Of all the sins a Black Stallion book can commit, the only truly unforgivable one is to be boring. Which is your preview for this book: it managed to make a wilderness survival story boring.
Let’s start where the book itself starts: fat-shaming Napoleon. Who is somehow still alive. (He has to be in his late 20s by now, right?)
The gray gelding, Napoleon, was built from the ground up and butter fat. His roundness was not due to overfeeding or lack of exercise but to a most placid disposition and an ease of adapting himself to any kind of situation or way of life.
I wish I could say the same. But seriously, what a weird way to open this book, of all the books.
We continue on to learn that Napoleon also knows (he’s just that wicked smart) that part of his job at Hopeful Farm is to be a barrier between the Black and Satan. He likes that job. He hangs out and grazes and thinks about the layout of Hopeful Farm and the logic behind night turnout and also a gathering storm for many, many pages. Did I mention he’s really smart?
Meanwhile, the Black is conspiring.
He made no sound except for the slight, hushed beat of his hoofs over the grass. He did not shrill his challenge to the burly stallion two paddocks away from him. It was not yet time. The Black was clever and able to control the savage instinct that sought release within his great body.
The next bit is so fucked up, you guys. Apparently the Black is about to Shawshank Redemption his way out of his paddock. See, he’s got this board he’s been working on for a while, and now he’s got it good and loose. And he knows the storm is perfect cover for the noise he’s about to make. He gets out of his paddock and heads straight for Satan.
No longer was he calm and cunning, but trembling and brutally eager to kill.
Someone could write a whole treatise on toxic masculinity + fetishization of the concept of wildness + hyperviolence in the Black Stallion books.
The Black spends many pages trying to get into Satan’s paddock, and eventually succeeds by…using a loading ramp as like a liftoff point? It’s so insane, you guys. He somehow gallops up this slight hill and uses it to gain enough height to jump the fence. He gets into the paddock and proceeds to beat the everloving shit out of Satan. Remember when Alec was all “oh, the Black will recognize his son!” Yeah. No.
Henry wakes up and hears what’s going on, and then wakes Alec. He tries to chase the Black away from Satan with a pitchfork, and then a whip, which gets the Black’s attention in a murderous way. Alec arrives just in time to prevent Henry from dying gruesomely, and calms the Black down.
Alec and Henry have a whole conversation that boils down to: the Black is still a wild horse, and he’s got all these instincts for violence and freeeeeeeedoooooooommmmm, and he needs to go have like a back to the land vacation where he runs out for a while. Over the course of this conversation they spend many, many, many pages recapping all of the previous books. All of them.
Henry shook his head in disgust. “Alec, if you’re going to bother tellin’ me the whole story of the Black again, you’d better just save your breath an’ I’ll save you some time.
AND THEN HE RECAPS ANYWAY.
At the end of this endless conversation, Henry and Alec decide to fly the Black out west, to spend time with a friend of Henry’s who has apparently thousands upon thousands of acres of fenced-in irrigated pasture in Southern California, because fuck you, water conservation.
The chapter ends with this bit of weirdness, which will become a recurring theme in the book.
He’d tell the great stallion what they were going to do, and somehow the Black would understand. Not from his words, but through some other way, which he himself didn’t understand and could only accept.
Yeah. It comes out in this book that Alec and the Black have their own language. It’s like nonsense sounds and noises and maybe also telepathy. Several outside observers comment on it. This is a thing that really happens in this book.
So, the next thing that happens is one of the more batshit insane things that has happened so far in the Black Stallion books. (SO FAR.)
Basically: they are on the plane heading to California. The plane encounters some turbulence, and the Black gets a little nervous, and a little overly warm and sweaty. Alec leaves him alone for a few minutes to look out the front cockpit window, and while he’s there one of the pilots gives the Black a big bucket of ice-cold water.
What happens next is something that I’ve always though of as the Black Beauty Fallacy. For a long time in horsekeeping there was a theory that cold water + hot horse is a trigger for gas colic. It was the mistake Joe made after Beauty got back from bringing the doctor. Thanks to modern science, we know it’s bullshit. I’m not sure if Walter Farley could have known it’s bullshit; this book was written in 196? and that particular myth may well have still been hanging in there.
