Setting

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Although introduced by a brief scene at a Canadian horse race during the early 1900s, in which the famous horse Man o' War is set against a Canadian horse, Sir Barton, the action of this novel begins in the early 1700s in Morocco, an Arab country across the Mediterranean Sea from Spain. A boy king, Louis XV, controls France, while in England the Quaker religious sect, founded in 1648, is becoming more popular. The action moves from Morocco to France to England, and at the end, Agba returns to his country. Agba and the horse Sham, ancestor of Man o' War, are sent as part of a carefully chosen group of horses and grooms as a present to the king of France. The corrupt ship's captain pockets the feed money for the horses, and both horses and boys, arriving in starved condition, are rejected by the powerful lords who control King Louis XV. Until this terrible sequence of events, Agba's life, though hard, has been full of hope and optimism, but his arrival in France marks only the first intrusion of harsh realities. Rescued by a Quaker gentleman, Agba and Sham go to England, where more hardships await them. At one point they are separated, and Agba is thrown into Newgate Jail. After the two do finally arrive at the Earl's estate, they find it is not the haven it first appears to be. While the transitions between scenes often seem abrupt, Henry's settings are convincing and vivid, as are Dennis's sketches.

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Literary Qualities

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The book demonstrates Henry's ability to use symbols and allusions in an unobtrusive way to add depth to the narrative line. Symbols such as Sham's wheat ear and white spot create suspense, encouraging the reader to wonder, for example, if Signor Achmet will actually go so far as to kill Sham because of the bad luck and evil associated with the wheat ear. Later, the reader wants to know if these old Arab superstitions will be borne out by the story. Pedigrees become a symbol of superficiality— something that good horses, and boys, do not need to establish their value. The horse himself symbolizes the triumph of moral courage and life over evil and death.

Other stylistic qualities that make Henry's book so engaging are her use of strong verbs and vigorous sentences; her tendency not to dwell on character descriptions, exciting scenes, or emotional moments for too long, making the narrative fast-paced; precise attention to historical detail; vivid characterizations that give equal importance to both human and animal characters; the use of characters as foils for one another; and development of themes through comparisons of animals to people.

Social Sensitivity

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Henry portrays different religions with sensitivity. She treats the religious beliefs of both Moslems and Christians with respect but also shows that individuals sometimes misconstrue religious tenets. For example, the Sultan orders that his horses must observe the fast of Ramadan, where for a month Moslems neither eat nor drink from sunrise to sunset. Sham's mother dies after giving birth to him, probably because of the fast imposed on her. Parents and teachers will want to make sure that readers unfamiliar with Islam are aware that the Sultan's orders result from a misunderstanding of the religion and that they actually violate the religion's injunctions against cruelty to animals.

Henry's portrayal of various social classes develops her theme concerning the arbitrary nature of class distinctions based on who an individual's ancestors are. Kings, dukes, sultans, and other titled power holders are seen to be only as good as their actions. The horseboy Agba succeeds where the Earl of Godolphin and his groom fail. Henry reinforces this theme when Sham's pedigree gets lost and when she notes that Man o' War's ancestors include a cart horse.

For Further Reference

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Evory, Ann, ed. Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Vol. 9. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Contains a biographical information on Henry and an overview of her writing.

Henry, Marguerite. "Acceptance Paper." In Newbery Medal Books: 1922-1955, edited by Bertha M. Miller and Elinor W. Field. Boston: Horn Book, 1955. Henry's acceptance paper for King of the Wind is interesting for her comments on how she wrote the book. This entry includes a brief plot summary, an excerpt from the novel, and a biographical note by Henry's sister, Gertrude B. Jupp.

Huck, Charlotte S. "Contemporary Realistic Fiction." In Children's Literature in the Elementary School. 3d ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1979. This critical account compares Henry favorably to other writers of children's horse stories, notably Walter Farley, with comments upon Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, and Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West

Kirkpatrick, D. L., and Naomi Lewis, eds. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983. Places Henry in the tradition of Robert Louis Stevenson, and compares her horse books to Will James's Smoky for their depth of characterization. Also contains a good assessment of Henry's use of history.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. The Junior Book of Authors. Rev. ed. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1951. Contains an autobiographical sketch in which Henry comments on her childhood and her decision to become a writer of animal books.

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers: A Critical Reference from Colonial Times to the Present. Vol. 2. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Contains a brief overview of Henry's life and work and argues that Misty of Chincoteague is Henry's best book.

Rothe, Anna, and Constance Ellis, eds. Current Biography. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1947. A brief biography containing facts unavailable elsewhere, including the existence of the original manuscript of Justin Morgan Had a Horse in the University of Vermont Archives.

Smaridge, Norah. "Marguerite Henry." In Famous Modern Storytellers for Young People. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1969. A very brief but highly informative account of Henry's life and work with interesting comments on her relationship to the illustrator Wesley Dennis.

Wilt, Miriam E. "In Marguerite Henry— The Thread That Runs So True." Elementary English (November 1954): 387-395. Comments on Henry's realism and lack of sentimentality.

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