You don’t have to be a horse lover to love Marguerite Henry’s classic children’s tale King of the Wind (Rand McNally; 1948.) Winner of the prestigious Newberry Award in 1949, this is Henry’s best known book after her Misty of Chincoteague series. Like many other of Henry’s books, King of the Wind is told from a child’s point of view.
In this case, the child is a mute slave named Agba from Morocco who works in the Sultan’s stables long before the thoroughbred breed was created. He manages to raise an orphaned colt from a much-beloved mare that was forced to participate in the fast of Ramadan. Named Sham, the golden bay becomes a precocious colt that can outrun a gazelle. The Sultan then picks several colts and slaves to give as presents to the King of France. Sham and Agba are selected. But things go terribly wrong on the voyage to France. This begins a series of adventures in Europe for both Agba and Sham.
The Book’s Strengths
Despite the hardships that Agba goes through, many readers burn with envy for Agba. He is best friends with one of the most extraordinary horses of the last 500 years. The Godolphin Arabian would become of the three major foundation sires of the thoroughbred breed. In turn, the fiery stallion is a loyal friend. How many people find friends like that, no matter what species the friend happens to be?
Another of this book’s strengths is the incredible work done by Henry’s longtime collaborator Wesley Dennis. Dennis is able to infuse an added layer of whimsy and feeling to the already hypnotic narrative. This writer once had a hardback edition of King of the Wind which included several brilliant color plates. These are not reproduced in some paperback editions. Without the illustrations, the story loses some of its depth and intensity.
Historical Accuracy (Or Lack Thereof)
It’s best to keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, not fact. This book has become so beloved that some people take it as gospel. There is much about the Godolphin Arabian that is shrouded in mystery and perhaps will never be discovered. The Bey of Tunis apparently did send a shipload of horses and slaves to the King of France in the early 1700s. Whether the Godolphin Arabian was one of them is unknown.
The only thing known for sure is that the Godolphin Arabian was imported to England from France in 1729 by a Mr. Coke. Although the equine protagonist is called Sham, he was most likely called Shami, although his registered name would be the Godolphin Arabian. Back in the 1700s and even into the 1800s, horses were known by their masters’ names more often than their own.