Anyway, thanks to the plot, the Black colics. Bad. And as we’ve already established the Black’s response to everything is to try violence first. So he absolutely looses his shit in the cargo hold of this small plane, which is small enough to crash because of this.
Just before the plane crashes, though, Alec falls out the door, which mysteriously popped open. Shittiest safety door ever. He falls through many, many trees and hits the ground.
And I’m just going to address this here, briefly: later on the pilots tell searchers that they saw Alec ride the Black away from the crash. It’s pretty clearly stated as conclusive evidence that they’re both alive. Is this just a massive plot hole? Were the pilots lying? Is this all some big conspiracy? What the hell?
Alec wakes and he is in really bad shape. I’m not going to recap the next 50 or so pages in detail, because here’s what happens: he has amnesia and thinks his name is McGregor because that’s what it says on his clothes, he gets rides from a bunch of strangers, he becomes convinced that he’s a wanted criminal who robbed a diner.
No one cares what Alec is up to, because the Black? Is up to some completely fucking insane stuff. Like, you know, BATTLING TO THE DEATH AGAINST A BULL MOOSE. YEAH. YOU READ THAT RIGHT.
[The Black] whirled to meet the headlong rush of an enemy from the cover of the woods.
The trumpet roar of the bull moose was low and guttural at first. Quickly it rose to a high-pitched scream, only to descend to the roar again, and end with a grunt. He charged, his heavy antlers cleaving the air in their great spread and length.
YOU GUYS THE BLACK FIGHTS A FUCKING MOOSE.
But his foe began slipping away from him, so with raking teeth the stallion bit deeply into the moose’s dark-brown neck, ripping and tearing…
No animal of the wild country could have met an adversary so worthy, so ruthless. The great bull moose knew this now that it was too late. He coughed, the choking cough of death. And with the sound of it, the black stallion came in again for a fresh and final assault…
Then he reared and his powerful forelegs came down together, splitting the bull moose’s skull.
SPLITTING HIS SKULL. A MOOSE. THE BLACK FIGHTS A MOOSE.
NO I WILL NOT CALM DOWN THIS IS SO COMPLETELY INSANE.
For a moment, the Black stood over the great body beneath him, and his loud clarion call of conquest was heard for the first time in those regions.
You see why no one cares about Alec’s story?
I guess we have to get back to it, though, because we leave the Black to his insanity and have to spend a loooooooong time with Alec. People are looking for him; Henry is particularly upset; Mrs. Ramsay apparently no longer exists. (She gets mentioned briefly at the end of the book, but not while her son is missing.)
Oh I did want to mention one thing about one of the people who picks up Alec, which is that he’s a colossal dick.
“[My wife’s] life was going on pretty much as always in spite of my retirement. A wife’s job doesn’t change much when the old man retires, but his does.”
Fuuuuuuuuck you, dude, I hope your wife is back home going to swingers parties and burning her bra.
Alec bails on this asshole by jumping out of the moving car and running into the desert, which actually is totally on-brand for him, doing stupid shit without thinking it through.
He gets picked up by a guy named Gordon and his burro named Goldie. Gordon nurses him back to health and turns out to be a retired Hollywood magazine guy who fled to the country and now lives hours from civilization. He’s also – conveniently! – a huge racing fan who spends the rest of the book a) convinced he knows Alec from somewhere, like how does he not recognize him?! and b) swanning about and talking about the superiority of the Thoroughbred breed over the Quarter Horse. Everyone else in this book is a QH person, and Gordon basically just shitposts them every chance he gets.
But to hear some of the folks talk in Leesburg, the quarter horse is a breed of long standing. He isn’t at all, he’s a type of horse that’s been developed to work the range. He’s no racehorse.
Gordon is mostly a decent guy, but the trolling gets really old. Every conversation about racing he pops up and “Actually…”s all the QH people.
Meanwhile, the Black has been getting into more fights and assembling a harem.
