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"The Red Pony" is an episodic novella written by Americanmarker writer John Steinbeck in 1933. The first three chapters were published in magazines from 1933–1936, and the full book was published in 1937 by Viking Penguin. The stories in the book are tales of a childhood boy named Jody Tiflin. The book has four different stories about Jody and his life on his father's Californiamarker ranch. Other main characters include Carl Tiflin - Jody's father; Billy Buck - an expert in horses and a working hand on the ranch; Mrs. Tiflin - Jody's mother; and Jody's grandfather - Mrs. Tiflin's father, who has a history of crossing the Oregon Trail, and enjoys telling stories about his experiences; Gitano - an old man who comes to die at the Tiflin ranch. Along with these stories, there is a short story (taken from one of Steinbeck's earlier works, The Pastures of Heaven) at the end of the book titled "Junius Maltby." However, this last story is omitted in the edition published by Penguin Books.

Plot

Chapter 1 - The Gift

The book's action begins when Mr. Tiflin gives his son Jody a red pony colt. Overjoyed, Jody quickly agrees to all of the conditions his father places on the gift (to feed the pony, to clean his stall, etc.). Jody is so awed at the pony's magnificence that he decides to name him Gabilan, after the majestic Gabilan Mountainsmarker.

After several weeks of training and getting to know Gabilan, Jody is told by his father that he will be allowed to ride the horse by Thanksgiving. Though the ranch hand Billy Buck assures him there would be no rain, the pony is caught in a downpour and catches what appears to be a cold after being left out to corral. Billy tries to cure the horse of its illness to no avail and finally diagnoses the illness as strangles, placing a steaming wet bag over the pony's muzzle and entrusting Jody to watch the pony. In the night, Jody becomes sleepy in spite of his constant worry and drifts off to sleep, forgetting about the open barn door. By the time he awakens, the pony has wandered out of the barn. When Billy arrives, he deems it necessary to cut a hole in the horse's windpipe so he can breathe. Jody stays by his side, constantly swabbing out the mucus that clogged the windpipe.

After falling asleep, Jody dreams of increasingly powerful winds and wakes up to see that the pony is gone again. Following the pony's trail he then notices a cloud of buzzards circling over a nearby spot. Unable to reach the horse in time, he arrives while a buzzard is eating the horse's eye. In his rage, Jody wrestles with the bird and beats it repeatedly, not stopping until he is pulled off by Billy Buck and his father, though the bird had long since died. The story overall deals with ideas regarding the infallibilities of adults and the entrance into manhood.

Chapter 2 - The Great Mountains

Jody is bored. He looks with longing at the great mountains, wishing he could explore them. Suddenly, an old Mexican man named Gitano appears, claiming he was born on the ranch. Gitano requests to stay on the farm until he dies. Carl Tiflin refuses, although he does allow him to stay the night, noting that the old man is very similar to his useless old horse, Easter. That night, Jody secretly visits Gitano. He is polishing his old rapier. Jody asks if he has ever been to the great mountains, and Gitano says he has but remembers little. The next morning Gitano is gone, as is the old horse Easter. Jody searches the old man's things, but is disappointed to find no trace of the sharp sword. A neighbor reports seeing Gitano riding the missing horse into the mountains with something shiny in hand — the rapier, Jody assumes. Jody is filled with longing at the thought, though his father won't be bothered to go after them and indeed claims the old man had done him a favor by relieving him of the duty of burying them both.

Chapter 3- The Promise

Jody's father Carl thinks it is time for Jody to learn more responsibility, so he arranges for Jody to take the mare Nellie to be serviced at a neighbor's ranch. The stud fee is five dollars and Jody works all summer to satisfy the five dollar credit his father held over him. After a few months, Billy Buck determines Nellie is pregnant.

