Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Watership Down

Book Name: Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
First Published: 1972
The Library Association’s Carnegie Medal 1972
The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 1972

Author Richard Adams was born in Newbury, Berkshire. He attended Bradfield College during his early years and transferred to Worcester College in Oxford to specialize in Modern History. When World War II began, Adams enlisted in the British Army, serving until 1946. Upon his discharge, he returned to his ala mater to earn first a Bachelor of Arts and then a Masters in 1953.

He worked in the civil service as an assistant secretary for the department of agriculture and then moved to the department of the Environment. With the publication of his second book, Adams was able to shift into becoming a full-time author.

Watership Down started as a story that he told to his two young daughters, Juliet and Rosamund, when they were young. The family loved the rabbit stories and urged Adams to write it as a novel. It took him two years to write and was rejected thirteen times by publishers before it found a home. Watership Down went on to sell millions of copies and won the Carnegie Medal and Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for 1972. The book has gone on to sell over 50 million copies and has earned the author more income than all his other books put together.

Adams currently lives with his wife Elizabeth in Whitechurch, England a short distance from his birthplace.

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”
― Richard Adams, Watership Down

Watership Down begins with Fiver, a runt of a rabbit who has the talent of a seer, seeing a horrific vision of Sandleford Warren’s destruction. He convinces his elder brother Hazel that what he envisions will come to pass and that everyone needs to leave the warren before it is too late. Fiver is not believed by the leaders of the warren. Hazel and Fiver leave their home along with a small band of brother rabbits and head off into the unknown.

The group is invited into a new warren, but they soon realize that it is unsafe and that the warren simply wants them to increase their own numbers because a nearby human farmer kills off a number of them for food. Hazel leads his merry band of brothers away from the dangerous warren after Fiver rescues the rabbit Bigwig from a snare. Fiver sees a new home for them in his visions and Hazel is determined to lead his friends there.

Eventually, the small band of rabbits find a peaceful habitat to create a warren of their own. They call it Watership Down. At first, the rabbits are happy, but they realize that their entire group is composed of male bucks. Without female does to create kittens, the warren will die with them. Hazel enlists the help of a black-headed gull named Kehaar to locate other warrens where they might be able to convince does to join them.

Kehaar leads them to Efrafa Warren, which is overcrowded and has many extra does. Hazel sends a request to the leader of the warren to ask for does, but his messengers barely escape with their lives. Hazel learns that Efrafa Warren is a police state run by a rabbit named General Woundwort who refuses to allow anyone to leave the warren. Inside there is a doe named Hyzenthlay who would like to leave and has a small group of females that would come with her. Hazel and Bigwig devise a plan to rescue the females and soon all are ensconced at Watership Down.

Soon General Woundwort is on their heels and Watership Down comes under attack. Will Hazel and his intrepid rabbits protect their home and keep their new mates? You will have to read this classic tale to find the answer.

Watership_Down_coverI think that there are two types of people who read Watership Down. Those that see through the layers of the story and love it and those who don’t get it and wonder why anyone would like a book about talking rabbits. I first read this book in the 1980s and felt a strong connection to it. The book is one that I always think of when asked what books I favor reading. I did not understand why I felt this way at the time. I was young and not as critical about the books that I read then. I enjoyed the way the rabbits filled archetypal roles of ancient human societies: leader, seer, warrior, and villain and the sense of oral tradition with their stories about the rabbit hero El-ahrairah. Their needs are primal and to the point, find a home, select a mate, and have children. The over story is a simple one, of friendship, loyalty, and adventure, but by its simplicity, Watership Down is a bit deceiving.

The characters that Adams creates are animal-like, you never forget that Hazel, Bigwig, and the others are rabbits. They retain their animal characteristics throughout the story, yet their needs and desires are the same as humans and in reading about their adventures, we the reader glimpse more of our past societies. As you absorb the mythos of their tribal organization, you start to realize that here is a commentary on how humans once lived and associated. It strikes a deep chord and resonates with most ancient cultures.

