The Pie, The Black, Bree & Shadowfax; literary horses, how many do you know?

Bree & Hwin gallop for their lives away from a lion.......

Friday 05 January - 10h24 | Lulu Kyriacou

The Pie, The Black, Bree & Shadowfax; literary horses, how many do you know?

Most horse fans grew up reading stories about horses, the names of some of which are so commonplace, their origins are known even if you have not read the books from which they came.  In this article we will look at literary horses, some which everyone has heard of and a few that might be a surprise.  

First there is Black Beauty......

First there is Black Beauty...... - The Pie, The Black, Bree & Shadowfax; literary horses, how many do you know?

One of the original illustrations from BlacK Beauty by Lucy Kemp Welch

Black Beauty- The 'daddy' of literary horses, Black Beauty features in a tale created by Anna Sewell, who wrote about the life of a well bred Victorian horse who fell on hard times and told it from the horse' own point of view. Along the way Beauty meets both kindness and cruelty,  and makes friends both human and equine.  Who could forget Merrylegs the pony or Ginger, the mare whose tragic death still brings tears to the eyes.  Black Beauty has been immortalised in film, cartoon and television series and the theme song of the 1970's British show based on the book, is one of the most recognised pieces of popular music to this day.  

The Pie- Strangely, The Pie is not quite as famous as the book and movie in which he originally appeared.  National Velvet was written by Enid Bagnold and published in 1935 and told the tale of a young horse mad girl, Velvet Brown,  who aged 14 wins a horse in a raffle and decides to train him for the world's most famous race, the Grand National.  Called The Pie for his piebald (black and white) colouring, the  horse did subsequently undergo two colour changes, first in the iconic 1944 movie that starred the young Elizabeth Taylor,  where he was a chestnut and then in a much later sequel, International Velvet, where he was a bay.  In the story, Velvet enlists the reluctant help of ex-jockey Mi Taylor   to help her train her horse.  The movie version of the book selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  and was the first major starring role for Elizabeth Taylor . In the sequel, made during the late 70's and starring Tatum O'Neal,  The Pie had become a stallion and sired a foal, both still owned by Velvet, who allows her troubled niece to train said foal for the Olympic Games. The National Velvet film trailer is at the bottom of this page.

The Black, Flicka and Bree

The Black, Flicka and Bree - The Pie, The Black, Bree & Shadowfax; literary horses, how many do you know?

The original cover artwork

The Black- Another book that was made into a movie,  The Black Stallion was originally published in 1944 and written by Walter Farley.  It tells the tale of a lad, Alec, who is returning from a visit to an uncle  in India and sees a fiery Arab stallion being loaded onto the vessel.  Alec is fascinated by the horse and after a storm in which the ship sinks,  both end up on a desert island  and have to trust each other for survival.  When rescued,  Alec and the Black return to the USA where the horse becomes famous for winning a match race against two Thoroughbred champions.  The Black Stallion was the first in a series of books several of which were made into movies.  The New York Times once described The Black as the "most famous horse in literary history" but Black Beauty might have something to neigh about that! However the story was good enough to tempt Oscar winning film director Francis Ford Coppola  to use it as one of his follow ups to The Godfather and you can see the original film trailers at the bottom of the page.  

Flicka- My Friend Flicka (1941)was another book written in the 1940's and was the first part of a trilogy followed by Thunderhead (1943) and then the Green Grass of Wyoming  (1946).  They feature the lives of the horses on the ranch of the McLaughin family in Wyoming  and their interation with Ken,  the youngest son.  In My Friend Flicka,  Ken is ten years old and forever daydreaming, much to the disgust of his father, who will not let him have a horse of his own while his head is still in the clouds.  But Ken's mother intervenes and he chooses a yearling filly from the herd who is beautiful but descended from a wild strain and during the efforts to catch her, she tries to jump a high barbed wire fence and is severely injured.  We are not going to give you a spoiler here and tell you what happens  but all three books spawned movies that were huge hits at the time  and Flicka became one of the most popular horse names for many years.

