Saturday, 22 September 2007

Review: DIANA - A Pony To School

A Pony To School is the continuation of the Augusta/Christina series, and is the third. I am not sure what colour Clown (the pony referred to the title), is as in my copy (an 1978 Armada edition) he is clearly pictured and described as being skewbald, but in earlier editions he is a grey. Whether the previous editions are wrong, or Armada (in some fit of insanity) changed the original colour of the pony, I do not know. Having only had this edition in my fair hands, I cannot confirm or deny this. But now, just having seen another edition (published by Severn House), which shows a brown pony on the cover, I strongly suspect that somewhere down the line the colour has been changed.

The blurb reads (taken from the Armada edition on the right):-

As we rode home, I thought of how Clown had cowered in fear when Ted Dunn had finally managed to catch him. I wondered if Christina and I would ever turn him into a well-schooled pony. Then suddenly I was determined to succeed at all costs, not because he was beautiful, but because I never wanted him to look so miserable and frightened again.

Then Augusta and Christina discover that the skewbald pony is a rearer - and if they cant cure him of his dreadful habit he will have to be destroyed...

The original book (illustrated cover) is illustrated by Anne Bullen. However the later edition (the one with the photographic cover) is not illustrated. 

Admittedly this book is balanced a bit more in favour towards Augusta than the previous series (and last week's) title Three Ponies and Shannan since this book is told by either Christina or Augusta, every other chapter is by one of the two. Interestingly, this is a similar style that is used in Diana's joint work Fair Girls and Grey Horses, but still, you cant help feeling that the emphasis is put more on Christina.

Christina is a more nicer and rounded character than the spoilt person she was in Three Ponies and Shannan, but this book does have a lot of an element of fantasy about it. With most of Diana's books, you can imagine that the events which do happen in them could have happened in the 40s, 50s etc (or whenever the book was set), but to give 2 young people, an rearer is not at all wise. As the sisters admitted in Fair Girls and Grey Horses, they learnt to automatically reject and definitely steer clear of rearers. Secondly, most rearers cannot be cured, unless you are fortunate enough to have one that was caused by a simple case of a badly fitting saddle (and are wise enough to sort out a proper fitting saddle). I am not talking about horses that have reared once because of genuine fright or ones that have been trained to do so on command. Clown is also a 5 year old, which is even more deadly. Even more, when Ted Duanne (Clown's owner) got them to take on the pony, he "neglected" to mention that he was a rearer.

Still there is a nice reference to a book called Equitation, which presumably is a reference to Henry Wynmalen’s Equitation, a book which heavily influenced all three sisters.

It is a good book, which seems to urging on the moral high ground that if something goes wrong with a young pony, it is best to start reschooling straight away. Which is what they do. The story is basically an account of what happens when they start reschooling, and the incidents which happen when Clown is ridden. However, they do start to discover the cause of Clown's rearing, which again, makes a good moral for this story, that a good rider/owner should always check if there is a cause for a pony's misbehaviour, too many riders say "the pony is a bad one", when a vet/saddler check or a course of lessons could stop it. Thankfully this book has a happy ending, and obviously the pony does not rear. There is a tragedy in the story though.

Incidentally, the subject of dangerous ponies is not a subject not forgotten about - the book Cassidy in Danger/This Pony is Dangerous is about a potentially dangerous pony too. I wonder if in Diana's pony schooling life, she always took on the "dangerous" ones?

I feel that this book is the second best (or even the best) out of the series, as it is a lighter and better tone (not to mention better written) than the others. If you can sit through Three Ponies and Shannan without giving up, then I can guarantee you will enjoy this one more. I also feel that this is one of the better Diana books too. The final one in the series is Only A Pony, which I will be covering next week. I will also be doing an extra review next week too, the book to be decided.


haffyfan said...

This is my favourite of this trilogy and one of Diana's (I feel, along with Janet Must ride)best books,it flows nicely and compared to a few of her books is very readable. Christina comes across more 'normal' and this is shown by her acceptance by the minor charcters such as Tilly and Piers. I like the fact that Augusta is more involved in this one, taking her turn to tell the story, but she is still inferior and this is highlighted by events such as it's Christina who takes the glory and jumps Clown over the table.

Re: the pony's colour, I have the edition you have and a '63'. On the cover of this he is Iron Grey (possibly black?) but inside referred to as Skewbald. As indeed he is a coloured in the beautiful illustrations (are they Anne Bullen's does anyone know?). I assume these are the illustrations that appear in the 50's original edition?

I have noticed severn house covers do not always tally with earlier covers of a book, for eg Prize pony was a bay in their edition but a grey in the first ed. I cannot remember off hand if a colour was referred to in the story.

pullein-thompson-archive said...

Thanks for your comments Haffyfan.

I do not know about the artist for these illustrations, mine isnt credited, but they are very much like Anne Bullen. However a quick search on abebooks for a hard cover attributes Anne Bullen to have illustrated at least one edition of the book, so I strongly suspect that they are the original ones and are hers.

A colour was definitely referred to in this book, it's in the first chapter. It goes:-

I've got a lovely skewbald - a real beauty, if it 'ad the right rider on it - prettily marked, quick on his feet - real smasher

So god knows why the publishers (of several editions) had an grey/black/brown pony on the cover.

You are probably right about Severn House being wrong, my own copy of Prize Pony shows a bay, but the copy I borrowed once was an paperback with a grey. Creative licence, maybe?

BTW, there are 4 book in the series, not 3. Only A Pony is the last one.

Jane said...

Anne Bullen definitely did illustrate this book.

Like you, I always thought it odd that two girls were given a rearer, but then most pony books have a strong element of fantasy so perhaps that's just what it was (with the awful Tetanus scene and Seaspray put in as balance.)

I always liked this book, and never found Christina that irritating. I like the fact that she is rich but still a generally sympathetic character.

pullein-thompson-archive said...

Thanks for clearing it up Jane about Anne Bullen. It is a shame when some publishers dont credit the illustrators when they do show them. I guess that is why a lot of later Armada editions of pony books have the original illustrations left out.