Taming the Star Runner

by S. E. Hinton

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

In Taming the Star Runner, Hinton tries a different approach to telling her story: She abandons her first-person narration for a third-person point of view. The intensity which had earlier carried readers along in the voices of Ponyboy Curtis or Tex is replaced by the distance of the author’s perspective.

Travis Harris has been sent to his uncle’s Oklahoma horse ranch because his mother is afraid that he will eventually kill his stepfather, Stan. There are other reasons for getting Travis out of the violent urban world that so resembles earlier Hinton novels, and this past will catch up with him before he finishes the novel. Travis is like many Hinton characters: a loner, conscious of the impression he makes, and always trying to be “cool.”

He has considerable time in the first half of the novel to work on this image, for his uncle Ken’s horse ranch is isolated, and Travis is too young to drive. His uncle ignores Travis most of the time, because he has his own problems trying to fight his wife, Teresa, for custody of their son Christopher. Travis spends time around the barn that Ken has leased to eighteen-year-old Casey Kencaide for her riding school, begins to work for her, and gets more and more involved in the world of training and showing horses.

In true Hinton fashion, the action in the novel, and especially in its second half, is fast-paced: There are riding competitions, a thunderstorm during which the Star Runner of the title breaks free, and scenes in which Travis must deal with his old friend Joe from the city, who is involved in murder. Some of the thematic strands are quite strong, especially Travis’s developing relationships with Casey and Ken. Taming the Star Runner is certainly the most “adult” of Hinton’s five novels: Drugs and alcohol figure in realistic ways, the language is stronger, and the sexual theme is more mature.

Hinton’s primary strength, characterization, is weakened in Taming the Star Runner by her choice of a third-person point of view. While readers have no trouble accepting The Outsiders’ Ponyboy Curtis as a writer, it is more difficult to believe the same of Travis Harris, who, at fifteen, has written a novel that he sells in the course of Taming the Star Runner. He simply looks and sounds too much like the “sleazy punk” that both readers and other characters see from the outside. As his uncle says, “Sorry, kid, you haven’t given me the impression you could write a complex sentence.”

As Ms. Carmichael, his editor, remarks on first meeting Travis, “I couldn’t believe you had written that book. Your speaking style is so different from the way you write.” It is almost impossible for readers to accept a character who speaks as Travis does (“You can fix up the spelling, huh?” he asks Ms. Carmichael in that first meeting) as a novelist. If Travis Harris had narrated his own story, the plot manipulations and the melodramatic aspects of the novel would have been less obvious.

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