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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Book club: Was My Friend Flicka meant to be read by adults?

The My Friend Flicka series by Mary O’Hara has always been regarded as books for children but FRAN CLELAND thinks otherwise.
ABOVE: Mary O'Hara - children's author or were there subtler messages in her books?

MY good friend once had a group of kids around for a party. They decided they wanted to watch the movie Grease as part of the fun.

She though OK and put it on. The kids sang and danced and bopped around while she, who had never seen the movie before, was totally intrigued by the way all the sexual references went straight over their heads.

They totally missed the plot.

It's the same with Mary O’Hara’s classic trilogy My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming, long marketed as perfect horse books for horse loving youngsters.

But in the same way as the kids watching Grease, the important parts of these three excellent stories have always gone over the heads of young readers.

They dream of Banner guarding his herd of mares, of the crazy mare Rocket who kills herself while being taken away in a truck, and her foal, the golden-haired Flicka, and totally miss the story of a very gentle boy, bullied by his West Point Father, sneered at by his older brother and longing for his own horse makes the wrong choice in Rocket’s filly, and defying his father to keep her.

The story is totally adult, and the ending of My Friend Flicka is beautifully handled. The same with Thunderhead and even more so in Green Grass of Wyoming, where Ken has become a young adult.

ABOVE: My Friend Flicka - 1944 edition.

I can highly recommend revisiting these three books if you want a good read. They were written by someone who had a very good understanding, not only of horses, but of young people.

You will see they are not kids’ books at all.

Mary O Hara, the author, is an interesting person.

She was born in 1885, in Cape May Point, New Jersey, the third child of the Reverend Dr. Reese Fell Alsop and Mary Lee Spring. She grew up in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

She married her third cousin, Kent Kane Parrot, in 1905 against her father's wishes and following the end of her marriage to Parrot, worked as a Hollywood screenwriter during the silent film era, which was pretty strong-minded for women of that time.

Her screenwriting credits included the movies The Last Card (1921), The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Braveheart (1925) and Framed (1927).

Her association with horses began in 1922 when she married Helge Sture-Vasa, a Swede who had experience working horses in the U.S. Army Remount Service, and they moved to Wyoming.

They bought a ranch they stocked with sheep (possibly why they feature strongly in her books) but the Great Depression wrecked the market, so they sold milk and bred horses.

Because of her love for the country, she, she began writing stories: My Friend Flicka (1941), Thunderhead (1943) and Green Grass of Wyoming (1946).

Eighty years on, they are still as current and readable as the day she wrote them. They have been translated in many all around the world.

Mary O’Hara died in 1980 aged 95. The books were made into perfectly dreadful films and I don’t think I’ve recovered years on from Jewel being turned into a pacer in Green Grass of Wyoming, so stick with the books.

If you do find a copy (to either re-read or experience them for the first time) let me know if you agree that O’Hara did not have a children’s audience in mind when she wrote them.

Stories on The Regional’s website are free to read and always will be.

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