Green Grass of Wyoming is the third book in Mary O’Hara’s “Flicka” trilogy. It seems that often, when Sara and I find a book series we love, we regret that the author propels the main characters to maturity faster than our young readers can grow with them. Ken McLaughlin is ten years old at the beginning of Flicka, and seventeen by the end of Green Grass. My Friend Flicka was published in 1941, Thunderhead in 1943, and Green Grass of Wyoming in 1946. At the time O’Hara was writing, her readers would have been keeping pace with Ken. But only Flicka is truly suitable for young children.
At the end of Thunderhead, Ken had taken measures to ensure Thunderhead, a stallion, could live in freedom with his mares without becoming a problem to area ranchers.
Green Grass opens with an event that proves Thunderhead has not been permanently contained, and he is once again stealing mares wherever he can find them. Since Thunderhead belongs to Ken, it is his (and ultimately his dad’s) duty to deal with this situation, and get the mares back to their owners.
In the first chapter, a crate in which an expensive filly is being transported, falls off a train while it is going around a sharp curve on the edge of the McLauglin’s ranch. Thunderhead happens to be nearby. He breaks the filly out of her damaged crate and herds her away with him. This accident brings the filly’s owners to the ranch to search for her. Beaver Greenway was a vague character whom we met at the end of Thunderhead. The filly, Jewel, belongs to his niece, Carey, fifteen years old, who is also accompanied by her grandmother, Mrs. Palmer.
Bringing Carey to the ranch introduces romance into the story. We also watch the conflict between Carey and her grandmother. Mrs. Palmer controls those around her, particularly Carey, by having asthma attacks or heart trouble whenever she isn’t getting her way. Carey loves her grandmother and, since she has grown up with this situation, she is the only one who can’t see what is going on.
Mrs. Palmer is, indeed, maddeningly manipulative, and we want to see her thwarted. But I can’t admire the way Carey’s uncle encourages Carey to work around her grandmother and go against her wishes by devious means, rather than confronting Mrs. Palmer, who is his sister, and straightening things out. Ken also encourages Carey to go against her grandmother’s rules.
In the McLauglin family, the father is the head of the family, and his word is law. Though there are misunderstandings, and the boys aren’t perfect, they are always respectful. It is jarring for O’Hara to make it seem right and natural that a young girl should be rebellious. At one point, Mrs. Palmer is caught in her subterfuge, and is made to appear ridiculous.
In all three books, O’Hara periodically switches scenes between the actions and thought lives of the humans and the lives of the animals. She is able to make the reader care as much for the animals as for the humans. In this third book, though, I found myself feeling exhausted by the multiple intense emotional threads of the story.
Besides the necessity of finding Thunderhead, and the romantic tension between Ken and Carey, we have Ken’s brother Howard preparing to leave for two years to go to West Point, Nell having another emotional crisis, Ken fretting that his brother is going to come between him and Carey, a ranch cook who drinks and carouses, a life-and-death event from which Ken has to rescue his mother and baby sister, and the storyline of what happens with the horses over the winter. The nature of most of the conflicts is too mature for a twelve-year-old Flicka fan.
In the midst of this are some beautiful passages with Nell contemplating the love of God. She doesn’t get to say goodbye to Howard, so she writes him a letter about finding that love. While Ken is alone, out searching for Thunderhead and the filly, he finds himself listening for God in a way that goes beyond simply believing what his parents have told him to believe.
Rob McLaughlin is prone to saying, “I’ll be d****d,” or “God-d*** it.”
Speaking of Thunderhead in the springtime: “Sex was awakening in him and brought its characteristic restlessness, pugnaciousness, suspiciousness, flaring temper. It was as if through the sexless wintertime, he had enjoyed a period of peace, his care of his herd having a quality of father-love and protection. Now he watched ceaselessly for rivals, for the scent of a mare to be found and bred and appropriated, for someone to pick a fight with” (chapter 15).
When it is determined that there is nothing left to do but to shoot Thunderhead, they accidentally shoot a horse that looks like him from a distance.
A horse that has been protecting Jewel through the winter, saves her and her new foal from wolves, but is, himself, killed by them.