His great body was torn and scarred from the rakings of savage teeth and claws. Yet he had survived his terrible battles, and now, shining in his eyes, was the wild look of an animal who knew desolate country, and feared neither it nor man nor beast…
Anyway, Gordon brings Alec (or as the book insists on calling him, McGregor) into town, where they have a really horrific interlude with a guy named Cruikshank, who is dragging a horse behind his truck for absolutely no reason that I can figure out. Alec lets the horse go, and Cruikshank goes to jail for…something. Which of course means he hates Alec now.
Alec goes to work for a guy named Allen, who is a rich guy from New York City who owns a ranch where he breeds Quarter Horses. He has a stallion named Hot Feet that he wants to race and use as a foundation sire and can we take a moment and appreciate that Hot Feet is pretty much the greatest QH name EVER?
Alec settles in at the ranch, and one day he’s out and about when he comes across the Black and somehow recognizes him. (Remember, amnesia.) He brings him down to the ranch and rides him around and a) everyone just thinks that he magically tamed him in like a day out on the range?!?!? and b) HOW DOES NO ONE RECOGNIZE THEM TOGETHER.
I feel like this book is way longer than the others but it’s not. It’s just disjointed and boring. I’m summarizing things for you but please know that reading through it is basically endless descriptions of the landscape followed by deep and endless angst on Alec’s part interspersed with very occasional plot.
Next we have one of the more bizarre plot contrivances of the book. Let me see if I can explain it quickly.
A guy named Herbert owns the current hot racehorse, named Night Wind. He’s a friend of Alec’s new employer Allen, and wants to arrange a match race between Night Wind and Allen’s QH Hot Feet because he thinks it would be entertaining. If Hot Feet wins, Herbert will give Allen five QH mares; if Night Wind wins, Herbert gets Hot Feet.
So, okay. Allen decides that since he never promised that he would enter Hot Feet in the match race, and since this new black stallion they caught looks awfully fast, he’ll enter that horse instead! Alec doesn’t want to do this, because he thinks that if he calls attention to himself the police will arrest him for the murder he’s convinced himself he committed.
Brief aside to let you know that Allen has named the Black “Range Boss.” Yeah.
Okay: back to our regularly schedule programming, Alec and the Black head down to the racetrack for the match race, where the following things happen in very quick succession:
- a) Cruikshank (from above, who tried the kill the horse and is mad at Alec for stopping him) tells the sheriff that Alec is the fugitive everyone’s looking for
b) the sheriff arrives to arrest Alec
c) Allen convinces the sheriff to hold off on arresting Alec until after the race
d) Alec spends most of the race thinking about…galloping away from the racetrack and into the desert, like that’s a viable plan, for fuck’s sake, Alec
e) they win the race though, and arrive at the backstretch…
f) just in time for Gordon to figure it all out and OH YEAH THAT’S ALEC RAMSAY.
An entire grandstand of racing fans watched Alec and the Black race and none of them guessed it. The entire plot of this book is driven by epic stupidity.
To be fair, Gordon is all of us when he finally figures it out.
“Just a horse race, nothing!” Gordon shouted hysterically. “That’s Alec Ramsay riding the Black against the fastest Thoroughbred in the country! It’s the race of the year, and you don’t even realize it!”
Here’s also a taste of Alec’s angst, which is dumb, repetitive, and poorly written:
The boy’s mind still erupted with fiery currents that afforded him no peace and produced nothing but a great, flowing mass of conflicting and incoherent elements.
Anyway, Alec calls home, but he thinks that his family might as well have learned from the newspapers.
He realized this was just the beginning, and that his all home hadn’t been necessary at all in order for his parents and Henry to learn of his whereabouts.
What an asshole thing to think, Alec. “Oh, I figured you’d come get me once you saw the front page headlines.”
Henry arrives (not Alec’s parents lololol) and mostly wants to know about how the race went.
“He didn’t make any attempt to attack Night Wind during the race?”
“No, Henry, not at all. Perhaps he got all the fighting out of his system while he was running wild. I don’t know.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Henry agreed.
HE’S NOT RIGHT.
Anyway, there’s a bit where Allen’s ranch manager decides to keep the Black’s harem because Alec and Henry explain to this supposedly experienced horseman that the mares might be in foal to the Black and worth a ton of money.
Aaaaaand…that’s the end.
Do you remember this book? Did you remember that the Black FIGHTS A MOOSE TO THE DEATH? I sure didn’t.