Born June 26, 1915, in Syracuse, NY; died of a heart attack October 16, 1989, in Sarasota, FL; son of Walter (assistant manager in hotel) and Isabell (Vermilyea) Farley; married Rosemary Lutz, 1945; children: Pamela, Alice, Steve, Tim. Education: Attended Mercersburg Academy and Columbia University.
Writer and Arabian horse breeder. Copywriter for a New York advertising agency, 1941. Consultant and promoter for films, The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns. Military service: U.S. Army, Fourth Armoured Division, 1942-46; reporter for Yank, an army publication.
Pacific Northwest Library Association's Young Reader's Choice Award, 1944, for The Black Stallion, and 1948, for The Black Stallion Returns; Boys Club Junior Book Award, 1948, for The Black Stallion Returns; literary landmark established in Farley's honor by Venice Area Public Library, Venice, FL.
The Black Stallion, (also see below), illustrations by Keith Ward, Random House (New York, NY), 1941, illustrations by Domenick D'Andrea, with a new foreword, 1991.
Larry and the Undersea Raider, illustrations by P. K. Jackson, Random House (New York, NY), 1942.
The Black Stallion Returns (also see below), illustrations by Harold Eldridge, Random House (New York, NY), 1945, revised edition, 1982.
Son of the Black Stallion, illustrations by Milton Menasco, Random House (New York, NY), 1947, 2nd edition with drawings by Hofbauer, Collins (New York, NY), 1950.
The Island Stallion, illustrations by Keith Ward, Random House (New York, NY), 1948.
The Black Stallion and Satan (also see below), illustrations by Milton Menasco, 1949, Random House (New York, NY), revised edition, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1974.
The Blood Bay Colt, illustrations by Milton Menasco, Random House (New York, NY), 1950, published as The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt, Random House (New York, NY), 1978.
The Island Stallion's Fury, illustrations by Harold Eldridge, Random House (New York, NY), 1951.
The Black Stallion's Filly, illustrations by Milton Menasco, Random House (New York, NY), 1952, new edition, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1980.
The Black Stallion Revolts, illustrations by H. Eldridge, Random House (New York, NY), 1953.
The Black Stallion's Sulky Colt, illustrations by H. Eldridge, Random House (New York, NY), 1954.
The Island Stallion Races, illustrations by Eldridge, Random House (New York, NY), 1955.
The Black Stallion's Courage, illustrations by Allen F. Brewer Jr., Random House (New York, NY), 1956.
The Black Stallion Mystery (also see below), illustrations by Mal Singer, Random House (New York, NY), 1957.
The Horse-Tamer, illustrations by James Schucker, Random House (New York, NY), 1958.
The Black Stallion and Flame, illustrations by H. Eldridge, Random House (New York, NY), 1960.
Man o' War, illustrations by Angie Draper, Random House (New York, NY), 1962, new edition, 1983.
The Black Stallion Challenged!, illustrations by A. Draper, Random House (New York, NY), 1964, published as The Black Stallion's Challenge, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1983.
The Great Dane, Thor, illustrations by Joseph Cellini, Random House (New York, NY), 1966.
The Black Stallion's Ghost, illustrations by A. Draper, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
The Black Stallion and the Girl, illustrations by A. Draper, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
Walter Farley's Black Stallion Books, four volumes (includes The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion Returns, The Black Stallion and Satan, and The Black Stallion Mystery), Random House (New York, NY), 1979.
The Black Stallion Legend, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.
The Young Black Stallion, Random House (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Josette Frank) Big Black Horse (adaptation of The Black Stallion), illustrations by P. K. Jackson, Random House (New York, NY), 1953, 2nd edition with illustrations by James Schucker, Publicity Products, 1955.
Little Black, a Pony, illustrations by J. Schucker, Random House (New York, NY), 1961.
Little Black Goes to the Circus, illustrations by J. Schucker, Random House (New York, NY), 1963.
The Horse That Swam Away, illustrations by Leo Summers, Random House (New York, NY), 1965.
The Little Black Pony Races, illustrations by J. Schucker, Random House (New York, NY), 1968.
The Black Stallion Picture Book, illustrated with photographs from the motion picture, Random House (New York, NY), 1979.
