The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach


Published: 15th April 2005 (print)/ 1st April 2013  (audio) Goodreads badge
 Vintage/Clipper audiobooks
Pages: 288 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Nina Wadia
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

When Ravi Kapoor, an overworked London doctor, reaches the breaking point with his difficult father-in-law, he asks his wife: “Can’t we just send him away somewhere? Somewhere far, far away.” His prayer is seemingly answered when Ravi’s entrepreneurial cousin sets up a retirement home in India, hoping to re-create in Bangalore an elegant lost corner of England. Several retirees are enticed by the promise of indulgent living at a bargain price, but upon arriving, they are dismayed to find that restoration of the once sophisiticated hotel has stalled, and that such amenities as water and electricity are . . . infrequent. But what their new life lacks in luxury, they come to find, it’s plentiful in adventure, stunning beauty, and unexpected love.

I think the best summation of this book is ‘eh’. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. I’m not even 100% I liked it. I felt like it had the potential to be so much better. I think I liked 1 maybe 2 characters, the rest I felt I could have if they hadn’t’ve been so…themselves. The writing is at times cringeworthy, the characters are certainly racist and sexist, whether or not this is just their character “charm” as it is sometimes portrayed, but it’s gross to listen to. And India is turned into some mystical place that is romanticised by these white British while subsequently criticised by them on the next page. 

The book’s title has been changed to coincide with the movie, it was originally These Foolish Things, but I think most physical books are retitled now too.  Very rarely is this the case, but I have to say, the movie is so much better. Just watch that. This isn’t even really like it at all, it’s not overly enjoyable, there’s more parts that are offensive in some way or another, and there isn’t a grand plot to keep you interested. I listened to the audiobook and to her credit, the narrator was quite good, she used distinctive voices and emphasis as she told the story, and she brought to life each character’s individuality. It was just a shame that that what she brought to life wasn’t very enjoyable.


You can purchase The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Au

Booktopia | Wordery | Barnes & Noble



The Movies of Roald Dahl

With the announcement this morning that Tim Minchin’s stage play of Roald Dahl’s Matilda is coming to Australia in August 2015 I thought I would have a look at the other adaptations of Dahl’s books that have been made. In total only nine adaptations have been made of Dahl’s work, including two for both Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Roald Dahl wrote many books in his life but there are definitely a select few that seem to have become more popular than others, especially in terms of making movies or musicals about them.

b94qXd1FcIwgzv0NYMUe2bjrzJRThe first film adaption would have to be the exceptional Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, adapted in 1971 from Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fun fact,
there was supposed to be a sequel which followed the events in the 1972 sequel The Great Glass Elevator, but Dahl was so disappointed and angry by what producers had done to his book he refused – a bit like what happened with Mary Poppins and Walt Disney funnily enough. Those pesky film makers twisting stories for their own entertainment purposes.

Personally I adore the 1971 film, even if it is different than the book, there was a sense of excitement and wonder but also fear. Gene Wilder played Willy Wonka as a man who never told you the whole story, avoided answering questions and you were never sure you could trust him. Wilder chose this route intentionally, and while Dahl gives us a Wonka who is a strange a bizarre man, Wilder makes him that extra level of eccentric. 

The next adaptation made was in 1989 with the beautiful BFG. Turned into an animated film, The BFG captures some of the wonder that Dahl can add to his writing. This film is also a much closer and truer adaptation of the book, whether it is the animated nature, or the fact that it is such a beautiful story on its own you don’t really need to change anything and make it more fanciful than it already is. The songs Dahl wrote into the book remain and the simple joy from Sophie and her relationship with the BFG is quite wonderful.

This film also had a much better reaction by Dahl compared to Willy Wonka. According to director Brian Cosgrove, when Dahl finished his first screening of the film he stood up and clapped. I think as a book and a film The BFG doesn’t get as much adoration as it should, it seems to be overshadowed by the live action and more popular films which is a shame.

