Ripping Book Review–The Red Pony

WARNING: Ripping Book Reviews are solely the judgments of Professor VJ Duke on an unlucky book that has caused him much repulsion—in one way or another. Therefore, blame must be put on the professor and nobody else. With that in mind, read on—if you are brave enough to take it.

THE RED PONY by JOHN STEINBECK

The Red Pony

The Red Pony (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The moving and beautiful story
Of a boy, a sorrel colt
And the sun-drenched California earth

This little inscription is on the title page of my edition. It sits out there quite brazenly and quite misleadingly. Don’t believe it for a minute. As a matter of fact, don’t believe it for a second.

The story is definitely not beautiful—nor is it moving. At least, it’s not moving in the way one would think. You see, it’s moving in the sense that it moves one to despair and dread.

The Red Pony is a very unhappy book that delights in causing misery for the reader.

Okay, then, onward!

First, I would like to start with a description of Jody, the protagonist:

He was a little boy, ten years old, with hair like dusty yellow grass and with shy polite grey eyes, and with a mouth that worked when he thought.

Jody seemed like quite a little gentleman to the professor—at first. You see, little Jody possesses viciousness in a high degree. We’ll term it Jody Cruelty. More detail later.

One fateful day—fateful, that is, because it is the way of the Steinbeck—Jody’s father brings home a red pony and presents it as a gift to Jody. Of course, something awful happens to the pony, for there can be no other way with Steinbeck.

The professor must make a quick interjection here and introduce a character who is supposedly an expert in horses, but is not; who is supposedly smart, but is not; and who is supposedly good willed, but is not: Billy Buck, the cowhand.

So, Jody gets a red pony, which he loves dearly. And he takes good care of him—until he listens to Billy Buck, or BB. You see, BB is the vessel which Steinbeck used to pour misery on all of the characters in the novel.

One fateful day—yes, another one—Jody decides to leave his pony in the corral while at school. But he’s very uncomfortable about it. This is what he says:

“If the rain comes, though—” Jody suggested.

And this is BB’s response:

“Not likely to rain today. She’s rained herself out. …If it comes on to rain—why a little rain don’t hurt a horse.”

But Jody’s still uncomfortable:

“Well, if it does come on to rain, you put him in, will you, Billy? I’m scared he might get cold so I couldn’t ride him when the time comes.”

To which BB replies emphatically:

“Oh sure! I’ll watch out for him if we get back in time. But it won’t rain today.”

But it did rain.

BB lied.

And the pony caught cold.

You see, BB made a big mistake. A horse might not catch cold normally from rain. But a horse in a Steinbeck story is a completely different matter. Anything that causes pain and misery will happen—probably faster than necessary.

And Jody’s pony gets much, much, much worse. At first, BB says everything will be okay; then, when that fails, he begins to try and help the pony.

He shouldn’t have.

Everything that BB does only makes the pony far worse.

Eventually, the pony dies—a rather gruesome death.

Here it is, with a touch of Jody Cruelty (it can be argued that Jody was in the right, though):

When he [i.e. Jody] arrived, it was all over. The first buzzard sat on the pony’s head and its beak had just risen dripping with dark eye fluid. Jody plunged into the circle like a cat. The black brotherhood arose in a cloud, but the big one on the pony’s head was too late. As it hopped along to take off, Jody caught its wing tip and pulled it down… …His fingers found the neck of the struggling bird. The red eyes looked into his face, calm and fearless and fierce… …Then the beak opened and vomited a stream of putrefied fluid… …He held the neck to the ground with one hand while his other found a piece of sharp white quartz. The first blow broke the beak sideways and black blood spurted from the twisted, leathery mouth corners…

Suffice to say that Jody strikes again and again till the buzzard’s head is a red pulp.

I really think I shouldn’t say anything else. Too disturbing to think on.

This is where part one ends. At this gruesome scene. The namesake of the book, dead.

Part two starts off with Jody not knowing what to do. I believe this is an accurate manifestation of the author’s feelings.

Jody practices Jody Cruelty a few times. He hurts his dog, and he kills a bird with his slingshot…all because he is quite bored.

I truly hope that Steinbeck never got bored. Never mind.

Towards the end of the book, the farm’s mare becomes pregnant, and Jody’s father promises Jody the colt.

He shouldn’t have. For now the situation is doomed

BB gets all excited and, I believe, views this as a way to redeem himself.

