Ponies, ponies, ponies
Mary O’Hara is one of the very few pony book authors who has remained in print for decades. Some of her books are still available today; she is helped in this by the fact she is American, as horse books in the USA do not seem to have suffered the same lack of publisher enthusiasm as in the UK.
Mary O’Hara was born in 1885 in New Jersey. She travelled widely in Europe with her grandmother, studied harmony and composition in London and went to an English boarding school in Italy. After her first marriage, she moved to California, where she became a screen-
The world portrayed in Mary O’Hara’s Wyoming novels is life as she must have wished it could be. Ironically, it was the success of the books, rather than the success of the ranch, that funded their life there, and eventually Mary divorced her second husband, Helge Sture-
Mary O’Hara was a gifted composer and besides several works for the piano and harp, wrote a musical called The Catch Colt. This she turned into a novella for Methuen, also writing a book about the musical’s composition, called A Musical in the Making. The Flicka books have also been filmed. In the second version of Flicka, Ken becomes Katie, a rather sad comment on whom the film makers considered their likely audience.
Finding the books: in the UK, her books are very easy to find, as they were printed in paperback by Dragon Books. Each story was split into several different books (perhaps uniquely; I can’t think of another pony book where this happened). The books have also been published as single paperback volumes, and were also published as hardbacks, some with fine illustrators such as Charles Tunnicliffe.
Printings in the UK pale into insignificance beside those in the USA. The first edition of My Friend Flicka, originally published in the USA without illustrations, is immensely difficult to find, but the avalanche of editions which appeared afterwards are easier. If you want the true first editions, published of course in the USA, be prepared to dig deep. They are not cheap.
Links and sources
A more detailed biography from Georgetown University. The University holds typed manuscripts for Flicka’s Friend and The Catch Colt.
Review of Flicka’s Friend
The Wikipedia entry on Mary O’Hara
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Hannah Fleetwood and Barbara Harris for all their help with the pictures.
Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1943, illus Charles Tunnicliffe
Dragon Books, London, 1966, parts 1 and 2
Isis (Large Print), 1986
Mammoth, pb, 1989, illus Charles Tunnicliffe
My Friend Flicka
J B Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1941. Not illustrated.
Cover by Cosgrove
Ken is a dreamer; he achieves nothing and infuriates his capable and not
always understanding father Rob. Nell, Ken’s mother, persuades Rob to give
Ken a colt to help him to grow up. Rob allows this, and Ken chooses Flicka, a
colt out of one of the hellion mares sired by the Albino, a rogue wild horse.
Flicka is terribly injured trying to escape from captivity, and as he nurses her,
both Ken and Flicka change. There are many ups and downs, and at the end
it seems as though Flicka, lying in a frozen stream, must die.
Other USA editions of Flicka
Popular edition (with pink covers, no wraparound illustration)
HarperFestival Charming Classics edition, 2003, 346 pp. Cover Dave Kramer
Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1947
Redwood Press, 1969
Methuen, London, 1974
Dragon, London, 1966, parts 1, 2 and 3
Dragon, London, 1979, parts 1, 2 and 3
Green Grass of Wyoming
J B Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1946
Many later reprints
Thunderhead’s future looks very shaky. He might have to be shot. Ken meets
a girl (owner of a filly lost in a railroad accident), and at last Thunderhead’s,
and Ken’s, futures are decided.
Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1945, reprinted 1970s
Dragon, London, 1966, parts 1, 2 and 3
Dragon, London, 1970s, parts 1, 2 and 3
Mammoth, 1986, 1995
J B Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1943
Thunderhead is Flicka’s colt, by Appalachian. It is soon obvious that the white colt,
with his “scrabbling” action, is a throwback to the Albino. Much more centred on the
adults than the children, this story revolves around the relationship between Rob and
Nell, which is close to disintegration as the horse business is less and less
successful. Rob cannot bear to fail, or be questioned. Ken does succeed in taming
Thunderhead, but the horse longs to revert to his wild nature, even though Ken hopes he
will save the family fortunes by becoming a successful racehorse.
Flicka’s Friend (Autobiography)
Putnam, New York, 1982
The Catch Colt
Magnet, pb, 1980, 1991
Doubleday, New York, 1963
Based on Mary O’Hara’s diaries.
The Big Book of Favorite Horse Stories
[Ed] P C Braun, Platt & Munk, 1965, illus Sam Savitt
The original short story My Friend Flicka, which was later expanded into the novel, appeared
in this book.