Pale Horse, Pale Rider

by Katherine Anne Porter

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a collection of three short novels published in 1939.

The titles of the novels are Old Mortality, Noon Wine, and Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Each has a different set of characters. Here, we will go over the main characters in each.

In the titular story, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, there are two main characters:

Miranda: A young woman who works at a newspaper in Denver. She's in a romantic relationship with Adam, and she's anxious about the fact that he might be called to war at any moment. She falls ill from influenza, but recovers after a hospital stay.

Adam: A soldier who's waiting to be called to action in World War I. He takes care of Miranda when she first gets sick (the influenza epidemic is raging), but while she's in the hospital, he succumbs to the illness himself. He dies before Miranda wakes up from a coma-like period of unconsciousness, much to his girlfriend's surprise and torment.

Moving on to Noon Wine. There are several key characters here:

Royal Earle Thompson: A dairy farmer who lives with his wife and children on a Texas farm in the 1890s. He employs Olaf Helton, and later gets mixed up in a conflict that has to do with Helton's past, and he (Thompson, the farmer) kills a man. Thompson is acquitted in trial but suffers immensely, fearing that his wife and children no longer trust him. He commits suicide by shotgun at the end of the story.

Olaf Helton: A Swedish farm hand that finds employment at Thompson's dairy farm. One day, while at work, a shadowy figure from Helton's past shows up at the farm, demanding that Helton return to the mental institution where he belongs (and accusing Helton, in front of his employer, the farmer, of having committed terrible crimes in the past). Thompson kills the man during the conflict.

Homer T. Hatch: A mysterious man who shows up at Thompson's farm, claiming that Helton is a criminal and that he must return to the mental hospital where he belongs. Hatch seems impulsive and potentially dangerous; he's killed on the spot by the farmer, Thompson, who later goes on to kill himself.

In the last novel, Old Mortality:

Miranda: The protagonist, who's age 8 at the start of the story and age 18 at the end of it. As a girl and adolescent, she's very curious about the life of her late Aunt Amy, a beautiful and daring woman who led (what seems to Miranda, at least) an exciting but tragic life. Miranda wants to be beautiful, too, and a great horseback rider, as Amy was. With her sister Maria, Miranda studies Amy's life in pictures and stories told by relatives. At age 10, she's sent by her father to attend a Catholic girls' school.

Amy: Miranda's late aunt, who's much discussed in the novel although she's deceased. She was beautiful and an excellent horseback rider; she was married to Gabriel.

Gabriel: Amy's widower, who later remarries a woman named Miss Honey. He declines in health and general wellbeing as he ages; Miranda is surprised to see how unwell he looks when she meets him. By the actual end of the narrative, he is dead, apparently (at least in part) from excessive drinking.

Cousin Eva: An old woman Miranda meets on the train when Eva is on the way to Gabriel's funeral. Eva is involved with the women's suffragette movement. She tells Miranda that Amy was flawed, but that Gabriel never recovered from losing her.

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