I feel that this is a good book to read with your children or grandchildren. While there are a few scary parts here and there, it is a commentary on learning to embrace new ideas while retaining the wisdom of the past. Ideas that are worth passing on. For the kids it will likely be a tale of talking rabbits, but for the parent, you will see the story with fresh eyes and appreciation if you’ve read it before.  Find out which type you are when it comes to Watership Down. I suspect you will love the book.

Book Review: A Spell for Chameleon

Book Name: A Spell for Chameleon
Author: Piers Anthony
First Published: 1977
August Derleth Award Winner 1978

Piers Anthony was a British immigrant who came to America with his parents at the tender age of six years. He was not a happy child, being bullied at school with parents that divorced. Anthony met his wife, Carol while both were attending Goddard College in Vermont. After several odd jobs, Anthony joined the army in order to support his pregnant wife. In the military, he became an editor and cartoonist for the battalion newspaper. During his time in the army, he became a naturalized US citizen. After a two-year tour of duty, he became a teacher at the Admiral Farragut Academy in Florida before he switched careers and became a full-time author.

During his start as a writer, Anthony and his wife made a bargain. If he could sell a piece of writing in one year, she would continue in her efforts to support the family. If he could not, he would give up writing forever. At the end of his first year, he did manage to get a short story published and the rest, as they say, is history.

Piers Anthony has gone on to write several series of books and has gained much success as a fantasy and science fiction author. His Xanth series, which spans 30 books, continues to be written with a new book added to the series almost every year.

“Now it was done. He was free of Xanth forever. Free to make his own life, without being ridiculed or mothered or tempted. Free to be himself. Bink put his face in his hands and cried.” ― Piers Anthony, A Spell for Chameleon

A Spell for Chameleon begins with the introduction of a young man named Bink. He has a problem. In a land where every human has a magical talent, he is one of the unfortunate few who does not. If a human of Xanth does not display a talent by their eighteenth birthday, they are thrown into exile into the non-magical realms, our world. Bink undertakes one last quest to discover if he has magic. To visit the Good Magician Humfrey, whose magical talent is that of information. If Humfrey can discover his talent, Bink can remain in Xanth and marry his sweetheart, Sabrina.

The quest takes Bink into the heart of the magical realm. He faces many dangers, but always at the last minute a coincidence saves his life. He meets several people along the way. A pair of Centaurs, Crombie the Soldier, and three young women. The first woman is Wynne, a stupid but beautiful girl and the second is Dee, an average girl without an apparent magical talent just like Bink. The final woman is Iris the sorceress who power is that of illusion. Iris is powerful enough to rule Xanth in her own right, but because she is female she was denied the throne and instead the Storm King rules.

Iris saves Bink from an illusion trap and makes him an offer. She will provide Bink with the illusion of powerful magic, allowing him to overthrow the Storm King and remain in Xanth. Then they would marry and Iris would rule as Queen. Bink turns her down and continues on his journey. He wants to marry Sabrina and does not trust the sorceress, fearing he would become her slave.

At last, Bink arrives at Magician Humfrey’s castle. He is tested by three challenges to gain entry. Humfrey determines that Bink not only has magic, but it is of magician-caliber. However, some power prevents the magician from determining what that magic is. He sends Bink home with a note stating that Bink has magic and should not be placed in exile.

Bink returns to North Village to show the note to the Storm King, but due to the King’s rivalry with Humfrey, the king ignores the note and orders Bink into exile. He crosses the magical shield that separates Xanth from Mundania (our world), leaving his parents and Sabrina behind forever. On the other side of the magical barrier, Bink is captured by the Evil Magician Trent, who had been exiled from Xanth twenty years previous for his attempt to overthrow the Storm King and rule in his place. Trent wishes to know where the source of magic is in Xanth so he can toss a magic nullifying potion on it and allow his troops through the magical barrier. Bink refuses to help Trent and is thrown into the pit with Fanchon, an ugly woman, but one with a superior intelligence.

