The Science Fiction of Walter Farley?
Was Walter Farley, the author of the beloved Black Stallion and Island Stallion series of young adult books, a closet science fiction writer? Whatever the reasons, Farley incorporated a science fiction element into his third Island Stallion novel, The Island Stallion Races (1955).
Such an inclusion adds a whole other level of interest to Farley’s work. But were his SF contemporaries of the time like Robert Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Phillip K. Dick quaking in their boots at this upstart competitor?
Not likely. But it is an interesting footnote to the whole SF canon. Unlike any of the other books in Farley’s two series, The Island Stallion Races posits the idea of beings from another galaxy landing on Earth, specifically the island where the mighty stallion Flame lives with his herd. And what is the aliens’ nefarious master plan? Horseracing of course!
Flame the Island Stallion Goes Intergalactic
Though not as well known or popular as the Black Stallion series, the Island Stallion’s adventures were chronicled in a series of five novels (two of which also featured the Black and are officially regarded as part of the Black Stallion series):
- The Island Stallion (1948)
- The Island Stallion’s Fury(1951)
- The Island Stallion Races (1955)
- The Black Stallion and Flame(1960)
- The Black Stallion Challenged(1964)
The Island Stallion Races, though, went where no horse has gone before in its depiction of the shape-shifting aliens, Jay and Flick. Arriving on the mysterious, remote Caribbean island of Azul, Jay, the more reckless of these two out-of-this-world entities (who both could turn into birds at will), has a plan for Flame.
On one of his previous visits to Earth, Jay had become enamored of horse racing and devises a way to get Flame and his beloved master, the young boy, Steve Duncan, from Azul to Cuba to compete in the Grand International horse race. Of course, due to Jay’s smooth talking, this plan is set into motion by the organizers advertising a “Mystery Island Stallion” racing against the fastest horses of the world. As if but “suspension of disbelief” is part of the fun of reading this book.
Depicted as bickering, somewhat effeminate dandies (with Jay even wearing a bowler hat and brandishing a walking stick at one point!), Jay and Flick seem more like an old married couple rather than a pair of extra-terrestrials. They are actually remaining on Azul to guard their ship while their colleagues Victor and Julian (typical space alien names apparently) are out and about.
Steve’s reaction to these incredible events is actually pretty realistic and consistent. Initially, he’s incredulous and fearful and never really gets over the fact that he’s in the company of two intergalactic beings. Flame takes it all in stride, of course, never making much of a fuss unless regarding another male horse as a rival.
And the Winner is…
The aliens’ primary starship is never seen (being invisible) but descriptions of “living” semi-organic material such as a halter Jay gives to Steve to put on Flame and tapestries hanging inside the starship that reacts to outside stimuli give the story an interesting ambiance and aren’t as laughable as one might expect. Jay and Flick and others of their kind are simply explorers and observers of humanity but Jay wants to do more, to be more involved, to be more human.
With Flick’s reluctant agreement, Jay transports Steve and Flame to Cuba in a smaller auxiliary spacecraft where Flame races and wins the International. He, Jay and Steve don’t stick around to pick up their winnings, however, as the aliens’ schedule has been moved up and Jay’s comrades are about to blast off, with or without him.
In the final chapter, Farley makes it look like Steve dreamed all this up but the epilogue hints otherwise. Whatever the scenario, The Island Stallion Races is great escapist fare for young adults, especially those who like horses. The science fiction aspect of it is an added bonus, providing one doesn’t think too much about it. But, in the end, that’s the whole point–a sense of wonder and a grand adventure. The reader (and really, no matter what age) gets both here.