The Pony Engine {Book Club}

Today we read The Pony Engine and the Pacific Express by William Dean Howells. Howells is another author I’ve never heard of. I find that I read these short stories reluctantly (if I’m honest), but I am always, always, always glad to expose myself to different eras and styles.

In doing a little research on Howells, I learned he was a contemporary of Mark Twain. Isn’t it both cool and bit surreal to think he knew Mark Twain? Did they talk about Huck Finn? Reading that Howells “was a steady champion of the realist movement in literature,” I imagine he was a fan.

If like me, you wonder what the realist movement was since you were not an English major and these kind of details might not be ones you are instantly drawn to, rest your post-Christmas self.

He was no fan of writing to high ideals that swapped life’s many imperfections for ideal replacements writing, ‘I hope the time is coming when not only the artist, but the common, average man, who always “has the standard of the arts in his power,” will have also the courage to apply it, and will reject the ideal grasshopper wherever he finds it, in science, in literature, in art, because it is not “simple, natural, and honest,” because it is not like a real grasshopper. But I will own that I think the time is yet far off, and that the people who have been brought up on the ideal grasshopper, the heroic grasshopper, the impassioned grasshopper, the self-devoted, adventureful, good old romantic card-board grasshopper, must die out before the simple, honest, and natural grasshopper can have a fair field.”

Sounds like he would fit right in to Velvet Ashes.

On to the story. If you don’t want any spoiler alerts, stop here.


I loved this story!

Loved it.

I didn’t read the stories ahead of time and just placed a date next to each story. I’m thankful this is the one we are ending our Christmas reading with this year.

I loved it because even though The Pony Engine and the Pacific Express was written about 125 years ago, I could picture a dad with his two kids. They ask him to tell them a story and he does, as dads and moms have been doing the world over. My brother-in-law told Bert and Ernie bear hunting stories to his daughters when they were younger. (If you don’t know Bert and Ernie, they are on an American TV children’s educational show and have never bear hunted in their lives! At least to my knowledge.)

This story has a sweetness to it too: “Then he saw that he would have to mind, for they were awfully severe with him, and always made him do exactly what they told him; it was the way they had brought him up.” I laughed when he pretended to be asleep and they had to wake him up. Who hasn’t done that?

I also found it endearing that the kids wanted to know all about the ending before the story had really begun. But aren’t we like that too? Doesn’t knowing the ending—for instance, “Is this a sad story?” the daughter asked—help us to know how to prepare ourselves to receive the story? But, life doesn’t alway let us know if we are reading a tragedy, romance, or comedy, does it?

I smiled when the dad said it would have a  moral. But when I got to the end, the moral he wove in, was not the moral I thought he was teaching. Ha!

As the father told the story, it seemed plausible that a dad would make up this kind of story, giving details about the mom train and having the dad train’s death be a bit over the top. And then the bickering between the kids over whether the daughter was starting to cry or not; followed up by her asking her dad about “mooley” because she didn’t want her brother to tell her about it. “The children both began to shake the papa, and he was glad enough to go on sensibly.” I could picture all of it, couldn’t you?

And then the Pony Engine took off in the race with the Pacific Express. I laughed when the girl warned “Papa” because the story was about to become too absurd. I also enjoyed that the kids needed the dad at the end to tell the moral of the story and the boy starts to question then whether the train could have actually made the trip in that timeframe or not.

I realize I have basically retold the story. But that, to me, was what made this story so enjoyable—I could follow it easily and find points where I could identify.

Now that I’ve babbled on about how much I enjoy it, what did you think? Do your kids or teammates or nieces and nephews like to have stories told to them? Do you enjoy telling stories?

See you in the comments!


This is the last week to help Continue the Story (and as readers, we love good stories to continue, don’t we?!)

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P.S. Reading plan:
January 3rd: Kimberlee Conway Ireton and the Christmas section of Circle of Seasons. 
January 10th: we start our January book Beautiful Battle by Mary DeMuth (about spiritual warfare). We will read one section each week. Only $3.99 on Kindle and Amazon.

February 7th: Kimberlee Conway Ireton continuing with Circle of Seasons. 
February 14th, 21st, and 28th: Shiloh by Helena Sorensen and recommended by Elizabeth Trotter. Free on kindle! You can get the app and read on your computer or device.

1 Comment

  1. Phyllis January 3, 2017

    I thought this one was kind of cute and fun, but mostly just weird and stream-of-consciousness. I don’t regret reading it, though. The Jule Verne reference makes me want to ask my son, the Jule Verne fan, which book that happened in.

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