What Bink does not realize is that he has met Fanchon before. She is known as Chameleon, a woman who changes appearance and intelligence with the phases of the moon. Wynne and Dee were the other two phases of the three that Chameleon morphs into. Chameleon is in love with Bink and had followed him to Humfrey’s castle. The good magician advised her to go to Mundania where the lack of magic would allow her to settle into her middle phase of Dee. On learning that Bink was to be exiled, she thought that perhaps they could create a life together. For no man has ever wanted her due to her extreme shifts, but as average woman Dee in Mundania, she feels that she might have a last chance for happiness.

Bink and Fanchon escape to sea, due to Fanchon’s incredible intelligence, but are pursued by Trent’s men. Eventually, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon are all swept back into Xanth via a whirlpool but Trent’s forces are left behind. The three get to know one another and Bink discovers that he likes Trent and finds that his time in Mundania has matured the young hothead that tried to take over the kingdom.

They meet up with Sorceress Iris once more and this time, Iris offers herself to Trent, hoping that they would become the next King and Queen of Xanth. Bink tries to stop them by challenging Trent to a duel of magic. During the duel, Bink’s particular form of magic is revealed. In a final thrust of using physical force against Bink, Chameleon puts herself in front of the man she loves and saves his life. This stops the duel and the group bands together once more in order to save Chameleon’s life.

Will Chameleon live and win Bink’s heart over that of his old flame Sabrina? Will Trent and Iris overthrow the Storm King and rule Xanth together? Will Trent find the source of magic and be able to destroy it to allow his troops into the magical realm? You will need to read the book to find out.

A Spell For Chameleon Book Cover

I first read A Spell For Chameleon when I was very young and the book was first in print. I was delighted by the world building, a magical land where groan-worthy puns were alive in a fantastical natural environment.

I loved the three main characters: Chameleon, Bink, and Trent. Each was quirky, intelligent and straightforward. I was fascinated by Chameleon and the concept of a woman who changed with the phase of the moon and by Bink, a young and handsome man with refreshing flaws that made him likable. Trent, while portrayed as “evil” also was relatable and in the end, I found myself rooting for both him and Iris.

The novel is a first of a very long series of Xanth novels, of which Mr. Anthony seems to produce a new one once a year for the most part. I have not read the entire series because I feel the quality of the books begins to deteriorate after the fourth or fifth book. The first three are fun and worth the read if you enjoy fantasy novels. This one and its sequel, The Source of Magic, are my two favorites. I feel that both books are worth looking into, but I would not necessarily give them to children due to the sexual overtones of the stories and the sexism that is portrayed as “normal behavior”. The sexism does make the novel somewhat dated, but I would not necessarily skip the book for that issue. Xanth is a world that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Early Xanth Series:
A Spell for Chameleon
The Source of Magic
Castle Roogna
Centaur Aisle
Ogre, Ogre

Book Review: The Princess Bride

Book Name: The Princess Bride
Author: William Goldman
First Published: 1973

William Goldman was born in Chicago. He gained a bachelor of arts from Oberlin College in 1952 and then enlisted in the army. Since he knew how to type (keyboard) he was sent to work in the Pentagon where he worked as a clerk until he was honorably discharged. He continued his education at Columbia University and earned a master of arts. While he was in the army and at University, he honed his craft by writing short stories in the evenings, having caught the writing bug during a creative writing class at school. Few of them published, but he did not give up on his dream of being a writer.

Although he later gained fame as a screenwriter, during his early years he was interested in writing poetry, short stories, and novels. In 1956, Goldman began writing his first novel, Temple of Gold. It sold well enough to launch his career.

He published five novels and three plays before he began to entertain the idea of writing screenplays. Movie adaptations of books such as Flowers for Algernon (later renamed Charly) were followed by hits such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, No Way to Treat a Lady, The Right Stuff, Misery, and All The President’s Men.

Goldman met Rob Reiner when adapting Stephen King’s novel Misery. Later they would collaborate again when Reiner directed the film version of Goldman’s book The Princess Bride. Goldman himself wrote the adaptation for the movie and created a cult classic that featured many of the top Hollywood actors of the day.

William Goldman is no stranger to the Motion Picture Academy. He has won two Oscars, one for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and for All The President’s Men. He also has won two Edgar awards for best motion picture screenplay. In 1985, he earned the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writers Guild of America.

