THE BATTLE HORSE by Harry Kullman
Kirkus Star


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In 1930s Stockholm, the children seem saturated with American culture--cars (Ford men and Chewy men fight on the playground), movies, adventure fiction, and folk heroes (one of the principals is named Buffalo Bill)--and a British novel and its movie version inspire their current consuming pastime: tn the showman spirit of his namesake, Buffalo Bill sells tickets to weekly jousts, after Ivanhoe, wherein high-born preppies wield cork-tipped spears while mounted on working-class ""horses."" Each session begins with a battle between two armies, then climaxes in a one-on-one duel between the incognito and so-far-undefeated Black Knight and whatever preppie feels bold enough to challenge him. The human horses, paid for their role, are looked up to by their public-school peers, and Roland, the working-class kid who tells the story, longs to be one of the horses almost as much as he longs to mix with the preppies. But Roland becomes politicized by his neighbor Kossan, a strong, stolid girl chosen for a horse by preppie superstar Henning, who will face the Black Knight. (Roland himself gets to carry Henning's friend Max in the preliminary battle.) The whole novel is charged with the excitement of the jousts, and especially the preparation for that one two-man contest. To conceal her sex (knights and horses are male, by custom), Kossan is outfitted with a horse costume, head and alt. In practice, she tells Roland, she ""becomes"" a horse; yet book-addict Kossan also dreams of a Kingdom of Horses, where ""we won't carry the rich and powerful on our backs any more. . . and there won't be any words for. . . violence or war, no words for rich or poor."" The battle ends in tragedy for Kossan, but as she dies in the ambulance Roland dons her horse's head and recalls her ringing class-war cry. Kossan's speech and its repetition at the end may in fact be a bit too ringing and pat, even at this level, but the strong, intense, highly original story never smacks of message or manipulation. Rather, Kullman achieves a high-impact integration of image, plot, and substance.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Bradbury