He shouldn’t have. For now the situation is doubly-doomed.

As the mare’s pregnancy progresses, BB continues to tell Jody that everything will be fine. After all, he knows what he’s talking about. But Jody doubts him. And, frankly, so would this professor.

When the time comes, BB finally realizes that something isn’t quite right. In the end, he ends up butchering the mare in order to save the colt.

Jody gets his colt—and it’s not mentioned for the rest of the novel.

At the time, I was wondering what Jody’s father was going to think of what BB had done to his mare. But we never find out. In fact, we never find out about anything, as the book ends void of conclusions and very unsatisfactorily.

That’s about all I can say. But, had I the opportunity, I would have made a suggestion to Mr. Steinbeck.

I would have said: “Now, Mr. Steinbeck, I really believe the title of this book is misleading. You see, it almost borders on an outright lie. Why not call the book In Search for a Red Pony, or How the Boy Never Got a Red Pony and When He Did, He Didn’t Care, or Death of a Pony, or just The Miserable? At least, Les Miz told the reader upfront what he was in for. No such favor with you, sir.”

And I’m not really sure what he would have said.

But I can assure you one thing: It would’ve been miserable.

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72 Responses to “Ripping Book Review–The Red Pony”


  1. 1 Clever Girl August 9, 2013 at 16:01

    I hate Steinbeck, the miserable bastard! Every time I drive through Salinas (which is never) I think about retarded people and puppies!

    • 2 Professor VJ Duke August 9, 2013 at 17:34

      :lol: I know. Steinbeck just makes one feel depressed, right?

      • 3 Clever Girl August 9, 2013 at 20:03

        Yeah, and the only reason I read Grapes of Wrath is because I was forced!

        Liked your post :)

      • 4 Professor VJ Duke August 9, 2013 at 20:56

        Who was the unscrupulous person that forced you? ;)

        Thank you!

      • 5 Clever Girl August 9, 2013 at 21:12

        My English teacher! Fat lot of good it did me, I fell into a depression afterwards.

      • 6 Professor VJ Duke August 10, 2013 at 00:52

        The professor understands that. Maybe you should have beat her over the head with something…

      • 7 Clever Girl August 10, 2013 at 16:06

        Yeah, The Grapes of Wrath in hard cover!

      • 8 Professor VJ Duke August 11, 2013 at 16:51

        :lol: That sounds great!

  2. 9 L. Marie August 8, 2013 at 13:50

    He could have called it “Les Miserables.” Only . . . that name was taken.

    • 10 Professor VJ Duke August 8, 2013 at 17:49

      Yes, that’s true. But his book is more miserable than Les Miz…

  3. 11 Simply Inquisitive August 6, 2013 at 22:28

    Oh Professor Sir, I’m so distraught over the brutal treatment of that bird. How could anyone kill something so viciously and be right in the mind? Yes, I know it goes on even among people, but the same question applies? Absolutely I wonder about the author as well. Thank you for ripping this (even if well written) disgrace. This entertainment type is not for me.

    • 12 Professor VJ Duke August 7, 2013 at 00:55

      Yes, it’s pretty wicked, isn’t it? But that Jody…what a creature!

  4. 13 Sonya Solomonovich August 6, 2013 at 18:34

    This is not swashbuckling at all! Thanks for the warning, professor.

    • 14 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 19:58

      Absolutely not! No pirates or adventures or…anything!

  5. 15 Owls and Orchids August 6, 2013 at 17:04

    In all honesty you have put me off Steinbeck for life. Cannot abide cruelty, imaginary or otherwise. Now I’ll have nightmares, I guess it serves me right when I had a gut feeling when you began. Ripping is so true,
    Excellently dissected (oh my it must be catching). Many thanks for the.caution to steer clear.
    So glad you’re not Rippling my blog, you’d have endless fodder. :)
    Thanks for the visit. Appreciated

    Ciao, Susan

    • 16 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 17:09

      Thank you for the compliments! But you must know, the professor could be easily ripped too! Usually, he only rips books–even ones he likes! Not all Steinbeck is that cruel, though…

  6. 17 nerdywordybirdy August 6, 2013 at 16:22

    Oh my. Brutal. I will never pick up a Steinbeck.