“She loves you,” the Prince cried. “She loves you still and you love her, so think of that–think of this too: in all this world, you might have been happy, genuinely happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, not really, no matter what the storybooks say, but you could have had it, and so, I would think, no one will ever suffer a loss as great as you.”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride is presented as if it were an abridgment of a classic adventure story by S. Morgenstern, an author from the imaginary country of Florin. Goldman claims a history with the story of The Princess Bride. He first heard the tale from his own father, an immigrant from Florin, who read the story to him as a ten-year-old child when he had pneumonia. As an adult, Goldman went back to the original classic and discovered that his father had skipped over many “boring” parts of the novel in order to intrigue his small son. Now a writer himself, Goldman decides to edit the original (and fictional) S. Morgenstern book into the more adventurous story he remembers and to allow himself to make editorial comments during the story.

The story takes place in Florin, a renaissance-like land featuring a lovely maiden named Buttercup. Her chief amusement is verbally abusing the family’s farmhand, a youth named Westley. She never calls him by name, only “farm boy” and his response to her demands is always “as you wish”. It doesn’t occur to Buttercup until much later that when Westley says “as you wish”, he actually is saying “I love you.”

The two confess their love for one another and Westley leaves the farm to seek his fortune at sea in order for the pair to marry. It is not long before Buttercup learns that Westley’s ship is boarded by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who is known for killing every man in the ships he attacks. She assumes that her true love has been killed and goes into mourning. Meanwhile, Prince Humperdinck learns that he must marry upon the death of his father. He learns of Buttercup’s renown beauty and decides that she is the one that he will marry. He proposes to her, although he is a stranger to her, and Buttercup agrees to the match, although she makes it clear that she does not love the prince and likely never will.

The story cuts away to a trio of villains, the Sicilian genius Vizzini, the Spaniard Sword-master Inigo Montoya, and the giant Turk wrestler Fezzik. The group kidnaps Buttercup before her wedding to the prince and takes her across the sea in an effort to start a war between Florin and a neighboring kingdom, Guilder. The are pursued by a masked man in black and Prince Humperdinck in separate parties. Vizzini and his group find their way across the sea and dock at the Cliffs of Insanity. The mastermind orders the Spaniard to kill the man in black and whisks Buttercup away with the help of the Turkish giant.

Inigo is a man seeking revenge. He wishes to kill the six-fingered man who had murdered his father. He became a master swordsman in order to reach this goal. When the man in black reaches him, he arranges for a fair fight, allowing the man to rest before the duel. Inigo is confident that he can kill the man in black easily, but as the duel commences, we learn that the masked man is his equal.  In the end, the man in black is triumphant, but he leaves Ingio alive.

The man in black defeats the giant and then finds Vizzini. The two have a battle of wits and in the end, the man in black is victorious and Vizzini dies of his own treachery. The man in black takes Buttercup and flees ahead of Prince Humperdinck’s party which is still in pursuit of the princess bride. As the pair travel, the man in black taunts Buttercup, telling her that she must have felt nothing when her sweetheart had died. The girl is angered by him and shoves the man in black into a gorge. She yells at him, “You can die too, for all I care!” It is then that she hears the man call out, “As you wish.” In shock, she realizes that the masked man in black is none other than her true love, Westley the farm boy. Both explain their time apart to each other and they make up.

Despite navigating through a fire swamp, dealing with snow sand, and battling rodents of unusual size, the pair is captured by Prince Humperdinck and his friend, the six-fingered Count Tyrone Rugen. Buttercup bargains with the prince to spare Westley’s life and returns with the prince back to Florin and her fate of being his bride.

The adventure is not over. Westley must deal with a double cross, make friends of enemies, and ultimately fight once more for the woman he loves. Inigo Montoya returns and confronts the six-fingered man who killed his father, and a host of strange and wonderful characters are yet to come and enjoy.

