By Anna SewellThere is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham–all a sham, James, and it won’t stand when things come to be turned inside out and put down for what they are.
Some books are like racing cars and skydiving. All adrenaline. No rest. There are books that you pick up, and 18 hours later with bloodshot eyes, you crawl from some dark hidden corner of the house croaking about how great it was. Some books pull you so deep into their world that when you emerge from them, you’re left trying to remember what real life is like.
Black Beauty is not one of those books. Black Beauty is like the sun setting over the ocean. It’s like walking in the park. It is sipping a cup of tea in front of a warm fire. It is ordinary. It happens every day. And yet it is so beautiful. Sewell takes something so ordinary, the life of a horse, and weaves it into a stunning narrative. It leaves you with that feeling of utter contentedness, wanting no more than to be able to enjoy moments like this for the rest of your life.
Sewell’s agenda is clear. From tales of the horse’s life as a colt on a wealthy estate to his darkest days as a cab horse on the streets of London, Black Beauty details both his treatment and the treatment of other horses around him. Through Sewell’s beautiful prose, you feel as if you know how a bit fits in the mouth, what a warm meal tastes like after a hard day’s work, how it pains your heart to be whipped by a drunk, or what it is like to be mistreated by ignorant fools. But she never overdoes it by trying to give the horse human feelings. He does not mind that he is given a new name by each new owner or that he is eventually separated from his mother. He just wants to be properly groomed, fed well, and treated kindly and gently.
But Black Beauty stands apart from similar books, because it is more about humanity than horses. It is a strong and convicting narrative about how we treat each other and God’s creation around us, written from the perspective of an outsider looking in. Black Beauty is just as much about loving others and putting their needs first as it is about treating other creatures with kindness. And that is true beauty.