Iain Lawrence has taken the story of Robert Falcon Scott's ill fated expedition to the South Pole in 1911/12 and told it in the first person from the perspective of 'Jimmy Pigg', one of Scott's ponies. This is a book written for the young, and really it should be a young person reviewing it. (I am far from young, I fear). But here is my four-penneth!
Though I am not generally a fan of imbuing animals with human thoughts (I was never a fan of Beatrix Potter), I felt that Iain Lawrence did this one rather well. I liked the fact that despite this being an obvious work of fiction, Lawrence had done his homework and got the factual basis of events right. On a very few occasions he departs from them, but only for literary purposes and these he explains quite honestly in an 'author's note'.
It is clear that Mr Lawrence is himself a fan of Scott and the heroic view of Scott is very much reflected in Jimmy Pigg 's hero worships of him. A strength of the writing was, in my view, the way Jimmy Pigg is portrayed in a very sympathetic way, which I imagine would be attractive to many younger readers. I liked also the interludes in the book where the author is explaining to the reader what is happening on a wider front, outside the pony's knowledge - for instance the parallel journey being made by Amundsen. I wonder a little bit about the story itself, which in the context of a century ago was pioneering but which might be a little slow and ponderous for a modern young reader.
WARNING: SPOILER IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE STORY OF SCOTT OR SCOTT'S PONIES.
I wondered also how Lawrence was going to deal with the death of all the ponies and eventually of Jimmy Pigg, the teller of the tale. Without actually revealing the way it was done, I can only say it was done very well - very clever.
I am not sure how many young readers have read the Winter Pony, but I hope they have and hope they got as much enjoyment from it as I, an old stager, did!
For me this book brought home the horror and folly of Scotts polar expedition much more than any other book or film I've ever seen. Iain Lawrence has had a lifelong interest in Scott and therefore uses this knowledge to tell the expedition story through the eyes of a real pony - James Pigg. He explains at the end that whilst he's used poetic license to tell some of the incidents through James's eyes, all the events happened.
Starting with the selection of the ponies in Siberia the story then follows the journey by sea and preparations for the final push. It's moving without being slushy or sentimental and pulls no punches to say it's written for a young adult market. Thoroughly recommended.