Walter Farley Essay - Critical Essays

Farley, Walter


Walter Farley 1915–

American young adult novelist.

Since 1941, when The Black Stallion first appeared, horse lovers have looked to Farley's novels for authentic, exciting equine adventures. Horses have been a lifelong obsession for Farley, and his years of association with them as a horse owner and breeder give his stories an authority few other animal stories can match. The Black and his offspring have figured in over a dozen of Farley's books, although he has written about other horses and about dogs. Although his books were immediately popular with readers, he did not receive serious critical attention until somewhat later. The major criticism leveled against his work is that his characterizations of humans are usually very sketchy, providing only enough background to make the events involving the horses credible. Yet with his more recent chronicles of the Black's family this criticism has lost validity, since he has begun to develop some of the regular characters, especially Alec Ramsay, the Black's master, in greater depth. Farley's infectious devotion to his subject appears to compensate for the technical flaws in his writing and explains his large, steady following among young adult readers. Farley's audience has further increased due to the well-received film adaptation of The Black Stallion. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol.2.)

May Lamberton Becker

A regular thriller, honest in its use of Hawaiian sports and possible submarine hideaways, ["Larry and the Undersea Raider"] begins with surfboard riding so vividly reported that it makes the muscles ache as well as the nerves tingle…. [Larry decides] that surfboard riding is the king of sports and easy to do, and [learns] the fallaciousness of that second statement, all before the opening chapters are over. They introduce him to a handsome Hawaiian aristocrat of his own age….

[Something] deadly is going on under water. An undersea raider is sinking ships with supplies for Australia. The father of the Hawaiian youth knows something valuable in locating the submarine's hideout: the American lad, whose father has been ordered to sea on a similar mission, goes off on an adventure of his own that lands him on board the Japanese submarine as an involuntary passenger. One of the boys is thus doing his best to get the submarine sunk while the other is on board, and Larry has as narrow an escape as a hero in the strips.

May Lamberton Becker, "Books for Young People: 'Larry and the Undersea Raider'," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), Vol. 18, No. 34, April 19, 1942, p. 8.

Ellen Lewis Buell

For the boy in search of a wartime melodrama ["Larry and the Undersea Raider"] is just about as up to date as it is possible to find. Its time is the late Fall of 1941, its setting Hawaii, where Larry Wilson, visiting his father, an American naval officer, is learning to ride a surf board….

Obviously this isn't a book to improve the mind, but it can certainly be recommended for a couple of hours of vicarious suspense and hair-raising adventure of contemporary flavor.

Ellen Lewis Buell, "The New Books for Younger Readers: 'Larry and the Undersea Raider'," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1942 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 12, 1942, p. 10.

Dorotha Dowson

This sequel to the very popular book The Black Stallion is not remarkable in style, plot or characterization, yet [The Black Stallion Returns] has pace and verve and holds the reader's interest throughout. Central theme, the love of Alec for his horse, has all the elements of sure-fire popularity with young people twelve and over.

Dorotha Dawson, "New Books Appraised: 'The Black Stallion Returns'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, November 15, 1945; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1945 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 70, No. 20, November 15, 1945, p. 1093.

William Glick

[In "Son of the Black Stallion"] we meet the foal of the Black Stallion which, sent to Alec Ramsay by the Sheikh Abu Ja Kub ben Ishak, reveals the same savage tendencies his sire exhibited. At the very outset the colt presents a problem to Henry Dailey, erstwhile trainer of the Black. Appropriately named Satan, he turns Dailey against him by throwing and injuring Alec during a training session…. This and many other problems faced Alec before he could race Satan—but race him he did, thus providing a fitting climax for a thrill-packed book.

The story of a boy's steady faith and devotion is portrayed with a depth of feeling that reveals the author's own love for horses. [The story is accurate] in detail, even down to listing for Satan in the Stud Book of Arabia…. Undistinguished from a literary standpoint, the story follows in the action-crammed tradition of its predecessors.

William Glick, "For Younger Readers: 'Son of the Black Stallion'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1947 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 2, 1947, p. 37.

