PBOTD: 9th February, Hilda Boden - Pony Girl

Hilda Boden is an odd author. In several of her books, she starts off thinking "I will DEFEAT the pony book conventions and give them something NEW," but then she bottles out, and what started as an interesting premise fizzles out into something pretty conventional.

This is perhaps most obvious in Pony Girl (1959). There's a whole raft of pony books that start off with breathless excitement, because the protagonist if moving out of the rotten, smelly, pony-less town, and into the countryside, where everything is perfect, and there will be, if not a pony actually waiting in the field for you (see the recent The Lost Pony of Riverdale) at least the possibility of one: see Jinny, Jean et al. 

Lutterworth first edition, 1959
That is not what happens to Molly Mallory. The book opens with Molly pottering around in the idyllic Irish countryside, with the possibility of riding at a local racing stables being dangled tantalisingly before her. However, Molly's family are dirt poor, and her father's done what many of his countrymen had to do: travelled over to England to look for work. And then Molly and the rest of the family go too.

They end up in London, and they're not in one of the prettier bits either. At this point, when I first read the book, I was sniffing the literary air like a labrador after, well, food. At last something different and challenging, I thought. But then Molly just happens to find a neglected pony in a bit of land destined to have a tower block built on it, and she rehabilitates the pony, and then she rides it out of London (I admit that bit's good, though Hilda Boden's geography is a little shaky as I don't think Watford's on the way to Buckinghamshire) where Molly meets a decent, country-dwelling family, who later take on Molly, pony and the whole family in a glorious festival of paternalism. In the countryside.

Ah well. Instead of an exploration of how really and truly difficult it was for a poor girl to ride in London, we get the countryside cop out.

Genre fiction does of course tend to follow the conventions of the genre, but it's tantalising and frustrating, when the prospect of something better is whisked from under your nose. Ask the labrador when I get to the fallen bit of cheese before she does.

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For more on Hilda Boden, and unlike yesterday's post there is more: much, much more, try her page on my website


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