    • 18 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 17:06

      Very brutal. Really? You may like it for the miserableness it inspires…

  7. 19 krugthethinker August 6, 2013 at 16:22

    Hahaha! I know, Steinbeck does love misery. I had to read Of Mice and Men in the 8th grade, and I was so disturbed by it. That death scene is so disgusting! I can’t believe that this is something anyone would want to read. I think I’ll stick to Cannery Row.

    • 20 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 17:06

      He seems to glory in it. Really.

      Yes, or The Moon is Down. :)

  8. 21 Susan P August 6, 2013 at 15:19

    All I can think of is, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Nihilism much?

    • 22 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 15:32

      Haha. Interesting–very interesting. :)

      • 23 Susan P August 6, 2013 at 15:56

        He said.

      • 24 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 17:04

        I fear the professor might be a bit lost…who said?

      • 25 Susan P August 6, 2013 at 17:45

        Professor, I beg your pardon for muddying the waters. I was referring to the Professor, sir. To be perfectly clear, the Professor VJ Duke.

  9. 26 Lady Fancifull August 6, 2013 at 15:00

    Oh that has upset me so much. As to your need for something sweet and creamy, suggest cup of hot chocolate, enlivened with slug of brandy and an afternoon spent re-reading Pride and Prejudice. Darcy will cheer you up!, not to mention Lizzie – she would NEVER mistreat a horse

    • 27 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 15:31

      Why upset? Cruelty is a fact of life. ;) Brandy? Hmm…maybe you got a point there. It would bring out the professorishness. P&P?! Goodness! Didn’t Lizzy mistreat Darcy a few times?

  10. 28 RogueGirl August 6, 2013 at 14:34

    I like Steinbeck quotes, as you know, but wow. I have to say, I’m already in somewhat of an emotional state. I know, truthfully, I could not have read this and “been okay” by the end of it.

    Even after reading your rip, I think I need to find something light, fluffy, and basically mind numbing.

    • 29 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 14:36

      Absolutely! That’s how Steinbeck makes you feel–sometimes! The Moon is Down is an excellent Steinbeck book. Have you ever read it?

      I think this professor needs something sweet and creamy after that read…do you think chocolate would do?

      • 30 RogueGirl August 6, 2013 at 14:43

        If The Moon is Down is any degree happier, I’d gladly pick it up (reading about diabetes is another sort of depressing subject matter).

        Chocolate makes everything better.

      • 31 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 14:51

        I fear that it is not happier…but it is a good story! Is Steinbeck capable of happiness?

        You sure, the professor has never really been friendly with chocolate…?

      • 32 RogueGirl August 6, 2013 at 14:59

        Okay, so we’re not talking about a “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” sort of book, but well written is something I appreciate, so I shall look into it.

        Right. Chocolate.

        Everyone has a feel good vice. For me, lately, it’s a steaming cup of tea with hints of coconut in it. Add that with curling up in bed with a cat or two snuggled in, and that will always top chocolate for me.

      • 33 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 15:30

        Oh, no, no, no! It’s a story of enemy soldiers occupying a resisting town. Really exceptional.

        Now a cup of tea with coconut sounds really tasty. I think I agree with you!

  11. 34 J.E. Rule August 6, 2013 at 14:04

    Ahhh…Steinbeck the dementor of 20th Century literature. Just sucks the happiness right out of you. Excellent rip.

    • 35 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 14:20

      Thank you! I did like The Moon is Down when I read it, but usually he’s just a depressor…

      Do you like him at all?

      • 36 J.E. Rule August 6, 2013 at 15:56

        I can say that I appreciate Mr. Steinbeck’s work, but liking it…not so much. As previously mentioned he tends toward depressing topics, and personally I try to avoid depressing books in general. This is a bit ironic since one of my favorite books The Road by Cormac McCarthy is one of the most depressing books ever, but it does end on a very hopeful note. With this, perhaps I should give Mr. Steinbeck another chance. It is possible that reading something that hasn’t been assigned to me in a literature class and approaching it with a more open mind, I may find my appreciation move toward something greater.

      • 37 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 17:04

        That’s true. And not all Steinbeck is completely hopeless. Ah, The Road by Cormac…do you recommend it?

  12. 38 The Dancing Rider August 6, 2013 at 13:00

    GREAT rip job. I think Steinbeck’s “moving” stories are all about continual despair, depression. Or, if not those, then definitely unpleasant struggle of some sort. Ugh. This book really deserved it! :)

    • 39 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 14:21

      The professor is honored! Yes, his books tend to be unpleasant in at least one way! Especially that description about the buzzard. Wasn’t it just…gross?