 Another film that is forgotten was the telemovie also made in 1989 of Danny, Champion of the World, based on Dahl’s 1975 book of the same name. This is one film I haven’t seen, I actually didn’t know they had made an adaptation of this so that may be my mission to track down a copy. It also features the wonderful Jeremy Irons and his real life son Samuel Irons as Danny so that’s cool.

This was another film that Dahl approved of. In the documentary ‘Danny and the Dirty Dog: The Making of Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World’, he lauded the cast and production with great enthusiasm. The adaptation is fairly close to the book it seems, with certain elements being truncated or removed for time purposes but bein
g a telemovie it is essentially a direct adaptation with the scenes and most dialogue straight from the book. That is a bonus of telemovies that films don’t have, they tend to be almost pure adaptations of their books.

One of my favourite Dahl books and one I think got an absolute wonderful adaptation is the 1990 live action version of The Witches. Oh I loved this film as a kid. As wonderful as Quentin Blake’s illustrations were, there is something that little bit more unsettling and eerie about seeing them portrayed by a real person. With Anjelica Huston acting as the Grand High Witch, Dahl’s description of witches comes across wonderfully, and the narrative and sense of danger stays true, including the dark humour Dahl loved.

The Witches unfortunately falls victim to the tradition of making the ending different than what was in the book. Generally this is to make sad endings happy and change whatever bad event happens into a good one. That annoys me still, but aside from this it is still a rather good, the story follows the book and everything we loved and were grossed out by in the book is transferred to the screen.

In 1996 Disney made the brilliant film James and the Giant Peach that involved both live action and stop-motion. Fun fact, the boy who played James quit acting after being bitten by the spider in one scene; I think this is an adorable overreaction. This was also another film Dahl didn’t want adapted. He declined numerous offers in his lifetime but after his death his widow gave the go ahead for the production.

There are some noticeable differences between the film and the 1961 book, these don’t really do anything to change the enjoyment though I may be biased. I had a slight obsession with this film as a child, I remember one day watching it, rewinding the video and watching it again, rewinding the video and watching it again. All day. And it was only quite a few watches in that I let it run through the credits (while I danced to the song) and I found the additional scene. That was an unexpected surprised, especially considering how many times I had seen it before. But that isn’t the point, I think it is a great retelling of the book and the changes made fit in with the surreal and absurd premise that Dahl created.

large_zvgm8Yckvd12iZFaXRXbblcRcO8Also in 1996, Matilda was turned into a very popular film with Mara Wilson. I think this is the Dahl film people think of, especially Gen Y’s or those who were not exposed to Willy Wonka and away from the Disney influence. What was brilliant about Matilda is that the narration helped the story along and I think it would be a different movie without it.

This narration also keeps it in check with the book, the dialogue is similar if not the same in places and the ending stays intact in the same way it doesn’t. In the space of a line it changes a few things but that can be forgiven. One thing about Dahl adaptations is that his characters are brought to life very well and this is no exception. All the characters are excellently represented in the film, each playing their roles well. Trunchbull scares you, Matilda delights, and small heroes like Brutus are given their time to shine.

And then we get to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake. I do not like this movie. I saw it once under duress and I am trying to block it from my memories as best I can. To say this is a closer adaptation to the original book may be correct – and Dahl’s widow and daughter got total artistic control and final privilege on the choices of actors, directors and writers – but there are other things in there that are not which just make you feel very annoyed, like giving Wonka family history. Though four out of the five songs in the film use lyrics written by Dahl himself so that’s really good.

Fun morbid fact, Gregory Peck was offered the role of Grandpa Joe but died before he gave a definite answer, and Peter Ustinov was also offered the role but died before giving his answer. Gene Wilder said he didn’t want to see the film saying “The thing that put me off…I like Johnny Depp, I like him, as an actor I like him very much…but when I saw little pieces in the promotion of what he was doing, I said I don’t want to see the film, because I don’t want to be disappointed in him.” And I have to say, I love all Depp’s work, but this is the only one I don’t like of his. Wilder is onto something.