The Black Stallion Returns: A Storybook Based on the Movie, edited by Stephanie Spinner, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
The Black Stallion: An Easy-to-Read Adaptation, illustrations by Sandy Rabinowitz, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
The Black Stallion Beginner Book, Random House (New York, NY), 1987.
How to Stay out of Trouble with Your Horse (photographs by Tim Farley), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.
Many of Farley's early manuscripts and papers have been collected by the Butler Library at Columbia University.
The Black Stallion was released by United Artists in 1979, and also was produced as a filmstrip with cassette by Media Basics in 1982; The Black Stallion Returns was released by United Artists in 1983; the film The Young Black Stallion, based on Farley's novel, was released by the Walt Disney Company in 2003.
At twenty-six, author Walter Farley hit on a winning formula for juvenile fiction. "Farley's novels," wrote A. B. Emrys in the Journal of Popular Culture, "make the best of both romantic escapes and educational insider portraits of horse training and racing." Emrys further explained the "Farley formula": He "weaves the ingredients of boys' action adventure, Westerns and supernatural tales with realistic animal stories and self-help literature," each tale beginning with some exciting event and ending with a nail-biting race. This formula worked through twenty-one installments of stories about boys and a powerful black stallion, selling twelve-million copies in twenty languages worldwide from the outset of the series in 1941 to Farley's death in 1989. Add to this the several movies adapted from the books—one made well over a decade after Farley's death—and the result is a veritable cottage industry of fiction. "In the field of publishing, where 'phenomenal' authors appear with the regularity of the spring lilacs and the autumn asters (and disappear just as regularly), Walter Farley was a genuine phenomenon," claimed Christian Science Monitor contributor Richard Brunner. Philip A. Sadler wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that Farley was viewed as "a leader in the field of books about horses, sharing his popularity possibly only with Marguerite Henry and Lynn Hall." And Atlantic contributor Martha Bacon noted that Farley's horse, affectionately known as "the Black," continues to capture readers' imaginations "in the satisfactory tradition of Black Beauty." Even though librarians and critics have at times ignored the books or criticized them as improbable and melodramatic, Farley's novels have inspired generations of young readers, introducing them to the joys of reading. "My great love was, and still is, horses," Farley reported in an interview reprinted in the Los Angeles Times the year before he died of a heart attack in Florida. "I wanted a pony as much as any boy or girl could possibly want anything, but I never owned one." A city boy, Farley wrote his dreams into reality, ultimately earning enough from his books to buy and stock his own stud farm.
A City Kid
Born in Syracuse, New York, in 1915, Farley spent most of his youth in that city. An athletic boy, he excelled at tennis and track, winning a citywide championship in the latter sport as a young teen. Growing up, Farley dreamed of having a horse one day, and when his uncle, a professional horseman, moved from the West coast to Syracuse and opened his horse training stables, it came like a gift to young Farley. Suddenly he was able to partly live out his dream of having a horse, able to spend time at his uncle's stables. This uncle trained racehorses of all types, from runners to jumpers and trotters and pacers. Farley was thus able to learn many different racing styles and receive an education in dressage and horse care at the same time, knowledge he put to good use in his books. With the end of prohibition in the early 1930s, the Farley family moved to New York City, where the father resumed his former trade as manager of the bar and grill rooms at the city's Roosevelt Hotel.
Another early passion for Farley was reading, especially books about horses. Reading quickly paved the way for writing, and he began penning short stories when he was eleven years of age. In New York, he attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, a school chosen simply because it had a good track team. But Farley had his mind on other things. As a senior, unable to find a horse book he really enjoyed and encouraged by a teacher, he began devoting one night each week at the kitchen table after dinner to writing his own book. Into this he would put all his own youthful dreams of having a horse. The Black Stallion "did not emerge all of a sudden, over a single evening and bottle of beer," related Lewis Nichols in Young Wings. The writer "began it as a student at Erasmus High, wrote another version while a student at Mercersburg, . . . wrote other versions as class assignments at Columbia. His first editor told him he never could make a living writing children's books, which was one of the misstatements of the age." Brunner continued, "Farley has proved the literary, academic, and publishing experts wrong, and in doing so has proved to himself and others that his personal philosophy of making one's avocation one's vocation cannot only work but can work handsomely."
