Winnie the Horse Gentler: Wild Thing

by Dandi Daley Mackall
Series: Winnie the Horse Gentler 1
Reviewed date: 2009 Feb 23
192 pages
cover art

I read science fiction. Normal people know and recognize that science fiction is the only genre worth reading. Gradeschool-aged stepdaughters are not normal people. They will have nothing to do with science fiction, preferring instead to read stories about something called a horse. You may have daughters someday, so to help you I have prepared this FAQ about horse fiction.

Q. What is a horse?
A. A horse is an animal.

Q. Will my daughters be satisfied with any book about any animal?
A. No. Only some animals are horses. You can tell if a book is about a horse if the cover depicts a large, four-legged animal with a long face. If someone is riding the animal, it is definitely a horse. (Exception: elephants can also be ridden. If the animal has a long hose-like nose, it is an elephant.)

Q. It looks like a horse to me, but my daughters say it isn't. Can you help me?
A. Many animals look similar to a horse but are unacceptable replacements. Here are some tips.

  1. The horse is shorter than a person. It is a dog or a cat, not a horse.
  2. The horse has a horn. This horse is a unicorn. Unicorns are acceptable substitutes for horses.
  3. The horse has two horns. This horse is a cow. Cows are for milking and eating, and are in no way acceptable as a stand-in for a horse.
  4. The horse has three horns. It is a Triceratops, a dinosaur of the late Cretaceous period. Dinosaur books are for little boys, not little girls.
  5. The horse is ugly. It is a donkey.
  6. No, I mean this horse is really, really ugly. It is an American Bison.
  7. The horse looks like a criminal. I don't think my daughter should read this filth. That horse is a zebra. It looks like a criminal because its coat is striped black-and-white like a prison uniform. Zebra stories will work in a pinch, but zebras are not horses.
  8. Man, that's one fat horse! It is an elephant.

Q. I found a horse book. What do I need to know about horses?
A. Horses are the perfect creature. They are strong, loving, and just a little wild. They are drawn to humans, especially twelve-year-old girls, who they will obey even if they violently refuse the attentions of all other people. Horses are smart and can sense a person's thoughts and desires.

Q. Are horses gods?
A. No. Horses are demigods. Unicorns are gods.

Q. My daughter wants me to read her a horse book. Is there any way I can get out of it?
A. Nothing short of gouging your eyes out.

Q. Any last words of advice?
A. Praise God for the sighted years you have enjoyed. Have the phone ready to dial 9-11, and use a sterilized sharp stick--it helps prevent the eye sockets from getting infected. Godspeed.

Winnie the Horse Gentler
Now that you understand horse fiction, let's discuss the book at hand. Wild Thing is the first of eight Winnie the Horse Gentler books. They are a special breed of horse fiction: evangelical Christian horse fiction. Oooh, this should be fun!

Twelve-year-old Winnie Willis loves horses. (Girls who love horses are always twelve years old.) There's only one problem: when Winnie's mother died a few years ago, her dad sold the horses and the ranch, and has moved aimlessly from job to job and city to city--dragging his daughters along for the ride--ever since. The Willises never stay put long enough for Winnie to get a chance to work with horses.

When her dad works a stint in a small Ohio town, Winnie gets a job mucking stables for a local horse magnate. (Who knew there was such a thing? And get this, he's evil.) There she meets the most beautiful horse ever: a white Arabian named Wild Thing. Winnie determines to buy that horse--and to do so, she'll have to convince her dad to stick around instead of moving the family to chase another job.

The book really isn't about horses, though. It's about Winnie's grief over losing her mother, and her sense of separation from God. Winnie hasn't been able to talk to God since her mom died, and she's hurt and betrayed by God's seeming distance. Her dad is no help--he's too wrapped up in his own hobbies to notice either of his daughters. (Oh, now that's original. A distant dad who can't connect with his kids!)

The big secret, which Mackall telegraphs from the beginning, is that Winnie feels responsible for her mother's death. Winnie persuaded her mother to take her to a horse auction, over the objections of her father who said the icy roads were too dangerous. There was a wreck; Winnie survived, her mom didn't.

The book has a happy ending, if one can call it that. Winnie breaks through to her dad, who finally realizes that Winnie has been blaming herself for the accident. He assures her that she's not to blame. He helps her to buy Wild Thing. Winnie's time spent working with Wild Thing helps her to understand unconditional love, and she reaches a watershed in her relationship with God. She feels the love of God and her faith is renewed.

Is the theology good?
In an explicitly Christian book, it's important that the theology is sound. It's acceptable. About the only theology we get is that God is love. There's no examination of sin, repentance, holiness, faith, the authority of the Bible, the sovereignty of God, or anything like that. On the other hand, the story is really about a tortured believer who longs to feel the love of God. The other things (repentance, faith, authority of Scripture, etc.) aren't explicit but must be assumed given the evangelical Christian worldview shown in the books.

Areas for concern
I'm concerned mostly about the failure to acknowledge the importance of church. The fellowship of believers is a necessary part of growing in one's faith. Winnie's father doesn't go to church at all. In fact, he's pretty much a lapsed Christian. He ignores his daughters completely; in his grief over his wife, he can't see past his own selfish needs. Girls who have lost their mother need stability, a good church, and the support of friends and extended family. Winnie's father provides none of these: he moves to a new town every few months. Winnie gives up on making new friends because she just ends up moving away.

In the end, Winnie's father does agree to stay put in Ashland, Ohio. It's not clear whether his newfound connection with his daughters will be permanent. We'll find out in the sequels. One can hope that he'll become a better father.

Still, it's a good book. Winnie's father is not held up a a model dad. The reason for his behavior--which is rooted in his grief--may not be apparent to young readers, so you may want to discuss this with your children when you read the book.

Archive | Search