"There are a great many kinds of men; there are good, thoughtful men like our master, that any horse may be proud to serve; but there are bad, cruel men, who never ought to have a horse or dog to call their own. Beside, there are a great many foolish men, vain, ignorant, and careless, who never trouble themselves to think; these spoil more horses than all, just for want of sense; they don't mean it, but they do it for all that. I hope you will fall into good hands; but a horse never knows who may buy him, or who may drive him; it is all a chance for us, but still I say, do your best, wherever it is, and keep up your good name."
— Duchess, Black Beauty's mother, to her son.
Black Beauty is an 1877 polemic novel by Anna Sewell, tracing the life of the titular fictional horse from colthood to retirement in an effort to draw attention to the wildly varying treatment of horses in Victorian England, featuring mini-lectures on everything from bits and blinkers to broken knees.Along the way Black Beauty also provides a horse's perspective on the human capacity for cruelty and kindness, and comparisons between the treatment of animals and the treatment of poor working-class humans.Today it is considered a classic of children's literature; however, originally it was not written for children, but was written to raise the awareness of animal cruelty.Many film and television adaptations have been made, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original work.
This novel provides examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: While not getting everything right (and cutting the dialogue for all of the animals besides Beauty), the 1994 movie starring David Thewlis is the best of the film versions. (Not to mention that David Thewlis as Jerry Barker is some of the best casting in film history.)
Plus the soundtrack for the film was composed by none other than Danny Elfman. Go to the YMMV page for a list over some of the best samples.
Amplified Animal Aptitude: Mostly averted. Once you get past the fact that the horse is narrating his own life story, Beauty largely behaves like a normal horse - for instance, being too terrified to leave a burning barn until he's blindfolded and led out.
Artistic License - Animal Care: Only in-universe; for example, Beauty is nearly killed by a groom who gives him cold water and leaves him standing uncovered in his stall after a strenuous effort. This is an invitation for colic, and it causes all the horse's muscles to lock up.
Author Filibuster: At least half the book is devoted to characters spending entire chapters basically getting on soapboxes to deliver lectures that have little or nothing to do with the actual plot (such as politics).
Author Tract: The original purpose of the novel was to get people to be a little more conscious about the way they treated animals. Boy, did it work. Giving particular weight to the moral was that if religion did not teach people to be kind to animals, it was a sham (remember, this was read by Victorian Britons).
Anna Sewell suffered a serious injury in childhood which eventually left her unable to stand or walk unaided, and hence needing horses/ponies to get around. This constant exposure to them and their welfare was the motivation behind her book.
There came a major outpouring of concern about animal welfare
The bearing rein lost a lot of favor. It's still used as a piece of safety equipment (to keep the reins from getting tangled) but is never tightened as much as it once was.
Laws were changed, including those which eased financial strains on cabdrivers, which led to better treatment of the horses.
Bitch Alert: Lady Wexmere in the 1994 film. Her first scene is her having the bearing rein tightened over the horses, stating "they're not fit to be seen". Ginger gets a bit of an introduction like this but Beauty is attracted to her immediately.
Foregone Conclusion: The 1994 movie opens with the happy home Beauty ends up at before beginning his story.
Friend to All Children: Merrylegs the pony is specifically cited as being this. Of course, it helps that, being a Shetland pony, he's pretty much child-sized.
Although, despite their cute appearance, Shetlands do not automatically make good pets. They were bred as working animals, and although intelligent and sociable, they can develop stubborn temperaments and become impatient and snappy, particularly if they've been spoilt or inconsistently handled. Treated with care, they make good companion animals but they're not for children who think they can get away with not treating an animal with full respect and care.
At least twice Beauty rebels against orders. The first time he refuses to cross an unsafe bridge; the second, he pitches a fit at the bearing rein. He is meant to have the audience's sympathy (and he does) both times.
The book also includes a scene in which Beauty, and John riding him, observe a boy trying to whip his pony into jumping a fence too high for it, and getting tipped out of the saddle and over the fence on his own for his trouble. As in the examples involving Beauty, the reader's sympathy, like John's, is with the pony.
Nearly Normal Animal: Beauty is entirely a horse, but he is capable of grasping maxims like "always do your best" and "keep up your good name." His mother tells him not to kick or bite, not for threat of punishment, but because he is of a good family and above such coarse behavior.
Rearing Horse: Mostly played straight; downplayed with the pony Merrylegs, who would do this as a gentle way to get passengers off his back when he'd had enough of them (he is, of course, a lot closer to the ground).