The Mud Pony

February 15, 2018

Pony ex machina.


This is based on a story of the Skidi band of the Pawnee Indians and retold by the author. I'm not sure why she chose to tell this particular story, or if she's Native American.

Basically, there was a a poor boy in an Indian camp. He didn't have a pony and he wanted a pony like the other boys', so he made one out of clay and then took care of it as if it was a real pony. At some point, he is alone with the clay pony and his entire camp wants to go after some buffalo, but they can't find him, so they just lave without him. When he gets back to camp, he freaks out because he doesn't know where everybody is. Then the clay pony comes alive and leads him to his people. The war chief sees him, and says there are some people attacking them so they need the boy and his pony to help fight them. The pony, who is part of Mother Earth, says, "Arrows can never pierce the earth, so cover yourself in dirt." He does that, and they win, and he kills a lot of buffalo in the hunt, and later he becomes a chief like the pony had said. One night, eventually the pony has to go back to the earth. The end.

I'm not entirely certain what the message is. The author believes that the story shows that anybody can gain honor by being humble and constant. I guess he's constant in that he takes care of this clay pony like it's real. It's not like he's worshiping the earth or anything like that, so the whole thing seems very deus ex machina. There's no reason for the pony to help him. There was no reason for him to believe that the pony would help him. So he was just basically playing with a toy that he made himself and then the toy became real, Velveteen-Rabbit-style. Unless there's some kind of tradition of making ponies out of mud and treating them as if they're real, and it does not imply that there is.

So I'm not sure the author's message comes across as clearly as she hoped. Not being that familiar with Native Americans, I don't know how accurate the depiction of them is in here. There's definitely a lot of people with feathers. That seems to be something that many modern Indians object to. The war chief has feathers, but that's reasonable (I would think) and it actually specifically says that the boy puts feathers on the pony when he's a chief. There's a lot of vague stuff in it but it's not glorifying the Native Americans which is kind of nice. I have no idea what the original story was like either, so I can't say how true it is to the original story, or how accurate the original story is to the real beliefs of the Pawnee Indians. It's hard to deal with books like this because I don't understand the culture from which it comes so I can't say how true to that culture it is.

As a book, discarding all of the culture, as much as I can (which is not very much at all), pretending it's a story about some other unknown Iron Age or Stone Age culture, it's just a weird mythology. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and it's not terribly interesting. There's no character development. That's pretty much all I can say. I don't get a strong message out of this; I just get kind of a shrug.


Treat inanimate objects with respect and the forces of nature will give you magical powers.

Publication Year
  • 1988
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