The latest film adaptation is the Fantastic Mr Fox. Another one I haven’t seen, I was initially put off by the creepy looking stop-motion animation aspect but I loved the book so it is on the list to see. Apparently it is loosely based on the book and there is also some criticism about the film taking away from the darker and more Dahl aspects of the book, making it Americanised and more like the director Wes Anderson with just a little Dahl.

This has become highly acclaimed however. There are also a plethora of celebrities voicing the characters including George Clooney and Meryl Steep, and the attention to detail is commended by many.

1338221294_Image1_matildaAnd finally we have the delightful Tim Minchin’s musical about Matilda. I saw this in London last year and loved it, the songs are phenomenal and the production is exceptional. 2015 cannot come fast enough for me and I think Minchin has handled this beloved story with great respect and done it superb justice.

Technically it is written by Dennis Kelly, but with music and lyrics by Minchin it is hard not to see it as a little bit his. It was first performed in 2010, then with its West End debut in 2011 so it has been a long time coming here. I remember a couple of years ago Minchin saying he always wanted to do this and he asked Dahl’s widow permission for the rights. This could be me misremembering and if I find the reference I will add it here. I am fairly sure he did say he had wanted to do this for awhile though.

With the success of Matilda, as well as the past films, it is clear Dahl’s storytelling and ability to bring joy, laughter and a small amount of grotesque to people’s lives is yet to falter. I look forward to future adaptations of his other books with the hope if they go ahead they are given the same level of respect as those that have come before.

No dates have been announced for the Australian production as of yet. For information about the musical you can check out Minchin’s website, the official  Matilda: The Musical site, or have a Google and see what delights pop up.

The Sword in the Stone (#1) by T. H. White


Today is T.H White‘s birthday, the man who wrote the series The Once and Future King, about the legend of Arthur, Merlyn, and the knights of Camelot. Terence Hanbury White was born in Bombay in 1906, and was 32 when he published The Sword in the Stone, which was initially meant as a prequel to Sir Thomas Malory‘s famous 1485 Le Morte d’Arthur. Two sequels were published, The Witch in the Wood (later rewritten as The Queen of Air and Darkness) in 1939, and The Ill-Made Knight in 1940. But when the complete collection was compiled there were five stories in total and the order was altered a bit. The version of The Sword in the Stone included in the complete text The Once and Future King differs from the earlier version. It is darker, and White’s indirect experience of World War II had a profound effect on these tales of King Arthur, which include commentaries on war and human nature. This is certainly evident in the later books as well.

I knew nothing about T.H White and reading up on him he certainly was interesting, there are speculations he was a homosexual sadomasochist; into small girls; not a homosexual, all these things. Good ol’ Wikipedia has the theories and the references if you wish to explore his life a bit more, I’ll admit I am only here for the wonderful stories. He revised Sword in the Stone a few times, which resulted in a few stories being added and removed and all sorts of things. I read a couple versions and trying to figure out what went where and who was left out does your head in, so I won’t try and explain how that went down and what stayed in or not.

Published: December 2nd, 1996 (As part of The Once and Future King complete edition)
Goodreads badgePublisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 223
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

In old Merry England weather behaves. In the Castle of Forest Sauvage, Wart (rhymes with Art for Arthur) follows Sir Ector’s ‘proper son’ Kay, two years older. Wizard Merlyn, fewmets from talking owl familiar Archimedes, turns boy into perch, hawk, owl, stone, and badger for their lessons and stories – until King Uther dies without heirs.

The Sword in the Stone is the first book as part of what became ‘The Once and Future King’ series, and my first criticism is that I can see why there are sequels, you can’t get it in one book, and because White starts from the very beginning it would hardly do it justice. I read the version that ended up in the collection, so I don’t think I got to experience the lighter version as it were, but it was still great. This first story is about a young orphan named Arthur living in medieval Great Britain. Arthur is nicknamed Wart, and works as a page for his guardian Sir Ector. With his companion and foster brother Kay, he leads an ok existence, but the true adventure begins when he stumbles across Merlyn, a time travelling wizard, and Arthur soon becomes the student, alongside Kay, to Merlyn’s tutelage. Merlyn guides Arthur and teaches him about the world through magic, and trains him in the ways of the world.