The Princess Bride Book Cover 2I did not read The Princess Bride until I had seen the Rob Reiner film by the same name in 1987. The film has become a beloved cult classic and remains popular today. Far from a simple fantasy tale, the story is filled with tongue-in-cheek wit and serves as a satire to the fairytales that we all cut our teeth on. The author claims that the book is an abridgment of an older book by “S. Morgenstern” which was a satire on the excesses of European royalty, but the book is completely of Goldman’s own invention. He based the tales on stories that he told to his daughters as they grew up. One daughter requested a story about “princesses” and the other about “brides”. Goldman made up the interconnected scenes on the fly and gave all the characters ridiculous names. The two countries, Florin and Guilder are both named after European coins.

In an anthology The Best of All Words (1980), edited by Spider Robinson, Goldman published a scene from the novel, Duel Scene (From the Princess Bride). Among writers, this scene is often used as the gold standard of how to write a fight scene and is cited as one of the best in literature. It is not so much that it is gory, it is that it displays conflict, emotion, and a clear story arc.

If you enjoy fantasy or fairy tales, you should fall in love with The Princess Bride. If you are a writer, check out the fight scene from the book. I think you will find it as informative as I did.  This is a wonderous tale from a master-class author and it should not be missed.

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon

Book Name: Flowers For Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes
First Published: 1966
Hugo Award for best short story (1960)
Joint Nebula Award (1966)
Nominated for Hugo Award as novel (1967) Lost to Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Daniel Keyes first job as a teenager was to join the U.S. Maritime Service as a ship purser. When he left the sea, he continued his schooling and gained a B.A. in psychology and then a Master’s in English and American Literature from Brooklyn College in New York. Keyes became a teacher for the New York City public school system and taught English and creative writing. Later he would go on to teach creative writing at Wayne State University in Ohio and become a professor emeritus there in 2000. His original university, Brooklyn College, also awarded him its “Distinguished Alumnus Medal of Honor.” Keyes was elected the SFWA Author Emeritus in 2000 for making a significant contribution to science fiction and fantasy, primarily as a result of Flowers for Algernon.

Keyes died in his home in 2014 at the age of 86. It was due to complications from pneumonia. He is survived by his two daughters, Leslie and Hillary, his wife Aurea Georgina Vazquez having died the year before.

His writing career began a few weeks after his graduation from Brooklyn College. Keyes was hired by Magazine Management, a publishing company owned by Martin Goodman. Since he had some experience with science fiction, he eventually became the editor of the pulp magazine Marvel Science Stories, a precursor of the now famous Marvel Comics. When Goodman discontinued the pulps in favor of paperback novels and men’s adventure magazines, Keyes was moved to Atlas to become an associate editor under Stan Lee. In 1952, Keyes was one of several staff writers (officially known as editors) who wrote for the comics. He had two science fiction stories published in Journey into Unknown Worlds along with art from Basil Wolverton.

Flowers for Algernon began as a story proposal for the comics, entitled Brainstorm, but Keyes felt that this story had more depth and was more literary based than comic based. Instead, he wrote it as a full short story and it was published in 1959 by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He won the Hugo Award for this short story. In a few years, he would expand the short into his first full-length novel to publish in 1966. The novel has since been adapted into several movies, including the famous version “Charly” that gave Cliff Robertson the academy award for best actor. The novel was nominated for a Hugo and it won a Nebula Award.

Keyes published additional books: The Fifth Sally, The Minds of Billy Milligan, The Touch, Unveiling Claudia, and the memoir Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey.

Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye.
— Plato, The Republic

Charlie Gordon, a thirty-something man, suffers from phenylketonuria and has a modest IQ of 68. He works as a janitor at a bakery which allows him enough money to afford an apartment and stay out of the state institution. Charlie has ambition. He takes courses to learn to read and write at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. His teacher is young and attractive Alice Kinnian.

Two medical researchers look for a human subject to test a new surgical technique to raise biological intelligence. The first experiments performed on a mouse were successful enough that they felt it was time to take the next step in their studies with a human. Based on a recommendation from Miss Kinnian, Charlie is chosen to be that test subject based on his motivation to improve his condition.

