Growing up I had a large collection of Marguerite Henry’s horse books: Misty of Chincoteague; Sea Star; Stormy, Misty’s Foal; Black Gold; Justin Morgan Had a Horse; Twilight and others. They, among my Animal Arc and The Saddle Club books, were meant to be stored and never given away because I knew I would love to reread them.
Where are my books? Who knows. I could buy a box set, but first I must reread the copies available at the library and find out how much I enjoy them as an adult.
As a kid I never realized the book was written and took place in the 40s. It had seemed like any other small town save for some geographical differences between coastal Virginia and my hometown in western Colorado. As an adult I had flashbacks to what I assume is a movie for this book, which I had watched with my childhood best friend once upon a time.
This book comes with more than nostalgia. It’s a trauma-free, good horse story mostly told through an incredibly self-sufficient—by today’s culture—and amicable brother and sister, Misty at one point, and an omnipotent voice at the beginning for the origin story of the Chincoteague ponies. I love Henry’s versatile narration and dependable, kind characters. Again, no trauma or backstabbing like a surprising number of animal stories, even in children’s fiction.
It always bothered me that the novel is titled Misty of Chincoteague. Misty is a minor character compared to her infamous and page-hoarding mother, The Phantom. Why wasn’t the book called The Phantom? Sounds marketable enough. Why not Misty of Assateague? Initially that seems more accurate since she was born on Assateague Island, not Chincoteague. The answer is at the end of the book and would be a spoiler here.
Additionally, as an adult I see the symbolism. Misty is the legacy. Subsequent books include her. Misty is the plot. The premise of the story is that the siblings saved enough money to buy The Phantom, but oh no! She has a new filly! They can’t be separated. The siblings need enough money for both. Misty is the one all people and The Phantom protect. Misty links them together. And the drawings of her by Wesley Dennis are adorable.
Something special of note is how the people featured in this story ride. Saddle? Bridle with bit? Nonsense. They ride bareback, and sometimes the pony won’t tolerate a bit so they ride with a wickie rope—a root that the kids dug up that could be knotted to fit a pony’s head like a halter or just around the nose and could even be used for reins. Both sister and brother would race The Phantom attired with only the wickie. That’s some incredible riding skill.
I never did get around to reading all of her books, but I daresay, “Challenge accepted!”