Margaret C. Scoggin

When Walter Farley brews a mixture of boy, horses, mysterious island, and Spanish treasure, he has fare irresistible to 10-14-year-old readers: "The Island Stallion" will be just as popular as his "Black Stallion" tales.

Since childhood Steve Duncan has longed for a horse. He goes with his archaeologist friend Pitch, to a lonely Caribbean island because he hears there are wild horses, descendants of those left by Spanish Conquistadores, for anyone to capture…. How Steve wins the red stallion's confidence and saves his life and how he and Pitch uncover Spanish gold keep the story moving to the very end. Through it the author's sure understanding of a boy's yearning for a horse comes right up from the pages.

Margaret C. Scoggin, "Books for Young People: 'The Island Stallion'," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), Vol. 25, No. 10, October 24, 1948, p. 10.

Merritt P. Allen

["The Island Stallion"] is the first of a series of stories about wild horses in a lost valley on a little-known Caribbean island. That is enough to make most young people reach for it, and they won't put it back on the shelf until they have heard the last hoofbeat. (p. 40)

Steve's adventures with Flame, and what Pitch found in the subterranean Spanish fortress make exciting reading.

A story like this is necessarily improbable. Parts of this one—for example the derrick that worked perfectly after standing idle for three hundred years—are fantastic; but the story sweeps along so rapidly that young people will not stop to question its plausibility. There are hours of good...

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Jennie D. Lindquist

It is easy to see why Walter Farley is such a favorite with boys and girls everywhere. This enthralling book [The Black Stallion and Satan] has in it a real knowledge and love of horses, action, courage and suspense woven into a perfectly credible story that can be read independently of the earlier books. It will, of course, be especially welcomed by children who already know the famous black stallion and his son, Satan.

Jennie D. Lindquist, "Early Fall Booklist: 'The Black Stallion and Satan'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyrighted, 1949, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XXV, No. 5, September-October, 1949, p. 422.

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William Clifford

["The Black Stallion and Satan" is a] nicker-a-page thriller, and all Black Stallion fans had best start looking for a quiet afternoon when they can let their favorite horse breathe fire down their necks….

The crescendo of final action, as well as the chain of physical and emotional twists throughout, make the implausibilities of the story fade magically away and help the lessons in responsibility to be painlessly taught.

William Clifford, "Hoof Beats," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1949 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 20, 1949, p. 58.

Farley fans will not be disappointed...

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Marjorie Burger

Since the appearance in 1941 of Walter Farley's first book, "The Black Stallion," readers have been clamoring for more and more of his thrilling horse tales. ["The Black Stallion's Filly"] is certain to run nose to nose in popularity with its predecessors.

The black stallion's first daughter, Black Minx, pulls many a trick on her trainer and owner…. [In] the five months between her purchase and the Kentucky Derby, they succeed in changing her from a spoiled filly into [a] classic racer…. Derby Day finally arrives when "anything can happen." Something does happen which makes the book exciting reading right up to its very last period.

Marjorie Burger,...

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Margaret Ford Kieran

The atmosphere of the paddock is so vividly re-created [in The Black Stallion's Filly] that I found myself adding sugar lumps to my grocery list against the chance that I might run across a stray horse or two before the day was out. Mr. Farley knows his field well and he tells a good, swift story.

Margaret Ford Kieran, "New Books for Children: 'The Black Stallion's Filly'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1952, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 190, No. 6, December, 1952, p. 102.

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Louise S. Bechtel

In each Farley stallion story, the material has become more adult, and the style more tense and emotional. The plots are all about the same….

["The Black Stallion Revolts" is] a thriller, packed with excitement and violence, dominated by the idea of Alec's legendary power over his beloved wild horse. Some readers of under twelve would have bad dreams after such fare, but now most of the Farley fans are over twelve, and can take it. A boy wanted for murder wins a race (and what a race!) and proves his lost identity. What more could you ask, except the hint at the end about another book? Well, you could say you did not care for this sort of improbable doings to feed your thoughts, not this sort of...

