This book was first published in 1949 and it would be easy to think, ‘oh, it’s an old story now’, but it’s still a fantastically engaging and entertaining story.
The Midnight Horse is, and will always be, one of my favourite horse stories of all time. Like most of my favourite horsy reads, there are great horses, but it’s not all about the horses, if that makes sense. The Midnight Horse has wonderful characters, action and adventure, the odd moral dilemma and the mystery of the midnight horse itself to solve!
The Midnight Horse is the third of Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh books, featuring Tamzin and Rissa who now both have their own ponies – Tamzin’s beautiful grey Anglo-Arab, Cascade, and Rissa’s wilful chestnut filly, Siani (the stories of how they got the ponies were told in Wish for a Pony and The Summer of the Great Secret respectively).
It’s promising to be a fun summer. The girls are looking forward to going camping at Castle Farm near their good friends the Merrows and the sea. Lesley, who once owned Cascade, will be joining them with her new pony. They’re collecting junk to ‘buy’ a little brown colt from a gypsy – the pony will be a gift to Tamzin’s little brother Diccon (who carries precious hordes of snails and slugs around all the time – ick!).
There’s school, of course, until the holidays, and they’re each playing several parts in a massive historic summer carnival, the most exciting part being they get to ride heavy working horses in the great charge as part of the Battle of Hastings. During rehearsals they meet Meryon Fairbrass, who’s descended from a pirate and like no one else they’ve ever met. They hear of a mysterious horse who gallops the seashore at midnight. Tamzin is desperate to see it for herself, despite frightening rumours that those who see the horse will be dead within six months! Together they pursue the mystery of the galloping horse – it can’t be a ghost, because ghosts don’t leave footprints!
I don’t know how many times I’ve read The Midnight Horse. It was the first story in a compilation called Three Great Pony Stories (Collins, 1971) which I took out of the Taupo Public Library every month or so for a good few years. Sadly, the Library’s copy of the book was missing a few pages of The Midnight Horse, so I didn’t ever read the whole story until I discovered I could buy these out-of-print paperbacks on Abebooks.com and similar sites – probably 35 years after I read the story for the first time! (Since then I’ve bought every Monica Edwards book I could find and am just missing two of her 26 Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm stories now.)
Does it feel dated, reading a book set in the late 1940s today? I approach it almost as historical fiction and enjoy seeing the very obvious changes in everyday life since that time, such as having to ride for the telephone at the Ship and Anchor pub when there was an accident, because Castle Farm doesn’t have a phone, and driving Cascade in the pony trap (cart) all the way to Hastings where there’s an old-fashioned pub which still has stabling for horses. The time period is all part of the setting, isn’t it?
I adore the girls, Tamzin and Rissa. They’re good friends, who have each other’s back, but that doesn’t mean they don’t disagree. I love their independence – I think they’re about 12 or 13, while Meryon and Rissa’s sort-of cousin Roger are 14 or 15. They all join together for these midnight adventures, looking out for each other and feeling twinges of guilt about what their parents would say, but solving the mystery of the midnight horse anyway.
I loved the idea of camping with the ponies – but never quite got to do it myself despite much planning and asking. I loved the little cloth horses that Lesley bought with her to the camp – those I did make, with Mum’s help, and Dad helped me build them a stable from an apple packing box!
I love the warmth and understanding of the adults who let the teens figure a lot of things out for themselves – except for Tamzin’s old fisherman friend Jim, who tends to create problems that she feels the need to solve in several other Romney Marsh books. Dear old Jim, he is not! But Tamzin loves him anyway and we like Tamzin all the better for her loyalty.
A UK publisher, Girls Gone By Publishing, has reprinted most of Monica Edwards’ stories and provide interesting behind-the-scenes information on the author, the settings, the characters and the books’ publishing history. They’re well worth finding, if you can. I was delighted to hear GGBP reprinted The Midnight Horse in 2018, but I understand copies quickly sold out. It may be possible to buy a copy on eBay or Abebooks. I hope you can find a copy somewhere. It is the most fantastic story.
See http://www.monicaedwards.co.uk/ for more about Monica Edwards.
Review by Kate Gordon.