Thursday, 6 March 2008

Dartmoor via the USA

Vian Smith is a rather over-looked author. Despite the fact he wrote a number of excellent pony and horse novels, many people have never heard of him, and those who have may think he only wrote two pony stories - Come Down the Mountain and Martin Rides the Moor. Why? Well, despite being an author whose books are deeply rooted in the English countryside, especially Dartmoor where most of the books are set, many of Smith's books were published in America. Consequently, although fairly easy to find in the states most of the titles are rare in the UK.

One of these such books which I had to purchase from America, is Green Heart. This is a horse story for the older child or adult and focuses on Sarah, a young girl who when her mother dies, must take on the responsibility of looking after her two younger brothers. She takes a job looking after a racehorse but when the horse breaks down at a local racetrack and the owner wants to destroy the mare, Sarah declares that she will nurse the horse back to health. Many of the local busybodies are scandalised when Sarah appears to neglect her brothers for the sake of the horse, and even try to have the children put into care. But as in Come Down the Mountain, the presence of the horse starts to unite the community, slowly changing people's attitudes, as they begin to share Sarah's determinatin to restore the horse back to her former glory and see her race again.

As well as being an excellent story, the book also explores the life of a small country community, the relationship the people have with the land and their surroundings, and the power of the moors, which are intimately bound up with the villager's lives. In some ways this is similar to the horse stories of Joyce Stranger which also focus on their countryside setting, especially the farming community. In this both the works of Smith and Stranger are far more than just run of the mill pony stories.

Other hard to find titles by Vian Smith more commonly seen in the USA include King Sam (published as Tall and Proud in the USA), Question Mark (published as Pride of the Moor in the USA), The Horses of Petrock, The Lord Mayor's Show.

Most of these books, like Green Heart, have a similar deep grounding in their moorland backdrops and it does seem a shame that to read stories which are so essentially English, the reader must buy them from the USA. It almost seems as if the Americans have taken the author to their hearts and appreciated his love of the English countryside far more than their British counterparts.

To read more about Vian Smith please click here


Fiona said...

I read The Horses of Petrock when I was just eleven, we had it in our school library. Thirty-odd years later I can still vividly remember some bits. Where the horse Pride of Pearl is destroyed by the woman racehorse trainer back at the stables after it breaks down in a race. The realism equally shocked and enthralled me as a child.
This realism must have been informed by Smith's own experiences as a permit steeplechase trainer.

I have never seen the book, or for that matter any of his other fiction since. I would love to read it again as an adult.
The fact I remember it so well shows how good a writer he was.

Claire said...

It seems the only ones of his books you can regularly find in the UK are Come Down the Mountain, Martin Rides the Moor and Parade of Horses. I have unfortunately never read The Horses of Petrock yet, will be looking out for that one next! I do agree that his books are more realistic than many pony books and more adult.

Susan in Boston said...

A note on The Horses of was published in the US as Second Chance, with no
changes other than the title.

Oddly enough, it's the UK version I own...I almost bought Second Chance thinking I'd found a new book, but read the first bit while in line to check out and discovered that it was a duplicate of one I already owned...I hate when publishers change book titles!

I grew up loving Smith...the paperback Tall and Proud was one of my most read books, and my library had several others that I read and re-read, especially The Lord Mayor's Show.