PBOTD May 13th - Ruby Ferguson: Jill Enjoys Her Ponies/Jill and the Runaway

It's been a while since I did a Jill book, but I do aim to get them all in before the year is out! PBOTD for today is the fourth in the Jill series, Jill Enjoys Her Ponies (1954).  By the less innocent 1980s, the double entendre of the title was too much for Hodder, who changed the title to Jill and the Runaway, which is how it remained until Fidra Books' recent republication.

Hodder & Stoughton, 1954, illus Caney
The series from the fourth book on sees Jill having pony-related adventures which are no longer tied in to her getting a pony. In the previous books, she gets first Black Boy, and then Rapide, and after a bit of initial difficulty, she and Rapide settle down. The challenge for any pony book after girl's-got-pony is what you do next, and endless gymkhanas can lack narrative drive. 

Ruby Ferguson chooses to revisit the girl-without-pony theme in the shape of Dinah Dean. Dinah is obsessed with ponies, but she can't afford lessons. She meets Jill when she has a lesson at Mrs Darcy's stables, and Jill's assigned as teacher. At the end of the lesson, Dinah admits she doesn't have the money to pay, and suggests she can work for it, but Wendy, who's running the stables in Mrs Darcy's absence, isn't having any of it and Dinah is sent off. 

In a neat and rather uncomfortable echo of those beautifully-clad, proficient riders sneering at Jill in her earliest, clueless days in Jill's Gymkhana (1949), we're left in no doubt about what a worm Jill and Wendy think Dinah is. They don't see the desperation, just the deception.

Hampton Library edn, illus Caney
It's Jill's mother, as so often in the books, who acts as Jill's moral compass. Once she's explained Dinah's grim home situation, as a domestic servant to a father obsessed with his research, Jill is struck with guilt, and makes Dinah a present of her outgrown riding clothes. Jill bought those same riding clothes in Jill's Gymkhana when instead of doing the errands she'd been sent to do, she used the money to buy the clothes at an auction. It's a neat comment on the way that, once we've moved into a group and been accepted by it, we accept the way it thinks, and conveniently forget the way we once behaved.

Armada pb, 1963, illus Caney
Jill continues to veer between being embarrassed by Dinah, and sympathising with her. Although Jill does help Dinah out, she makes sure to do it when none of her friends can see her and judge her. I think this shows Jill's bravery: it's desperately hard for a teenager to go against the herd, but she does it, albeit on her own terms. 

Armada, pb, 1970? cover uncredited
In any other book, Dinah Dean would have been the heroine from the start, but it isn't until the end of the book that we see what manner of girl Dinah Dean is. At the Blossom Hill Gymkhana, she rides in, complete the stolen ponies and a tale of a a wicked horse dealer selling horses for meat. Dinah's never really been part of Chatton equine society, and she remains distant from it, because at the end of the book she's due to be shipped off to boarding school. Jill and her friends would have loathed it, but Dinah is overjoyed by the prospect.

There are two concepts of the heroine at work in this book: Jill, the conventional pony book heroine, whose priorities are riding properly and treating your horse correctly, and Dinah, the fairytale heroine, poor, put-upon, brave and resourceful, fighting to right wrongs, and utterly uncaring of what other people think. It's interesting that it's not Dinah who changes in the book, but Jill. Both Dinah and Mrs Crewe show that there is a wider world beyond the pony. Jill Enjoys Her Ponies is probably the Jill book that explores most deeply the world beyond conventional pony activities.

Hodder, laminated boards, 1970s 
Knight, 1970s, cover W D Underwood

Knight, 1980s
Knight, 1990s

Hodder, pb, 1993

Hodder, pb, 1993, cover Adrian Lascom

Fidra, pb, 2014, illus Caney

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Fidra Books have now republished Jill Enjoys Her Ponies, and you can buy it directly from them


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