While Jody and Billy take care of the mare, Billy states that his mother died in childbirth and he was raised on mares' milk. That's why Billy is supposed to be so good with horses. Jody dreams often about his coming foal. Billy explains that mares are more delicate than cattle and sometimes the foal has to be torn to pieces and removed to save the mare's life. This worries Jody. He thinks of his pony Gabilan, who died of strangles. Billy failed to cure the pony, and now Jody worries something will happen to Nellie. This doubt also assails Billy, who is insistent on not failing the boy again, both for Jody and his own pride.

At the end of the story, Nellie goes into labor. The birth is breech, and Billy decides to forgo saving the mare in order to produce the promised colt for Jody. Billy orders Jody to look away, kills Nellie with a horseshoe hammer, and performs an improvised Caesarian to save the colt. He hands the foal to Jody, whispering, "There's your colt. I promised. And there it is." He explains to Jody how he will have to wash and feed the colt himself. As Jody continues to stare, speechless, at the colt, Billy becomes angry, cursing and yelling at the boy to get water to bathe the colt. The story ends with Jody leaving to get water and trying to be happy about the colt, but unable to get the image of Billy's bloody and haunted face out of his mind.

Chapter 4 - The Leader of The People

Jody's grandfather comes to visit. Carl complains about how his father-in-law is constantly re-tells the same stories about leading a wagon train across the plains. Mrs. Tiflin and Billy, however, believe he's earned the right tell of his adventures, and Jody is delighted to hear them no matter how many times. The morning after his arrival, Carl complains about Grandfather's stories at the breakfast table: "Why can't he forget it, now it's done?...He came across the plains. All right! Now it's finished. Nobody wants to hear about it over and over." At that moment Grandfather walks into the room.

Afterwards Jody's grandfather becomes melancholy. He acknowledges that his stories may be tiresome, but explains:

Jody, attempting to console his weary, nostalgic, and heartbroken grandfather, tells him that he wants to be a leader as well. The story ends with Jody preparing a lemonade for his grandfather, allowed to do so by his mother after she realizes he is acting out of genuine sympathy, not in an effort to win himself a treat.

Junius Maltby

The short story concerns a man named Junius Maltby, who, unsatisfied with his life as an accountant in San Franciscomarker, finally breaks with that life on the advice of his doctor, who recommends drier weather for his respiratory illness. Junius, in fairer climate, takes boarding with a widow and her children in his convalescence. After some time, with the townsfolk beginning to talk about the single man living so long with the widow, Junius promptly marries his landlord and becomes the head of the well-kept, profitable ranch/farm. The widow releases her working man and tries to put Junius to work on the farmstead, but, having become accustomed to a life of leisure, ignores his duties. Eventually the farm falls into disrepair, the family goes broke and without enough food or clothes, the widow and her own children succumb to disease.

Only Junius and his own son by the widow survive. Junius, with his barefoot child and a hired servant as lazy as he, spends his time reading books and having fanciful discussions with his companions, never actually working. Because of this, his son is raised in rags, though well trained to independent thought and flights of the imagination. Despite his appearance and the intentions of the other children to torment him, the child is well-received at school and indeed becomes a leader of the children. So influenced by him are they, the other children begin to spurn their shoes and tear holes in their clothes.

Except for the teacher, who finds the man and his son to be romantically dignified, the rest of the community has nothing but scorn for Junius and sympathy for his child. The story ends with members of the school board attempting to give the child some shoes and new clothes as a present. Upon realizing the regard in which he is held by society, he loses the last of his innocence and becomes ashamed, realizing for the first time that he is poor. The last scene has the sympathetic teacher see Junius and his son, cleaned and well dressed though painfully so, on their way back to San Francisco where Junius will go back to dull work and ill-health in order to provide for his unwilling son.

Adaptations

Lewis Milestone produced and directed a 1949 motion picture of the same name for Republic Pictures in Technicolor, starring Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum along with child actors Beau Bridges and Nino Tempo. The music for the movie was composed by Aaron Copland, who also arranged a suite for orchestra from the film score. Copland recorded this music for Columbia Records in London in 1975. Another film version was made for television in 1973, starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara.

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