A Book Industry Is Born
The result of this labor was The Black Stallion, published in 1941, and for which Farley received a $1,000 advance. With this money the young author traveled part way around the world and began working on his next title. Meanwhile, the boys and girls of his home country responded to this first title with a barrage of fan mail. After serving in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, Farley established a farm in Pennsylvania with his wife. He devoted the rest of his life to raising horses and writing about them.
While Farley came to feel that the first book of the series compares poorly to its successors, his publisher would not allow him to revise it. Critic John Strassburger wrote in Chronicle of the Horse that "the original book The Black Stallion is quite a remarkable work for one so young. The research is excellent, the characterization strong, and the descriptions vivid." While Growing Point contributor Margery Fisher noted that "Farley's style is not innocent of cliche and it is not particularly polished," she also allowed that his prose "works admirably as a medium for fast event, for the speed of a race or a trial gallop or the chases and escapes in the desert."
The Black's human companion is Alec Ramsey. In The Black Stallion the boy is shipwrecked on a desert island with the half-wild horse. Although the animal distrusts people, Alec's patient care finally wins the stallion's confidence. When the pair finally are rescued and returned to the United States, Alec teams up with Henry Dailey, a retired jockey, and trains the Black to become a champion racehorse. In the first sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, Farley provides a thrilling account of Alec and Henry's adventures after the Black's original owner, a powerful Arab sheikh, steals the horse and returns him to Arabia. Later books in the series introduce Satan, a fiery stallion sired by the Black who wins the Kentucky Derby with Alec aboard; Bonfire, a problem colt Alec trains to be a harness-racing champion; and Black Minx, a fleet-footed daughter of the Black. Farley's final book in the series, The Young Black Stallion, written with his son Steven and published in 1989, serves as a prequel as it describes the Black's life in Arabia prior to meeting young Alec. In 1971 Farley also published The Black Stallion and the Girl, which describes women in the field of horseracing while also introducing an uncharacteristic romantic element into his horse story.
Alec starts the series as a teenager but ages and matures through the sequels. Fisher maintained that the stories, however, generally highlight the stallion: "these are essentially tales of a horse and its fortunes and at time Alec seems little more than a necessary link in the narrative.... This is as it should be, of course. In these linked adventure stories, action comes first." But Sadler saw the boy become a more essential element as the stories gain in emotional depth: "Alec Ramsey begins to develop as a character as the Black Stallion books continue. . . . Perhaps this is what sets this series a few steps above some of the others." In the New York Herald Tribune Books, Louise Bechtel noted, "In each Farley stallion story, the material has become more adult, and the style more tense and emotional." Strassburger also wrote that the growing depth of these apparently simple tales of horses and adventure makes them transcend the usual limitations of their genre: "Farley's . . . Black Stallion books are more than just an ordinary collection of stories about a boy and his horse growing up together in America. Carried in those scores of pages are strong moral themes, messages to children about life. Farley's books weren't originally intended to carry a message. No, the stories about Alec Ramsey and the Black Stallion were an escape for him that became an escape for his readers. But as Farley has gotten older, the messages have become stronger."
Farley once commented on the special relationship between humans and horses that forms the basis of his novels: "There is no way to explain the magic that some people have with horses. It is almost a mystical gift. It may be that horses sense that these people truly care about them. It may be a handler's sensitivity that accounts for his or her uncannily precise timing and coordination that creates a oneness between horse and rider. Or it may be none of these, but a form of art itself, as creative as any art can be and just as unexplainable and rewarding."
Not all of Farley's books deal with the Black Stallion or his descendants. After his first three titles in that series, Farley told the story of a new boy, Steve Duncan, and a new horse, Flame, in The Island Stallion, and he reprised these characters in several further titles. Readers responded just as warmly to these books as they had to the "Black Stallion" series. One of the reasons for such popularity, Emrys pointed out, is the manner in which Farley turns the trope of the Western on its head. In the classic Western, "protagonists such as Hawkeye or the Virginian traditionally preserve civilized society from the savagery of nature," Emrys explained. "Such heroes are in sympathy with untamed wilderness but when forced to choose, steadfastly choose a civilized life." However, in Farley's tales, "the horse is never fully tamed, and life is never tame again, either." For Emrys, the horse stories written by Farley succeed because "wildness comes into ordinary life, and transforms it."