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Louise S. Bechtel

Your old friend, Alec Ramsay, who must be quite a man by now, is curious about Bonfire, the second son of Black Stallion [in "The Black Stallion's Sulky Colt"]. A casual visit to watch the three-year-old in night harness racing on Long Island involves Alec in Bonfire's problems, and leads us deep into the excitements, dangers and techniques of harness racing…. [The Hambletonian] is described with thrilling reality and, of course, Bonfire wins….

[Farley's] ninth book since 1941 offers his usual combination of human and horse emotion. It offers the inside view and the information that will make more interesting any reader's next look at the flying sulkies, whether at a country fair, on TV, or at...

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Marjorie Burger

Having for years faithfully followed all the fantastic feats of the famous black stallion and his owner-rider, Alec Ramsey, we find it difficult to believe that Alec would be careless enough to let his $100,000 horse-barn burn to the ground the very night he discovers his insurance on said barn has lapsed. Be that as it may, Mr. Farley uses it [in "The Black Stallion's Courage"] as an excuse (as if he needed one) to let the Black run again to glory….

Marjorie Burger, "The Black Runs Again: 'The Black Stallion's Courage'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1956 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 11, 1956, p. 42.


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Marjorie Burger

["The Black Stallion Mystery" is] a rather sinister story of revenge and the resurrection of a horse. This book rounds out Walter Farley's baker's dozen of very readable horse stories, but the melodrama is overdone. This reader hopes Mr. Farley's next volume will be more cheerful.

Marjorie Burger, "Mission to Spain: 'The Black Stallion Mystery'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1957 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 13, 1957, p. 51.

Among the skills which the jet-age has forgotten is that highly disciplined and demanding profession of horse taming. In [The Horse Tamer], Henry Dailey traces...

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Allie Beth Martin

Walter Farley has varied his plot in ["The Horse Tamer"]…. The Black Stallion's trainer tells a story about the experiences of his older brother as a horse-tamer before the days of horseless carriages. Negligible story; stereotyped characters; poor format. Practical psychology involved in taming and training difficult horses and a plea for kindness comprise a major portion of the book.

Allie Beth Martin, "Junior High: 'The House Tamer'," in Junior Libraries, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1959 issue of Junior Libraries, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1959), Vol. 5, No. 5, January, 1959, p....

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Andrea Dinoto

[The title character of "The Great Dane Thor"] is the pet of a writer who lives an isolated life in the country with his wife and son, Lars. A solitary boy whose friends are woodland creatures, Lars dreads the undisciplined strength of the Dane—until poachers' guns are aimed at the wild-running dog. In that violent, deadly climax, father and son find their true relationship to each other and to Thor.

Mr. Farley is concerned with spelling out the inner conflicts of his characters—so concerned, in fact, that he forgoes an atmosphere of sheer animal excitement in favor of object lessons in loneliness, courage, fear and ethics. As a result, Thor is never a central, compelling creature, and it is...

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Martha Bacon

I am overwhelmingly prejudiced in favor of horseflesh, and I must admit to enjoying [The Black Stallion's Ghost] immensely. It opens with a stunning description of an exhibition of dressage and proceeds through a series of genuinely horrifying adventures in the Everglades involving a fetish called the Kovi. The Black Stallion is clever, brave, and good-looking, and as far as I can judge, honest, reverent, and clean…. [In] his artless horsey way he seems to me to carry on the satisfactory tradition of Black Beauty.

Martha Bacon, "Tantrums and Unicorns," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1969, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with...

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Margery Fisher

Shipwreck off the Spanish coast: a boy and an untamed Arab stallion the sole survivors. This promising situation, led up to by a logical sequence of events, is used in [The Black Stallion,] an adventure story whose outsize plot is curbed by a firm attention to the relationship between the hero, Alec Ramsay, an American high-school boy, and the stallion who comes to be known as the Black. (p. 3406)

[The subsequent books in the Black Stallion series] are essentially tales of a horse and its fortunes and at times Alec seems little more than a necessary link in the narrative. His character is lightly sketched and the decisions he has to make, about finishing at college and about the financial...

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