for them. Here, she's portrayed as damaging her children. Today, she'd be considered a good mother, not exposing her children (with no helmets) to the dangers of a ride in a pony and trap. I do wonder quite what Marjorie Mary Oliver would have made of today's children, wafted from door to door in cars, not allowed to play out, and for whom the freedom to wander about the countryside unconstrained is unimaginable. 

Still, it was the 1930s when The Ponies of Bunts was written. John and Diana become healthy, tanned, and accomplished riders. Their world is an idyll: nothing really ever goes wrong, and everyone in it, animal and human, has a sort of vital health about them. 

First edition 1933
Marjorie Mary Oliver, and her co-author, Eva Ducat, went on to write two more books which featured some of the same characters:  Sea Ponies (1935) and Ponies and Caravans (1941). The Ponies of Bunts was published in 1933, and the front cover was illustrated by K F Barker. The internal illustrations are photographs: a first in the pony book field. They have now developed considerable period charm, and reveal the world they sprang from perhaps more than illustrations ever could. 

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Anonymous said…
This was passed on to me as a child by an adult who'd outgrown it. I remember being interested in the photos, wondering if they were really the children depicted in the book. The photos were more distinctive than the usual pony book illustrations (even though they were often really good).
Jane Badger said…
Thank you for your comment. I really like the photographs too. I'd love to know more about the photographer, but all we're told in the book is that they're from "Jenefer's camera", which isn't particularly illuminating!
Anonymous said…
I still have this much loved pony book from my 1960's childhood. I wanted to go and stay at Bunts House! Someone out there must know who the children were in those photos. I like to think it was all real.
Jane Badger said…
I'd love to know too! I guess they must be in their eighties and nineties now. Just doing the photographs must have been an experience in itself.

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