Book Review: The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

Monday, March 31st, 2014 at 7:10 am

Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse is a children’s fantasy book curiously set up in twelve chapters with 3-5 parts each.

In the first chapter, we set the stage and introduce a few of the main characters: newly orphaned thirteen-year-old Maria Merryweather, Maria’s governess (who suffers from indigestion and eats very delicately), Maria’s dog Wiggins (who lives to eat), the enormous Sir Benjamin with whom Maria is now going to live, Sir Benjamin’s enormous not-quite-dog Wrolf, and two individuals whom Maria’s governess is sure are entirely imaginary. Goudge’s descriptions here in chapter one are delightful.

“It was indigestion that had ruined her nose, not overindulgence. She never complained of her indigestion, she just endured it, and it was because she never complained that she was so misunderstood by everyone except Maria. Not that she had ever mentioned her indigestion even to Maria, for she had been brought up by her mother to believe that it is the mark of a True Gentlewoman never to say anything to anybody about herself ever. But Miss Heliotrope’s passion for peppermints was in the course of time traced by the discerning Maria to its proper source.

So distressing was Miss Heliotrope’s nose, set in the surrounding pallor of her thin pale face…

But chapter one also introduces us to Mysteries–Mysteries that compound over the course of the book, one partially resolving to unveil yet another yawning one. What is it about the little white horse that Maria sees when she first arrives, which Sir Benjamin seems to recognize, but which is never seen again? Why has their not been a woman in Sir Benjamin’s house for 20 years, and who keeps the house so clean and prepares Maria’s clothes each morning? Why do the Black Men of the forests of Moonacre wreak such havoc on the inhabitants of the area?

Of course, Maria manages to eventually figure out the mysteries and solve every problem Moonacre has, all the while picking up an entourage of adoring people and animals. And everyone gets married in the end.

This was my first reading of The Little White Horse, and I enjoyed it tremendously. The story was engaging, a light little escape into a fantasy world where I knew everything would turn out all right in the end.

That said, I spent plenty of time suspending disbelief. When every person takes to Maria immediately and starts disclosing deep secrets. When Maria’s stories, invented on the spur of the moment to get her out of difficulty, turn out to be true. When Maria gets married at age 13.

Yes, that’s right. Among the three marriages that occur at the end of the book are 13-year-old Maria’s marriage to her beloved once-presumed-to-be-imaginary-friend who used to visit her in London (for real but while he was dreaming in Moonacre?)

Yeah, plenty of suspension of disbelief. I nodded all the way through Carrie’s review. That said, I still liked it. I just did.

I wouldn’t mind owning a copy. I wouldn’t mind reading it out loud to my children at some point. I would point out that getting married at 13 is not at all the thing.


Rating: 3 stars
Category: Children’s fantasy
Synopsis: A fun, frivolous fantasy in which an orphaned girl sets things aright in Moonacre, her cousin’s ancestral property.
Recommendation: Read, but be prepared to suspend disbelief


I read this as a part of Carrie’s Reading to Know Classics Book Club Check out what other bloggers are saying about this book there.


Reader Comments (2):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    I was waiting until I finished it before coming back to read your review, and finally did yesterday. I should have liked it, but it just didn’t grab me, somehow.

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