When I was little I was lucky to find my way very young to The Black Stallion books by Walter Farley. I read every single book (they appeared every other year or so from 1941 to 1983; the original book was made by into a stunning film of the same name) many times and like the Jim Kjelgaard dog books (Snow Dog, Big Red) I still read them once in a while. As a child I had Breyer horses and Barkies dogs and the scale of the models was compatible enough that I created an early kind of fan fiction diorama series in which the dogs from the Kjelgaard books met the horses from the Farley books.
Of the horses, I actually preferred The Island Stallion, Flame, and Black Minx, the Black’s (Shêtân) daughter. Also some of the “supporting” horse characters, particularly Wintertime and Sunraider. Of course Eclipse and the Piebald were fantastic villains. Unlike Kjelgaard, who told his stories from the perspective of the animals alone, Farley mixed the narratives voices between humans and horses mostly to good effect. Generally both these series of books are underrated and understudied; they are every bit as elegant and meaningful as Call of the Wild without the violence and free from the burden of having to explain the stereotypes of the time; so they remain free for children to enjoy today.
I was thinking about the Black Minx on and off for the past few weeks and even had a dream about the race with Eclipse that is the set piece of The Black Stallion’s Courage.
The Black Minx and Eclipse… Black Minx is the one horse whose speed potential we never really learn. Only “the boy”, Alec Ramsay, can inspire obedience in the headstrong filly. She was a poky frontrunner…she would get out in front of the other horses in every race, put lengths and lengths of distance between herself and the pack, and then…begin daydreaming until she wandered across the finish, albeit still the winner. She is also a bit romantic in other ways, falling in love with her colt rival Wintertime (who like Flame is a solid chestnut) and always wanting to play around with the other horses and guide ponies. Alec decides to “make” Black Minx more competitive by running her with Eclipse (who is dark bay), the wonder colt she bests in the Kentucky Derby but who rapidly thereafter matures into both a magnificent athlete and a terror, speedier (for a spell) even than the Black and cruel, toying with and breaking the spirits of his rivals.
But this plan backfires. The Black Minx bitterly resents having her dedication tested and the forced competition with Eclipse, whom she loathes. She never trusts Alec again. Moreover in these trials she is faster; Black Minx knows all along that even though Eclipse is very fast, she is too far ahead – all she has to do is hold her lead, which she does. Eclipse is bitter about Black Minx’s ease. Finally, in the Belmont Stakes, when all the horses (except the Black) race, Black Minx protests. Wintertime can’t keep the pace Black Minx and Eclipse set, so Black Minx simply slows down and keeps pace with Wintertime. Eclipse surges across the finish line breaking a track and world record. But as Alec races to Black Minx to make sure everything is OK, Eclipse realizes that Alec loved her best no matter what, win or lose. So for Alec and Eclipse, this is a sad story in terms of people-horse relations. For Black Minx, following her refusal to compete, she is retired, as is Wintertime, and they spend the rest of their days together. (In the very last books of the series, Wintertime and Black Minx have a daughter who is also unruly, Black Pepper.)
Tim Farley, Walter Farley’s son, maintains a Black Stallion Website that has a very fun forum, a lot of beautiful images of horses, naturally, stills and clips from the movies, and a real treasure – the vintage covers from the first editions of each of the books.