So much of this book is setting up Arthur and his life as a child and his adventures, the known aspects of the story are not a main focus, instead we see Arthur and his relationship to Sir Ector, Kay, and the Merlyn. Kay does have a few roles to play in this early tale, and while Merlyn focuses on Arthur, Kay is not left out of the loop much, either that or Merlyn concocts some distraction to find some time to play with magic.

With Merlyn’s help, Arthur is turned into animals of all kinds to gain a sense of their life, and he has many adventures with other humans such as Robin Hood (Wood in the book) and Maid Marian, King Pellinore in his quest for the Beast, and many more. These adventures seem trivial and fun at first, but with Merlyn’s knowledge of the future, he is essentially training Arthur to be the King, teaching him about the world, nature, and man’s duty in the world.

It was a pretty good book, especially some of the explanations and science behind why things are what they are. I think having Merlyn be a magical character who knew more than most was a great advantage because you had modern knowledge in the medieval setting. And White’s knowledge of the medieval era was excellent, his attention to detail about the sports, dress, and other aspects added to this sense of reality, however there are clear indications that no real effort was made for some aspects of historical accuracy, as well as the fact that Merlyn was a wizard, a wizard that experienced time backwards rather than forwards.

After accidentally starting an abridge version, when I switched to a full copy I realised a few good stories had been removed which I thought was a shame because in the version included in the complete collection they all kind of return in the end and come full circle so I am not sure how the edited text would have covered that.

The animal stories White explores when Arthur is transformed by Merlyn, are very sweet, and give you a great look at the inner workings of the animals and their lives. The way White explores the life and manner of the animals, and Arthur’s uneasy and new presence in there, it is pretty spectacular, it balances out the anachronisms. There is some realistic and detail science and observation evident, and manages to teach you things.

The Sword in the Stone is such a famous story and I did not know there was more than one, and waiting as I read to find the familiar scenes I knew was interesting because it is a very drawn out story. I guess in a way the extra novels means that it is not condensed into one, and there is no hanging unexplained conclusion about what happened, but it is interesting that the key moment is such a small part of the first novel in terms of pages. The effect of course would be seen in the sequels.

There was a Disney version in 1963, because there always is, and it is rather good. This only covers the first book and sticks to the general plot, and a lot of the fleshed out substance is removed, but a lot of the scenes are similar to what is found in White’s. Perhaps there are just some elements of this story that will be kept true, even if other aspects are reimagined.

So Happy Birthday T. H. White, and I thank him for writing this series. I know everyone upon everyone has done an Arthur story and made a version, or told a story about it, but I loved White’s telling. You get drawn into the life of this kid, who started out small and became so big. By the time I had finished all the books I was so enthralled and amazed it was simply divine. I do recommend that you read Sword in the Stone and the sequels because it is well written and as I say, manages to teach you about things you never really thought about before, not just about animals, but about humanity, war, education and even a little bit of history.

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie


A huge happy birthday to James Matthew Barrie, author of the wonderful Peter Pan! I loved this book, I love that Barrie creates this world and these characters that are wondrous and engaging, but he also writes the story with heart and sometimes blunt truths, there is no real romanticising about life, Neverland is the wonder away from the rest of the world and that is why it is marvellous.

In Kensington Gardens in London there is a status of Peter Pan honouring Barrie. Peter is playing his pipes and has animals at the base; it certainly lends itself to the theory that Peter Pan has a connection somehow to the Greek god Pan. I know him best for the novel Peter Pan, but J. M. Barrie had dozens of others works before and after of both stories and plays, right up until his death in 1937. He was knighted in 1913 for his literary work and in the same year became Rector of St Andrews University. His other successes include becoming the President of the Society of Authors, a title which he took from Thomas Hardy which is cool.

