The Horse Whisperer (novel)

dark horse runs in mountainsThe Horse Whisperer starts with a freak accident in which one teenage girl and her horse are killed, another girl and her horse both badly injured.

Grace Graves has to adjust to a prosthetic leg and fear of being different. Her horse, Pilgrim, is just as afraid, and he turns savage. The vet thinks Pilgrim’s injuries so severe he should be put down.

Annie Graves believes if Pilgrim dies, her daughter will never recover emotionally from the accident. Robert Graves fears Grace won’t recover if she’s coddled too much. Not a horse lover himself, he is not as keen on keeping Pilgrim alive.

When veterinarians can’t help Pilgrim, Annie casts a wider net, learning about a man said to be able to calm wild horses. She packs up Grace, has Pilgrim loaded into a horse trailer, and heads for Montana. Tom Booker, who has a ranch there, is said by some to be a horse whisperer, a magician with horses. Tom says what he does is train owners to listen to their horses.

A film industry veteran, Nicholas Evans projects his Rocky Mountain story onto readers’ imaginations. What he doesn’t do is tack a happy-ever-after on a deeply moving story about family dynamics.

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans
Delacorte Press. ©1995. 323 p.
1995 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Valley of Horses

Cover of “The Valley of Horses” shows Ayla, sling in hand, looking at horses
Ayla’s a whiz with her slingshot

For most of its length, Jean M. Auel’s The Valley of Horses* is two stories about prehistoric Europe.

In the first story,  a young woman who has been turned out of her adoptive home finds an unoccupied cave in a remote valley.

Ayla is tall, blonde, and beautiful, a skilled hunter, healer, and toolmaker.

She tames a wild colt and a great lion cub, but she’d rather have a human mate.

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles away, two human brothers are setting out to explore.

Their journey takes them to a riverside village where Thonolan meets and loses the love of his life.

Despondent, Thonolan packs to leave. Jondalar, fearing for his brother’s mental state, accompanies him, though he’d rather go back home.

After losing their boat and belongings, the brothers end up in the mountains where Thonolan is killed by Ayla’s lion and Jondalar—Did I mention he’s a gorgeous hunk?— is rescued by Ayla.

Valley is full of fascinating, esoteric information about prehistoric life, but Auel’s depictions of primitive men’s use of language is ludicrous. In one paragraph, strangers are bewildered by each other’s grunts; five sentences later they’re discussing fluid dynamics like engineers in a graduate seminar.

I’ve heard more plausible prehistoric male communication up the street at Bob’s Diner.

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel
Crown. ©1982. 502 p.
1982 bestseller #6. My grade: C

*The Valley of Horses is the second novel in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children™ series (The Clan of the Cave Bear was the first) and the only one of the series to make the 20th century’s bestsellers list.

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Wildfire has more heat than light

Wildfire is a horse story with people in it.

The setting — Utah wilderness bordering the Colorado River — becomes a part of the action.


Wildfire by Zane Grey
1917 bestseller #5. Project Gutenberg EBook #2066. My grade: C+.

Wildfire getting started high in the mountains.
   Wildfire includes a real wild fire.

If Lucy Bostil loves horses, her father might be said to lust after them. John Bostil wants to own all the fast horses.

In the mountains, Lin Slone is trailing a wild stallion called Wildfire.

At last, Slone gets close enough to lasso the red stallion.

Exercising one of her father’s racehorses, Lucy finds Slone’s mount and Wildfire, both exhausted, and Slone himself badly battered.

The horses and Slone both fall for Lucy.

Lucy and Slone decide to have Lucy ride Wildfire in the big race against her father’s Sage King.

That sets up Lucy to be kidnapped and held for ransom while her kidnappers are pursued by horse thieves.

The fast-paced story is told by an omniscient narrator through an annoying series of “meanwhile back at the ranch” shifts.

There’s little character development: People don’t analyze events or reflect on behavior.

But few novelists can match Zane Grey’s physical descriptions. I found myself holding my breath as Slone and his horse slid and scrambled down and up the Grand Canyon’s walls.

Despite its flaws, Wildfire is breathtaking reading.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My Friend Flicka is family-friendly reading

frontpiece from "My Friend Flicka"

Everyone who has heard—or perhaps wailed—“if only I had a horse (or kitten or dog) of my own” will recognize the premise of Mary O’Hara’s novel My Friend Flicka.

Ken McLaughlin, a dreamy kid, the despair of his ex-military father and exemplary older brother, has failed fifth grade.

Ken insists that he’d be different if he had a colt of his own to raise. His mother pleads Ken’s case and Rob McLaughlin relents. When Ken chooses a colt from a line of horses his father regards as untamable, he ignites conflict within the household.

Often thought of as a horse story or a children’s story, My Friend Flicka really is not either. Horses are the McLaughlin business and passion; they become the canvas on which the family’s portrait is painted. The real focus of the novel is the family. The novel is as suitable for adults as it is for underachieving middle-school kids or for horse-crazy teens.

To achieve the happy ending that 1940’s young adult novels required, O’Hara resorts to a hackneyed plot contrivance, but she’s masterful at creating vivid, believable personalities.

The novel beats any of the film versions of the story. Look for it at your library or buy a copy at your local bookstore to give as a Christmas gift.

My Friend Flicka
By Mary O’Hara
J. B. Lippincott, 1941
353 pages

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni