“I heard the wind rise. I heard it whine and moan. Soon came the patter of whirling snow, and I knew [another] blizzard had begun.”
Born in the Manchurian highlands, the wild pony was captured at a young age by men who subjected him to years of drudgery and cruel treatment. Later, the pony was sold to an English explorer, Captain Robert Scott. For the first time, he was shown kindness and love. He was given a name, “James Pigg”. And then, he was chosen to be part of Scott’s disastrous 1910 expedition to the unexplored Antarctic, a race to the South Pole, destined to be a tale of heart-breaking hardship and tragedy.
Racing against a rival explorer, Roald Amundsen of Norway, Scott used sled dogs and ponies to haul the provisions and equipment that his men needed. It seemed that danger and death waited at almost every turn for the animals and men in the harsh, isolated Antarctic environment – from fierce blizzards and never-ending snow, unexpected cracks and crevices in melting sea ice, ravenous killer whales, snow blindness, frostbite, hunger, and the sheer exhaustion of making such a long journey into an unknown land.
Telling the story of Robert Scott’s expedition through a pony “softens” this captivating story of hardship and danger a little, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone younger than eleven years of age. Why? There are some difficult parts in which men, ponies or dogs die. Author Iain Lawrence’s consummate skill with words makes the tragedies – and the end of the story - so real that it really does require a level of emotional maturity to read this novel.
Having said this, The Winter Pony is an infinitely engrossing, moving and beautifully-written tale for older readers.
An informative, brief third-person summary of the actual historical events of both Robert Scott’s and Roald Amundsen’s expeditions to the South Pole is included at the end of each chapter.