The Red Pony

This post is unrelated to the Civil War or Reconstruction Eras

In addition to authoring Civil War books, for a fee I ghostwrite the memoirs and biographies of wealthy senior citizens. It is always an inspiring challenge to craft a collection of achievements and experiences into an organizing narrative. As Russell Baker put it when speaking of memoirs: “Nobody’s life makes any sense, so you might as well turn it into a story.” I am, therefore, perpetually looking for ways to tell a story that conveys meaning. Often I find examples in literature. Presently as an author, however,  I seldom read books that are not pertinent to the subjects I’m writing about. This post is about an approximate exception.

For years I have enjoyed some of Aaron Copland’s orchestral music, including the overture to the Hollywood production of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. Recently I noticed that the entire movie is available for free at YouTube. Since the screenplay was also written by Steinbeck, I reasoned that the movie tells the story the way the author intended and watched it.

The story is about a boy growing up on a California ranch about a century ago. It took a while to see much point to the story, but on a walk this morning while playing Copland’s music I kept thinking about it. When I came home I concluded that Steinbeck may have been trying to message three points.

First, although all the people who come into our lives are flawed they can still make priceless contributions to our values and character.

Second, despite our best efforts life will sometimes present problems we cannot solve, but there’s a compensating third point.

Third, sometimes things have a way of working out all on their own despite our conviction that we must intervene. Mother nature has solved a great many problems without our help.

Steinbeck tells the story from the third person viewpoint. Therefore, it is not evident that the boy is learning the lessons above (or any others) as the events happen. Instead, he may learn them when he becomes an adult by reflecting upon his childhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Red Pony is a fictionalized Steinbeck memoir.

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My Civil War Books

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

To be released later this month and available for pre-order: The Confederacy at Flood Tide

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