Black Beauty by Anna Sewell [Book Thoughts]

Light, pleasant and positive, Black Beauty is a great story for any child to read. The themes of animal cruelty are handled admirably.


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Black Beauty is the best-known, and the only-published, work of Anna Sewell. Black Beauty chronicles the life story of an innocent young horse, surprisingly named Black Beauty, from his childhood as a colt to his later years as working horse. As I found out only after I finished reading it, it is technically a children’s book, although the subject matter is anything but childish.

 Black Beauty is narrated first-person style directly from the horse’s perspective, which is an interesting take. It’s the first time I’ve read a story where the protagonist is an animal and it does do an incredible job of capturing parts the slave-master relationship of humans and animals without demonizing human beings entirely. We follow Black Beauty as he passes from owner to owner, some kind, some cruel and some just apathetic in general to the suffering of horses. The story focuses mainly on the experiences of Beauty and the other horses he meets and it’s often shown first-hand how seemingly trivial differences, such as which reign to use, can affect a horse’s ease or suffering quite severely.

 It probably goes without saying that a large theme of the book is animal cruelty. There’s a lot of internal praise directed at the characters who treat the horses well, some distaste addressed at those who don’t but also some compassion for those, like taxi-cab drivers, who have no choice but to work the horses to death to make a living. I suppose that’s where it differs from much animal activist literature; rather than condemning the use of work animals entirely, it offers a pleasant middle ground where man and beast can almost become friends.

 Being a children’s book, of course, it does stay neatly away from getting too deeply into anything dark or morbid but there are enough portrayals of suffering and cruelty for it to at least have a significant presence in the story. There are also plenty of positive messages sprinkled here and there from many of the more compassionate characters and I must say that it’s a refreshing change to read positivity rather than condemnation.

 In closing, I enjoyed the book as a light but entertaining read and, now I think about it, I’d give it a strong recommendation to any child. Horse-riding may be obsolete but animal cruelty will always be relevant. Even someone like me, who’s usually quite disinterested in animals, found my eyes opened somewhat by the book.

 Light, pleasant and positive, Black Beauty is a great story for any child to read. The themes of animal cruelty are handled admirably.

 See you next week

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