October 24, 2011
This is simply one of my favorite books. For that matter, Marguerite Henry is simply one of my favorite authors. I’ve always loved horses, and I love the way she makes her characters and animals come alive. Add Wesley Dennis’ superb illustrations and you have the captured feelings and expressions as well!
King of the Wind is the fictionalized story of the Godolphin Arabian’s journey to greatness. Beginning in Morocco, a colt is born just as the fast of Ramadan comes to a close. Agba, a mute horse-boy who has charge of merely ten of the twelve thousand horses in the Sultan’s stables, names the colt Sham because he was born at the rising of the sun. Sham has the mark of the wheat ear on his chest: a sign of misfortune, or ‘bad luck’… but on his hind heel he has a white spot, promising swiftness.
The head horse-keeper, Signor Achmet, promises Sham’s mother will die and believes Sham should die as well because of the bad luck of the wheat ear. As he said, the dam does die; but this could be easily explained as the outcome from having limited eating supply during the last month of pregnancy. Sham, however, thrives on the camel’s milk Agba feeds him – and bonds to the boy who is both a father and mother to him - as he grows strong and swift to live up to the promise of the white spot.
Throughout this book the ‘powers’ of the wheat ear and white spot weigh in on the scales, commonly explained as the luck and chance of one or the other. Agba and Sham, along with seven other horse-boys and their charges, are chosen to be sent as a gift to King Louis XV. The unexpected happens on their journey and when they reach the king’s court they are considered nothing but laughingstock (“Nothing but skin and bones, and a crest so high you can hang your hat upon it!”). Agba and Sham are chosen to stay and work for the chief cook, but the cook takes a strong dislike to Sham because Agba is the only one who can handle the spirited horse. Without Agba’s knowledge, the cook sells Sham off to a nasty carter who works him very hard. Agba and Sham’s paths cross again though, and after a time of working for the monstrous carter and acquiring a faithful cat named Grimalkin (not to be confused with the black cat with green eyes from Henry’s other masterpiece, Benjamin West and his cat Grimalkin ), they find happiness for a time with Quaker Jethro Coke and his cheery housekeeper, Mistress Cockburn.
Yet again, misfortune strikes, and Sham becomes a horse for hire at The Red Lion Tavern. Agba is allowed to stay with him as a groom for a while, but the owner’s wife hates him distinctly, and Agba is thrown out to the streets again… then deposited in Newgate Prison and labeled a ‘horse thief’ after going back and trying to spirit Sham away from The Red Lion. Mistress Cockburn comes to see him (after what I would call an extremely providential run-in with the Duchess), and Agba is released and given a job as a groom at the Earl of Godolphin’s stables. While there, Sham’s health begins to improve and he meets Lady Roxana, a filly imported to be bred to the pride of Gog Magog, Hobgoblin. In a fight between the two stallions, Hobgoblin is injured, and the angry Earl sends the threesome (Agba, Sham, and Grimalkin) into the gloomy Wicken Fen. You’ll have to read this book to find out what happens in the end! (Don’t you just love it when reviews leave you in suspense?)
A truly captivating book of the touching friendship between “the King of the Wind and the slim brown horseboy who loved him.”