Charlie’s operation is a success, much like that of the mouse Algernon. His IQ soars to 185 and his dream of understanding the world around him as a normal human becomes a reality. As the months pass, life changes dramatically for Charlie. His relationships take on new meaning as he realizes the guys at the bakery “liked” him because he was a butt for their jokes. Now they fear him and demand that he be fired from his job. The scientists who performed the surgery think of him as another test subject, more a mouse than a human. Charlie confronts them with anger at a cocktail party. He also begins a romance with Alice Kinnian, but due to lack of intimacy with her, he rebels and starts a purely physical relationship with another woman, Fay.

When not dousing his soul with alcohol, Charlie continues his mentor’s research. This includes observations of the mouse Algernon, who he keeps at his apartment much like a pet. He discovers a flaw in the scientist’s research. When Algernon begins to behave in an erratic manner, losing his intelligence and then dies, Charlie realizes that he may suffer the same fate as the mouse.

Charlie attempts to mend his broken relationships with his parents and sister. He discovers that his mother suffers from dementia and his sister Norma is caring for her. Norma had hated Charlie as they were growing up, but now has new compassion for him. She asks Charlie to remain with her and their mother, but Charlie declines. Instead, he offers money to help with their mother’s care.

The process inverts and Charlie begins the decline back to a man of special needs. Fay becomes afraid of Charlie’s new condition and leaves him even as Alice returns. But will Charlie be able to accept Alice Kinnian into his life now that he is no longer a lauded genius?

Flowers for Algernon Book Cover.jpgLike many school children, Flowers for Algernon was required reading in my high school English class. It is a powerful book that left a lasting impression on me. I was made aware that science fiction did not need to be “pulp” to be part of the genre. There is room for sci-fi to be literary and comment on the human condition.

The novel has gone on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide. It has inspired many television and movie adaptations, the most famous of which is Charly starring Cliff Robertson who won an Oscar for the title role. It has become a story that is now a part of the pop-culture and has been included in many high school curriculum plans.

Yet, there is still controversy surrounding the novel. Some critics of the book find it to be sexually explicit and irreligious. Consequently, the book is occasionally removed from the shelves of schools and put onto “banned book” lists.

I view the book as a statement of how the physically and mentally challenged are viewed in the world. I am proud how far their treatment and place in society has come. There was a time not all that long ago when such children and adults were locked away in institutions or treated with derision when kept with their families. Today, I feel that much of this stigma has been removed and that people are treated with more dignity and understanding.

And what of the idea of augmenting human intelligence that plays a pivotal role in the novel? When Daniel Keyes was asked when he thought such a process might come to pass, his reply was “Perhaps in 30 years.” Science fiction may very well become science fact in our lifetime.

Book Review: The Island Stallion Races

Book Name: The Island Stallion Races
Author: Walter Farley
First Published: 1955

Walter Farley was born in 1915 in Syracuse, New York. His uncle was a professional horseman and took the young Walter under his wing. He taught him about horses and training methods that were used on the world racing tracks. Walter spent a great deal of time with his uncle at the Belmont Race Track and stables. Many of his future novels would be set in this racing complex.

Farley was a high school student at Erasmus Hall High in Brooklyn when he began to write the first Black Stallion novel. As he continued his education at Columbia College, he completed and published The Black Stallion in 1941 when he was still an undergrad at the university. The book was a success and Farley was ready to write sequels, but World War II intervened. He was forced to set his stories about Alec Ramsey and the Black aside and instead worked for the US Army magazine Yank for the next five years. It would not be until the end of the war that Farley could return to his first love, writing about horses and the racing world. Altogether, Farley would write 21 novels about his beloved horses and would become renown as a young adult author.

Farley and his wife Rosemary had four children whom they raised on a farm in Pennsylvania and later in a beach house in Florida. The love for horses was passed on to his children and in one, his son Steve, the love of writing.

In 1989, Walter Farley was honored by the Library in Venice, Florida by the creation of the Walter Farley Literary Landmark in it’s children’s wing. Soon after, Farley died of cancer in 1989. He would not see the completion of the Young Black Stallion book or the start of production of the television series The Adventures of the Black Stallion.