Another departure from the "Black Stallion" books is The Great Dane, Thor, in which "Farley exhibits almost as much knowledge of dogs and wildlife as he does about horses," Sadler observed. New York Times Book Review contributor Andrea DiNoto felt that in this novel Farley makes a mistake in forgoing "an atmosphere of sheer animal excitement in favor of object lessons in loneliness, courage, fear and ethics." Still, the book is noteworthy, Taliaferro Boatwright maintained in Book Week, as it "is not a boy-animal love affair, as so many children's books about horses and dogs tend to be. Lars Newton, its fifteen-year-old hero, does not like his father's Great Dane, Thor, and is happy when their new colt outwits the dog.... Nevertheless, the knowledge and the love of nature that permeate the book and the understanding of a boy's behavior and wellsprings, as well as those of horses and dogs, make it well worthwhile." Farley also foreshadowed such popular contemporary books as Seabiscuit with his 1962 fictionalized biography of one of the century's greatest race horses, Man o' War.
With the release of the movie The Black Stallion in 1979, Farley's horse saga reached a new generation of fans. The Film's 1983 sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, also won new fans to the books, which have remained best sellers. The reason for this, Sadler claimed, is Farley's belief "that children today are little different from the children of forty years ago." "He may be right," Sadler continued, "because the children of today love the Black and continue to read about him, just as did those children of the 1940s." Strassburger confirmed this, writing, "Some three generations of readers have now experienced the Black Stallion because the books are healthy and enjoyable reading for children. They stir the imagination, they evoke emotion, they teach children to care and to dream." And Brunner concluded, "Today children starting the series may not realize they are reading a 'modern classic' but they are as enthusiastic as their parents or their grandparents were when they embarked on this adventure."
If you enjoy the works of Walter Farley
If you enjoy the works of Walter Farley, you might want to check out the following books:
Lynn Hall, Flying Changes, 1991.
Will James, Smokey, the Cowhorse, 1926.
Mary O'Hara, My Friend Flicka, 1941.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 17, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 22: American Writers for Children, 1900-1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, More Books by More People, Citation Press (New York, NY), 1974.
Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Atlantic, December, 1969.
Best Sellers, December, 1978, January, 1983.
Booklist, January 1, 1980; June 1, 1983; February 1, 1987; February 15, 1990; February 15, 1996, Jeanette Larson, review of The Black Stallion (audiobook), p. 1036.
Book Week, April 30, 1967, Taliaferro Boatwright, review of The Great Dane, Thor.
Children's Book Review Service, December, 1983.
Christian Science Monitor, February 1, 1971.
Chronicle of the Horse, November 13, 1987.
Growing Point, November, 1978.
Journal of Popular Culture, spring, 1993, A. B. Emrys, "Regeneration through Pleasure: Walter Farley's American Fantasy," pp. 187-194.
Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1983.
New York Herald Tribune Books, October 4, 1953.
New York Times, March 27, 1983.
New York Times Book Review, November 2, 1947; May 9, 1965; November 6, 1966, Andrea DiNoto, review of The Great Dane, Thor.
Publishers Weekly, November 10, 1989, Diane Roback, review of The Young Black Stallion, p. 61.
School Library Journal, February, 1984; February, 1987, Charlene Strickland, review of Black Stallion, pp. 67-68; December, 1989, Charlene Strickland, review of The Young Black Stallion, p. 100; February, 1996, Edith Ching, review of The Black Stallion (audiobook), p. 70.
Young Wings, September, 1945.
Official Walter Farley Web Site,http://www.theblackstallion.com/ (December 20, 2003).
Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1989, "Black Stallion Author Walter Farley Dies," p. 30.
New York Times, October 18, 1989, "Walter Farley, 74, a Writer of a Series on a Black Stallion," p. D29.
School Library Journal, December, 1989, p. 18.
Washington Post, October 19, 1989, "Black Stallion Author Walter Farley Dies at 73," p. B10.*