I never knew he was knighted, but I do remember that when I was studying Barrie and Peter Pan at university, it became very clear that he was certainly peculiar, or at least lived a strange life, one that no doubt impacted on him. He was not all strange though, he knew some excellent writers of the time including Robert Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

He was the ninth child out of ten, two having died before he was born, and as an adult he was only 5″ 1′ (about 155 cm). When he was young his brother David, who was the next eldest and his mother’s favourite, died just before his 14th birthday. It devastated his mother and Barrie then it seems devoted himself to trying to fill David’s place, to the extent that he even dressed in his clothing. Barrie wrote a biography of his mother called Margaret Ogilvy, and in it he discusses his mother’s reaction to David’s death, as well as his attempts to please her afterwards. If you want to read it it is available from Project Guttenberg for free.

There was a wonderful theory that we heard in class that Barrie wanted so badly to be David and be the “son who never grew up” for his mother that he developed psychological problems and even managed to stunt his growth and proper adolescent development. This does not seem to have any grounds in fact I think he was just short, but he was no doubt strange enough that he probably tried. His innocence that he held until adulthood made him the perfect candidate to write a story like Peter Pan, he never properly grew up, and loving to write and tell stories probably helped this, he could stay young and innocent forever through words. He was initially discouraged from becoming a writer, I for one am very glad he chose to write, where would we be without Peter Pan to fill our dreams and fantasies and to fly us to Neverland in the middle of the night?

Peter Pan has many influences, but the main ones that inspired the play and the characters of the Darlings was the connected to Mr and Mrs Llewelyn-Davies and their boys George, John, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas. And before the legends and did you know facts appear, no he did not create Wendy, it was a name prior to the first appearance of Peter Pan, Barrie simply popularised the name.

There is truly so much going on with Barrie, his relationship to the Llewelyn-Davies family that helped create this Peter Pan world, not to mention the sad fate that many of them had. The entire history and environment and life of Peter Pan is absolutely fascinating I could write forever on, but I won’t, I will however review Peter Pan, one of the greatest books, certainly became established in society and popular culture, and definitely a classic for all ages.

Published: January 1st 2002
Goodreads badgePublisher: Puffin
Pages: 242
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The boy who refuses to grow up teaches Wendy and her younger brothers how to fly. Then it’s off to magical Neverneverland for adventures with mermaids, Indians, and wicked Captain Hook and his pirate crew.

Everyone seems to know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, Tinkerbell and Wendy, and the mystical world of Neverland. I first knew of this story through the Disney version, but I also had a video of an Australian cartoon version which I also loved. Many of the versions of this story keep a lot of the same elements in it, there is no Peter Pan without pirates, Indians, or mermaids, but there are certainly some varying elements compared to the book.

The story of Peter Pan first appears in The Little White bird, a story written in 1902 by Barrie and was intended for adults, not children. The first real sighting of Peter is in the stage play in 1904 where it was titles Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The novel version, which is probably the most well known version (aside from the movie interpretations), was extended from the original play and published in 1911 as a novel.

With the extended novel there is a chance to expand on character and ideas. There is also a lot more story within the book compared to what people know from the popularised Disney film. There is a lot more involvement of Mr and Mrs Darling in the book, and they come home as their children are flying out the window and know that their children are missing. Wendy, John, and Michael’s visit to Neverland happens in real time, and the time they spend there with the Lost Boys, Peter and Tinkerbell is time passing back in London. We get to see the reaction and life Mr and Mrs Darling have while their children are gone.

Barrie actually opens Peter Pan telling us the story of Mr and Mrs Darling, it is all very sweet. This also helps you understand them as people and parents, they are not just the parents with the story focusing solely on the children and their adventure, it is about the whole story sequence, not just the characters, but in the same wonderful way it is also so much about the characters.

I remember when I first read this story and realising that having a dog as your nanny was not a Disney invention of movie quaintness, it is actually in the book. Nanna it seems gets to have opinions about things and is a very good nanny. There is no first person narration for any of the characters, but Barrie does tell us what everyone thinks when it is required. Though this is not the only strange thing, there are other peculiarities, Mr Darling literally spends time in the doghouse out of guilt for his missing children, neighbours walking by and judging and everything. That was rather strange, but it has its humorous sides as well. It isn’t so much an absurd, only very strange at times.

