Friday, March 27, 2015

Two Authors, the Man from the CIA and his Horse

What do a Professor of History at Yale who worked for the CIA, Mario Puzo and Graham Greene have in common? Other than the fact they’re all men?

They are all authors of horse and pony stories.

Sherman Kent (1903-1986) was quite possibly the only horse story author who worked for the CIA. A Professor of History at Yale, he pioneered many methods of intelligence analysis for the CIA. He wrote on French electoral procedure, and also, one can only assume as light relief, a horse story called A Boy and a Pig, but Mostly Horses. Published in 1974 by Dodd, Mead & Company, and illustrated by the sublime Sam Savitt, A Boy and a Pig was based on Kent’s own childhood. Like the heroes of his story, he went to the Thacher School in California, where horses and riding were a major part of the curriculum. 

I love the fact there’s a pig in this story – not an animal which crops up a lot in horse stories, unless it’s there to spook the hero’s horse. Simon, the hero of the story, captures and adopts a wild pig called Augusta before going on to have an exciting holiday working on a ranch with runaway horses, a rogue mustang, and the obligatory rescue of a neglected horse.

Mario Puzo’s horse book is a more domestic affair, probably just as well bearing in mind his notorious serving up of a horse’s head on a pillow in The Godfather. The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw (1966) is the story of a boy whose spectacularly vague parents go away, having completely forgotten to tell his grandparents he’s staying with them. Davie decides to make the most of his parent-less state by taking a pony and cart from his uncle’s home in California to New York, meeting his parents on their way back. 

While I was researching the author, I came across a first edition presentation copy of The Runaway Summer for sale at Peter Harrington, the London-based antiquarian book dealer. The dedication read: “For Carol. If you don’t like it, I’ll kill you.”

I suppose we should be grateful he wasn’t threatening her horse.

British author Graham Greene (1904-1991) is far better known for his adult stories than as a writer of children’s books. As a writer whose work portrayed Catholicism in a world which is unrelentingly full of sin and evil, I wondered quite how his children’s story The Little Horse Bus (1952) was going to turn out: just how dreadful will be the fate of the bus and its horse? There’s certainly evil there, in the shape of bank robbers who steal a hansom cab full of cash, and whip the poor horse who draws it unmercifully; and then suggest they leave her to starve to death in the wharf where they stash the cash. Fortunately, for this is a children’s book, evil is confounded and good triumphs.

All of these authors had ample experience of the bleaker side of life, and knew the depths to which humanity could plunge. It’s interesting that for them all, the horse provided a perhaps nostalgic escape to another life where endings were good and evil was confounded.

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For information on many, many more horse story authors, visit my website.

1 comment:

  1. Jane - thanks for digging these out of the woodwork. Never heard of any of them! We should have a Name that Horse Book Jeopardy challenge. You can design the questions - ha!