Bree -Most people are familiar with Narnia, the fictional land created by C.S.Lewis, most famously in the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  The Narnia series is seven books long and the third story (although it was published fifth) is The Horse and His Boy.  In it, Shasta has been brought up as the son of a poor fisherman and one night they are forced to give hospitality  to a passing nobleman who decides he wishes to buy Shasta as a slave.  Shasta is bemoaning his lot in life while attending to the nobleman's horse,  when the horse speaks to him and suggests they escape together back to Narnia, from where he originally came. The horse is called Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah but allows Shasta  to call him Bree. Along the way they meet another pair of escapees, Aravis and her mare Hwin, who was also stolen from Narnia as a foal. Bree is rather a snob but learns humility on the journey, while Shasta learns how to ride!

Silver Brumbies, and Stoic cart Horses.........

Thowra- Written by Elyne Mitchell, The Silver Brumby was the first in a series about a band of wild Australian horses led by Thowra, a creamy white stallion. The first book deals with Thowra's early years and how he becomes King of the Brumbies in the Snowy Mountains.  The books were first published in the 1950's and were a huge hit in Australia being turned into both a movie and TV series. The adventures of Thowra and his family include excaping capture  from men and surviving bush fires, a theme that is very relevant in light of recent news from the USA.

The Houyhnhnms- A race of intelligent and cultured horses that are featured in Gulliver's Travels who live in what is considered to be part of Australia.  They are refined and intelligent and can communicate with Gulliver although they have their own language  and he much prefers their company to that of the 'yahoos' who are brutish humanoids no better than beasts of burden.

Gabilan & Nelly- The two horses who feature in John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, which was originally published as four novellas In the North American Review and tell the tale of Jody and his family out on a ranch.  The themes of growing up, life, death and responsibility  are illustrated  by the lives of first Gabilan  and then Nelly both of whom end up being owned by Jody.  Sadly both horses meet untimely ends but the saga ends with hope in the form of Nelly's  foal.

Shadowfax- Chief of the Mearas , and the mount of Gandalf  in the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien.  Shadow fax ('fax' means means mane in old Norwegian) was given to Gandalf by King Theoden of Rohan, but this was just as well because Shadowfax permitted no other person to ride him.  In a later and less well know story, it is said that Shadowfax also travelled into the West with Gandalf,  Bilbo, Frodo and the elves at the end of the War of the Rings as Gandalf had declared that they would never be parted again  after the horse's great speed and courage  had helped  turn the fortunes of war in the favour of elves and men and against sauron.
Boxer-  Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of the greatest novels in the English Language.  Published as a allegorical novella in 1945, it was based on the events of the Russian Revolution and the actions of Joseph Stalin,  which Orwell as a democrat was highly critical of.   The pigs rule the farm,  and in the end it becomes difficult to see the difference between them and human tyrants.  One dictator has replaced another.  Boxer is a loyal, kind, dedicated, extremely strong, hard working, and respectable cart-horse, although quite naive and gullible. Boxer does a large share of the physical labour on the farm. He is shown to hold the belief that 'Napoleon( the head pig) is always right' . At one point, he had challenged a pig statement, earning him an attack from Napoleon's dogs. But Boxer's immense strength repels the attack, worrying the pigs that their authority can be challenged. Boxer  has been described as "faithful and strong" and he believes any problem can be solved if he works harder.  When Boxer is injured, Napoleon sells him to a local meat-man to buy himself whisky, and his sidekick Squealer gives a moving and completely false account of Boxer's fate.

Obviously this is just a selection of literary horses, we have not mentioned the likes of Misty of Chincoteague, Pilgrim, Joey or Artax all of whom featured in book before movies,  but this article would become overlong if we featured every horse ever written about.  If you are interested, there is always Google for further reading on the subject.

Further reading...