As a kid, horses were my favorite animal. My mom told stories about growing up on a horse ranch, I had a collection of vintage plastic horse statuettes, and I still think they are one of the most beautiful animals in the world. But somehow I managed to grow up without reading Black Beauty.
Recently, I came across a copy of the book (published in 1877) and decided to put it on our summer read aloud list. My two younger kids were intermittently interested, but my 7 year old was, after an initial hesitation, completely enthralled. We look forward to comparing and contrasting the movie with a couple homeschool families while devouring a big bowl of “healthy popcorn that tastes just as good as the artery-clogging theatre stuff.” I love a good film and lit combo…
The author, Anna Sewell, who depended on horses because of a disease that made her lame as a child, wrote this (her only published work) in hopes that it would “induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding treatment of horses.” That it did – I cried through the ENTIRE last chapter. (To be fair, I am pregnant. But still.) So after a short soapbox paragraph below, I will leave you with some of the inspirational quotations from the book.
My three favorite qualities of the book were:
1) It was written from the perspective of the horse himself,
2) It had a strong theme of stopping cruelty and pursuing justice,
3) And, like most classic books, it naturally acknowledged God.
It has been a pet peeve of mine that many modern-day novels (and even films) have been so influenced by our “post-religious” culture that they have simply and unrealistically erased God from existence. (I’m talking to you, Harry Potter! And I am saying that as a big fan of the series.) I’m not saying they have to be preachy or pro-God, but when death or tragedy is on the line, many (if not most) people think or talk about God, the afterlife, etc. And it is true and real that many choose not to believe, but very few are so indifferent that they don’t acknowledge Him either way. Anyway, just one more reason that I’m digging back into the classics that my TV-saturated childhood caused me to miss.
On to the good stuff: my favorite “bites” of the beautiful masterpiece, Black Beauty.
“The master talked to the boys very seriously about cruelty, and said how hard-hearted and cowardly it was to hurt the weak and the helpless. But what stuck in my mind was this – he said that cruelty was the devil’s own trade mark, and if we saw anyone who took pleasure in cruelty, we might know to whom he belonged, for the devil was a murderer from the beginning and a tormentor to the end. On the other hand, where we saw people who loved their neighbors and were kind to man and beast, we might know that was God’s mark; for God is love…There is no religion without love. People may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham – all a sham…” Black Beauty recalling her master’s admonitions to a group of boys.
“Many folks would have ridden by and said ’twas not their business to interfere. Now, I say, that with cruelty and oppression it is everybody’s business to interfere when they see it; you did right my boy.” John, one of Black Beauty’s caretakers affirming the young stable boy’s choice to confront a man beating his horse.
“A slovenly way of driving gets a horse into bad, and often lazy, habits; and when he changes hands he has to be whipped out of them with more or less pain and trouble. Squire Gordon…said that spoiling a horse and letting him get into bad habits was just as cruel as spoiling a child, and both had to suffer for it afterwards.” Black Beauty comparing the different drivers he had experienced.
“Well,’ said Larry, ‘you’ll never be a rich man.’ ‘Most likely not,’ said Jerry, but I don’t know that I shall be the less happy for that. I have heard the commandments read a great many times, and I never noticed that any of them said, ‘Thou shalt be rich’; and there are a good many curious things said in the New Testament about rich men that, I think, would make me feel rather queer if I was one of them.'” Jerry, Black Beauty’s cab driver who turned down overly demanding customers and put time with his family first.
“I can’t give up my Sundays…I read that God made man, and He made horses and all the other beasts; and as soon as He had made them, He made a day of rest and bade that all should rest one day in seven. I think, sir, He must have known what was good for them, and I am sure it is good for me. I am stronger and healthier altogether now that I have a day of rest and the horses are fresh too, and do not wear up nearly so fast. The six-day drivers all tell me the same, and…as far as my wife and children, sir – why, heart alive! they would not go back to the seven days’ work for all they could get by it.” Jerry, on the Sabbath.
“‘Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?…It’s because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doer to light…My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and yet do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.” A gentlemen who rode with Jerry and Black Beauty and stepped in to confront another cabman on the cruel treatment of his horses.
“I have nothing to fear; and here my story ends. My troubles are all over and I am at home…” Black Beauty about his final, sweet home.
*Cue the tears*
What are your thoughts on cruelty, horses, popcorn, or God?