There are many great moments in this book, even just reading about flying, the journey to Neverland and the adventures that await them. There is a little violence in this book regarding pirates and fairies, but it isn’t described in great detail, but it is still there. Peter helps this a little, in his own childlike way, brushes over things and quickly moves on to the next thing, always chasing another adventure as we are told. Tinkerbell speaks in the book, and there are additional characters and variations of scenes which make it that much better. A lot of Peter’s character is seen in his actions and his leadership. He can change from being proud and selfish to being rather noble and sweet very quickly.

Peter Pan is certainly not the exact character that the movies portray him as; in the book Peter Pan has much more selfish childishness as well as the naivety and cockiness. It is actually mentioned one of the reason Hook hates Peter so much is that he is always so cocky.

Peter is not the only bunt one, Barrie does enough of his own in his narration and explaining, it is very matter of fact, but Barrie expands on what needs to be told and what does not. The voice Barrie uses is one of a storyteller, you get the feeling he is speaking to readers as he recounts the lives and adventures of Peter and Wendy, this certainly adds to the magical nature, like a tale of times that once were.

Barrie definitely brings us some memorable characters in this book, not to mention quotes like “Second star to the right, and straight on till morning” and particularly “To die will be an awfully big adventure”, which is one that has stayed in my mind for years. It is rather telling of Peter’s mind when he says this. He has such a carefree attitude, never worrying and is not typically one to fret over anything. He definitely has a child’s mind, he moves from one thing to another, and quickly forgets things if they are over or no longer concern him. Though the connection and relationship he has with Wendy is sweet, you can feel that he loves the idea of having a mother and being cared for, but he wants things his way in his land, being the child forever.

The ending of Peter Pan and the events in the final chapter I found to be some of the most heartbreaking moments in this book, and certainly was not something I was expecting. I think it is a brilliant ending, but I felt such a pain as I read because it was so innocent, but also so sad at the same time; Barrie did an excellent job. There are entire moments of brilliance in this book, heartfelt, magical, and all round beautiful. You take the abruptness and the selfish Peter and you see him and others in so many other lights that it is all part of the magic and wonder that is Barrie’s story. There is so much to gain from reading this over a movie, the movie can bring you to the book, but the book can give you the soul of the story.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell


In honour of Anna Sewell‘s birthday today I am reviewing the only book she wrote: Black Beauty. Sewell began writing in 1871 aged 51 but as she grew more ill she was painfully writing notes that her mother typed up, or she was dictating to get her story finished. It is always a little bit wonderful when you read about authors who are still trying to get their story out as they are ill, dying, or incapacitated; it means that they want their story out in the world so much that they will keep going until the end, not give up and leave it unfinished in a pile because it became too hard while they were sick.

Published: March 1st 2003
Goodreads badgePublisher: Scholastic
Pages: 245
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Black Beauty is handsome and spirited, with a sweet temper. When he is four years old he is sold to a new owner who gently breaks him in. He is no longer free to gallop around the fields yet there is happiness and adventure among the hardship as his station changes from being a carriage horse on a country estate to a cab horse in town. At the same time he is aware that his well-being and future depend very much on the kindness or cruelty of his various masters.

Black Beauty‘s original title was Black Beauty: The Autobiography a Horse, translated from the original equine. I love this, and Sewell’s approach of using the animal autobiography genre is apparently considered the first of its type. Written over several years, Black Beauty was finally published in 1877. This creates a great setting for the history not only of the use of horses, but the society as well. The way people talk about horses, and using horse driven cabs is a wonderful image to have as the story progresses.

Black Beauty’s story is a gripping yet simple, complex, touching and achingly sad all at once. This is the story of a horse who goes through life working for many people, doing and seeing many things, and understanding the life, hardships, and joys of being a horse. It is a beautiful story, nothing is hidden and everything is laid bare, and that is why it is amazing.