      • 40 The Dancing Rider August 6, 2013 at 22:03

        Of course. But that figures. Somehow I think it’s so important to Steinbeck’s story to dwell on these bits (no pun intended…) which, I think to the author, serve as some sort of meaningful description of how horrible life can be for all involved!

      • 41 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 23:00

        You know, I think you hit right on it!

  13. 42 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 12:57

    :lol: :lol: I’ve never read this one, but I truly believe it deserved to be ripped and you did a splendid job! What a horrible story – and so typical of Steinbeck! I reckon somebody should have beaten Jody over the head with the horse’s femur…

    • 43 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 14:23

      :D It was a practically rotten story, devoid of everything and anything nice and goodly!

      :lol: I think you’re right. But I don’t know if this professor would brave it. Jody’s such a little beast… You and Tuppence are welcome, though…

      • 44 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 16:08

        I’m not sure even Tuppence is brave enough to deal with that vile child. A job for Bob, I think…

      • 45 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 17:05

        Maybe you’re right. But–maybe–it’s a job for the professor…

      • 46 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 17:37

        My hero!! Tuppence and I will stand at a safe distance and watch admiringly…

      • 47 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 17:46

        :D And the professor would be armed with a Katana…

      • 48 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 18:01

        Oh, I forgot to say – Katana came up in the book I’m currently reading and because of our conversation I knew what it was! Which reminds me, what on earth is a bear paw? Not as in the paw of a bear, but something American people would buy in a do(ugh)nut shop…and eat??

      • 49 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 18:21

        Ah, that’s awesome. Maybe the professor should blog about his Katana some day…

        You mean a bear claw! :lol: It’s a very yummy almond-flavored danish. The professor is quite fond of them and usually purchases his at Panera. Where did you hear about it?

      • 50 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 18:25

        You’re right – claw, not paw! :lol: Sounds yumptious!

        Oh, it’s Telegraph Avenue, my current read – there’re so many American cultural references and even words I don’t understand it’s truly like reading a foreign language. In fact, I think I’d get on better if I was reading French!

        Yes, I think you should blog about your Katana – I’m intrigued…

      • 51 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 18:30

        It is! (I should ship you one.)

        Now, that’s interesting! What type of words? If you have any questions, feel free to ask the professor!!!

        But, it might scare people…

    • 52 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 18:50

      Well, here’s a sample sentence – ‘Luther had his bathrobe on, blue happi coat patterned with white cranes, gray kung fu shorts, Yip Man slippers.’

      Happi? Yip Man? And a lot of the references are about jazz, funk and soul of the seventies, not to mention kung fu films – none of them things I would claim even a nodding acquaintance with…

      Even my Kindle’s built-in US English dictionary spends half its time baffled… Malandro swagger? Furniture blanket? MCATs? Curb-stomp? And that’s in just a couple of pages…

      Funnily enough, I’m enjoying it though…

      • 53 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 19:58

        That’s interesting. Yip Man was a Chinese martial artist. A Happi coat is a Japanese coat. It seems strange. I’m not sure that it’s American culture. Is Luther Asian?

        Now, Jazz! Ah! Any artists mentioned? :D

        An MCAT is a Medical College Admission Test. A furniture blanket is exactly what it sounds like. I’m not sure I’m going to tell you what a curb-stomp is…BigSister wouldn’t like it. And this professor was ignorant of it, until I googled it. Not sure what the swagger is.

        You must understand, I’m Punchyish. Spend most of my time in the PL…

      • 54 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 20:36

        Oops! Sorry about the curb-stomp – there some pretty strong language and not very nice stuff of all kinds in the bits I do understand so I should have guessed this might be a bit iffy..

        Luther isn’t Asian – he’s a black martial arts expert who starred in kung fu blaxploitation films in the 70s and so likes to dress accordingly, I think.

        You see, a furniture blanket sounds meaningless to me… it sounds like something you’d drape over furniture to keep the furniture warm – a strange concept even for Americans! Is it a blanket you would put over your knees rather than on a bed? (I must say it’s not a crucial plot point…)

        Tons of jazz – some fictional, some real, I think, and I have no clue which is which. Do I take it you’re a jazz fan? Johnny Hammond, Melvin Sparks, Charles Kynard and a ‘minty quadrophonic pressing of Airto’s ‘Fingers’ (CTI, 1972) played through the store’s trusty Quadaptor, a sweet gizmo that had been hand-dived from a Dumpster’. Fortunately, there’s also a lot of Star Trek references – much more my style!

