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Black Beauty

Black Beauty (1877), first edition, by Anna Sewell

I’m just starting to read Black Beauty, the third of three novels that I chose to analyze for my project to become a certified Story Grid Editor.

This might sound strange but I think I’m more afraid to read this book than I was to read Stephen King’s Carrie, the first of the three novels that I tackled as part of my certification project. Though I loved Black Beauty when I was a kid and count it among those books that most shaped who I am as an adult, I admit that I am dreading the scenes in which horses suffer and die from neglect and abuse.

Maybe I am more tenderhearted now than I was at age eight, when I first read Anna Sewell’s novel.

Or maybe the fact that I remember these scenes well enough to dread them testifies to the power of a well-written story. Maybe it shows that the stories we absorb as children can affect us deeply.

I’ve definitely been thinking, as I embark on rereading this book and analyzing it, that we Gen-X’ers (and the Boomers before us) “cut our teeth” on stories that were G-rated at the time – such as Bambi, such as Old Yeller – that would be considered much too harsh to earn even a PG-13 today.

Though it’s now marketed as “YA” (a novel for young-adults a.k.a kids), Sewell wanted adult-adults to read Black Beauty with its frank depictions of what horses suffer due to deliberate cruelty or mistreatment rooted in ignorance. Sewell hoped that she might persuade these readers to appreciate horses as thinking and feeling creatures who deserved to be treated with kindness instead of being worked to death like four-legged machines.

Sewell certainly succeeded in her mission. In its time, the novel sparked changes in English law regarding the treatment of horses; and in our time, it is regarded as one of the most influential texts on the worldwide social movements to prevent animal cruelty. For that reason, and to deepen my skills as an editor, I will read on…

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