I liked the way that Sewell did not shy away from the facts about life and about horses; facts are facts and the era of writing does play a role, but Sewell also set out to write a story directed at all those who worked with horses. I read that her intention was to promote the humane treatment of horses, and apparently Black Beauty is credited with having the greatest effect on the treatment of animals of any publication in history, resulting in changing the public attitude, as well as creating legislation to protect horses. That’s pretty amazing for her only book, and she didn’t even live to see the full impact it had.

People often get upset and mention how horrified they were about certain parts in this book, and I won’t lie, there are some bad moments where horse mistreatment is shown to various levels. However, as shocking and blunt these sometimes can be, they are not an ongoing focus. There is a lot of talk about cruelty, but there are equal amounts that show kindness and compassion. The sentiments mentioned in this story may seem cruel, but this book was also written in a time when this was the way of the world; and Sewell spends just as much time telling us that if horses were treated better than these situations would not be called for.

And while there is abuse, there is also a strong sense of justice for that cruelty that is more important. Throughout Black Beauty people are being reprimanded for whipping too much, jailed for mistreatment of horses, and people on the street have no issue pulling up riders or drivers who are being cruel. That is why this book is powerful, it shows the cruelty but also the consequences.

Black Beauty begins his story in a loving home where he is taught the ways of the world by his mother. She tells him to be “gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with good will.” Throughout this book he uses this advice to be the best horse he can be no matter what his situations and what he is required to do. As he changes home and he experiences new things he keeps this in mind, always trying his best.

What I found very interesting is that Black Beauty is given many names through this book, he begins his life as Darkie, and as he grows older and sold he is renamed Black Beauty, as well as Jack, Black Auster and others. But there is a reason the book is called Black Beauty, I never could figure out why but when I finished it this time I realised and understood, and that made it so much more wonderful.

What I also found heartbreaking but terribly sweet was when he was being sold once more at a horse fair. Being an older horse with injury and having recently come from a hard life, it was moving but beautiful as he says that his new owners “made as much of me as if I had been the ‘Black Beauty’ of olden time.” There is so much said in those words. He never lets his spirits down and he remains as good a horse as his mother wished through all he has been through, yet he knows why he is not as glamourous as he was. It is a true testament that he keeps his head high and makes the best of it all, but in the flickering moment he remembered his past with the meadow, his friends, and the love and affection he received from his master. Sewell manages to mean so much by saying so little, it is beautifully touching some of the things in this book.

Sewell is also very good a segues, Beauty’s voice is telling us his story and Sewell paces it right and places everything where it needs to be to make the story flow smoothly. Nothing is interrupted, yet nothing is left out either. She captures all parts of life, other horse experiences and their own stories. Through a horse’s eyes a person is judged in many ways in terms of their character. Beauty often gives people a well assessed judgement and we are shown why that judgement stands. Even in short paragraphs and a few lines Sewell can make it seem like we’ve gotten all we need to know about a person based on how a horse sees them.

The details in this story are also amazing, whether it is in the narrative or listening to another horse tell their story. Horses notice everything, the feeling of the human touch, kindness and pain. Sewell captures these beautifully and demonstrates that horses base their opinions on people not by who they are so much, but by how well they treat their horse. Through this technique you also see the horses reactions to war, ill-treatment, old age, and illness.

Other people have kept writing the Black Beauty story, but I can’t imagine ever wanting to read these other adventures, or read extended version about what occurred in the book, leaving the beautiful story as it is is enough for me, there is so much heart in the original that by adding to it will spoil it. There have also been multiple movie and television versions of Black Beauty, and I have never seen a film version I didn’t like, and only a handful I’ve seen have made minor changes to the plot as far as I could tell. I think with a story like this either reading it or watching it can be hard. It is really up to the individual, but when it is done well, it can be equally as wonderful as the book.

Happy Birthday Anna Sewell, it is sad you did not live long enough to see the effect your book had on the world, but I thank you for writing it.

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