        Personally, I’d rather live in the PL than this part of America too – even with Ruber’s cooking…at least I’d understand the language! ;)

      • 55 Professor VJ Duke August 6, 2013 at 22:58

        Oh that’s fine! Don’t worry about it. :)

        Ah, that makes sense now. Does he have a Katana?

        It’s actually, I believe, a protective covering for furniture that is being moved.

        Yes, the professor love jazz–playing it especially.

        Wouldn’t you rather live in the PL than anywhere…? ;)

      • 56 FictionFan August 6, 2013 at 23:57

        He had a Katana in his glory days…

        A knife-throwing, Katana-wielding, cat-loving, Twain-reading, worm-hunting, jazz-playing professor? You are a never-ending source of mystery and wonder… ;) What instrument do you play?

        You see, I would rather live in the PL except for the unfortunate food situation. I can’t help but feel a constant diet of Ruber’s chicken and wormy-apple pies would pall fairly quickly. Are there any decent restaurants? Or a do(ugh)nut shop?

      • 57 Professor VJ Duke August 7, 2013 at 12:29

        But there is the CIO, you know. All the sweets one can think of, including donuts, are made there. Only Salami has to suffer with Ruber. There are plenty of good places to eat all around the PL; otherwise, the professor wouldn’t go. ;)

        Instruments… I may–may–blog about it one day. Do you play an instrument?

      • 58 FictionFan August 7, 2013 at 15:05

        Can I bring the cats? I mean, Ruber won’t try to cook them or anything, will he…?

        No, to my regret, I don’t. Well, not since the horrific experience of the recorder lessons at school anyway – horrific for the poor teacher, that is! ;)

      • 59 Professor VJ Duke August 7, 2013 at 16:00

        Well, he could–if he was in a really bad mood, but the professor would make sure that he didn’t. I think if you went, it’d be best to stay away from Salami’s Hut…much better to visit Darby or Ratherquite…

        :lol: I do feel bad for the teacher!

      • 60 FictionFan August 7, 2013 at 20:29

        Frankly, I’d rather eat Ruber’s chicken than spend time with that creature!

        :lol: I did too! I’ve never seen a man look so relieved as when I decided to stop…

      • 61 Professor VJ Duke August 7, 2013 at 21:30

        And to think that you actually thought he was Darby once… ;)

        :lol: You just haven’t found your instrument…yet.

      • 62 FictionFan August 7, 2013 at 22:06

        Huh! And why did I think he was Darby? Eh??? Cruel Chicky-S-S!!

        :lol: No, I think the teacher’s hidden it…

      • 63 Professor VJ Duke August 7, 2013 at 22:19

        That’s true. It was rather mean…but I still do think he’s like Darby. Maybe I’ll change my mind after reading P&P!

        :lol:

      • 64 FictionFan August 7, 2013 at 22:44

        I notice Miss Tiffany has returned…

      • 65 Professor VJ Duke August 7, 2013 at 23:08

        I’m not sure if she’s left yet…are you getting impatient? :)

      • 66 FictionFan August 7, 2013 at 23:10

        I think you’re just trying to put it off… ;)

      • 67 Professor VJ Duke August 8, 2013 at 00:17

        As long as possible. Maybe it will pass?

      • 68 FictionFan August 8, 2013 at 00:49

        Ah, well, that means you’ll have plenty of time for King Solomon’s Mines… ;)

      • 69 Professor VJ Duke August 8, 2013 at 00:54

        Oh yessy! What an adventure. (Have a really weird post tomorrow.)

      • 70 FictionFan August 8, 2013 at 01:06

        Dadblameit! – you’ll need to post it at dawn (your time) or I won’t see it till evening (my time) since I’m out all afternoon (my time) which I think is the morning (your time) but for all I know it could be midnight (Christmas time)! Hope that’s clear… ;)

      • 71 Professor VJ Duke August 8, 2013 at 01:42

        But for you to see it in the morning, I’d have to post it early in the morning (my time). Some time after midnight. The professor will probably be snoozing.

    • 72 deanthefish August 6, 2013 at 21:17

      It sounds like you just dug up a weird author… anyway, do you use the word “gizmo” over there….?


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