There was also a famous Francis Ford Coppola film The Black Stallion, which features some of the most beautiful cinematography featuring an Arabian steed, a beach and a boy taming the heart of a horse. It stars Mickey Rooney as the old trainer and is well worth looking into as a family-friendly film everyone can love.

“His mane was like a crest, mounting, then falling low. His neck was long and slender, and arched to the small, savagely beautiful head. The head was that of the wildest of all wild creatures- a stallion born wild- and it was beautiful, savage, splendid. A stallion with a wonderful physical perfection that matched his savage, ruthless spirit.”
― Walter Farley

The Island Stallion Races is an unusual offering by Walter Farley, his only science fiction novel. The story returns us to Azul Island, a tropical paradise with a hidden secret: Inside the ancient walls of this extinct volcano is tucked away the last outpost of the Spanish conquistadors where the descendants of their powerful steeds still roam. Young Steve Duncan and his scholarly friend Pitch have discovered the secret of Azul Island and Steve has befriended the mighty stallion Flame who guards his herd and keeps them safe.

Pitch is called away while the pair study the ruins left by the Spaniards on the island and Steve is delighted to have more time with his favorite horse, a fire red steed that he longs to race so he can show off Flame’s speed and grace to the world. Alas, it is not to be. Flame has no pedigree or papers. He is barred from racetracks due to this defect.

Enter a pair of supposed “Eastern American Business Men” who are anything but. Jay and Flick arrive on the island via unconventional means: An intergalactic spaceship. They have unusual talents such as transforming into birds when they wish. Their mission is to watch over the invisible spaceship that has been parked on the remote island while their colleagues Victor and Julian are off studying human culture.

Jay would like to do more than simply study humanity. He has watched the beautiful horses of Azul Island for a long time and is interested in experiencing horse racing for himself. He concocts a plan to take Flame and Steve to Havana, Cuba via their invisible spaceship and enter the Island Stallion in the Grand International horse race.

Does the Island stallion have what it takes to beat the best race horses on the planet? Will Steve overcome his fear of the aliens in order to pursue his dream of being Flame’s rider in a major racing event? Will Jay the intergalactic alien get away with his reckless behavior or will his comrades leave him behind when it is time for them to depart Earth?

You’ll have to read the adventure to find out.

The Island Stallion Races Book CoverOne of my favorite series, when I was a pre-teen were the Black Stallion novels by Walter Farley. I had quite the crush on young Alec Ramsey and identified with his love of horses since I had a similar love for my own horse at that age. The Black Stallion novels are quite famous.  The series is being continued by Farley’s son Steve Farley to this day.

There is a second series of books written by Farley featuring another mighty horse. There are only five novels in the series about Flame the Island Stallion and his rider, Steve Duncan.  Each one a well written YA adventure featuring a beautiful steed and the boy who loves him.

Although the Island Stallion books were written at the same time as the Black Stallion books, I put off reading them. I loved the Black and Alec so much, I felt a sense of youthful disloyalty to read about this other horse. Much to my surprise, when I finally gave in to my curiosity, I found that I enjoyed these books as much, if not more than the original Black Stallion books.

Azul Island, a walled paradise tucked away in the tropics and home to the beautiful equine descendants of the conquistador warhorses tickled my fancy with delight. Then, there was a second easter egg. The Island Stallion Races featured aliens from another world and their nefarious mission: horseracing! To my disappointment, the author never continued his science fiction ideas and this single offering is his only sci-fi novel. The storyline was enough to make this particular Walter Farley book one of my favorites. (Sorry Alec)

I would love to see the Island Stallion stories made into movies as the Black Stallion books were. The stories are every bit as compelling as the more famous works by Walter Farley. If you are looking for science fiction in an unexpected place, give The Island Stallion Races a try. It is a family-friendly book that will make you and your horse-loving child smile.

The Island Stallion Series:

The Island Stallion (1948)
The Island Stallion’s Fury (1951)
The Island Stallion Races (1955)
The Black Stallion and Flame (1960)
The Black Stallion Challenged (1964)