Sunday, June 10, 2012
48 Hour Book Challenge 2012 #3
I confess that ordinarily, I do not read animal stories. I avoid horse stories due to my fourth grade reading of Black Beauty and the image of the expired Ginger being carted away that is seared into my imagination. No Marguerite Henry for me, thank you very much. To this day, I am ignorant of Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian despite having happily handed them over to many passionate horse story loving girls over the years. Even entling no.1's enthusiasm for the entire Black Stallion series complete with matching Breyer horses did not move me unil I saw the beautiful Black Stallion movie. I did get through Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James one summer because it was on my grandparent's bookshelf and I was out of reading material.
The glorious cover of this new Iain Lawrence novel called to me though. I adored Pam Munoz Ryan's sweeping Paint The Wind and IT had a horse on the cover. I did not read the jacket blurbs but dove right in. It was not until I was well in to the story, told by the horse James (Jimmy) Pigg himself, that I realized the pony was in the hands of the doomed Robert Falcon Scott and would be part of the race to the South Pole.
The story is compelling and Lawrence has remained faithful to history. He skillfully inserts bits of Scott's own words, from his journals to move the story forward. The end of the story is poignantly told. The race to the South Pole between Amundsen's Norwegian expedition and Scott's British group was something I knew about as a child. I suspect I would be hard pressed to find a student today who could even name the two explorers.
My initial reaction to this book was that it was just...so...sad but I have found myself reflecting on the story again and again in recent weeks since I finished it. I attribute this to the excellent "Author's Note" which puts the entire story in context. Lawrence recalls his own negative childhood feelings about Amundsen and the more recent research that has painted Scott in a more realistic light. He posits the view that it was Scott's compassion for the animals that doomed the expedition early on. Lawrence cautions about judging the past by modern standards. The love and compassion of the handlers, some feeding the ponies their own food rations, helps the reader empathize with the animals AND the men. He lifts the tragic story at the end by suggesting an afterlife for the horses which is gentle and appropriate given the USAF naming of navigational waypoints on the route used by "all air traffic between New Zealand and McMurdo Station in Antarctica" after Amundsen’s sledge dogs and Scott’s ponies including this story's Jimmy Pigg
"Polar Sidekicks Earn a Place on the Map" by John Noble Wilford. NYTimes, September 27, 2010
Posted by Camille at 11:15 PM