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World Folktales

North America - Native American

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North America – Native American – Pawnee


Goble, Paul. 2003. Mystic horse. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


Rating:  ♥♥♥♥♥ (out of  ♥♥♥♥♥).  (Cover picture taken from


Summary: “After caring for an old abandoned horse, a poor young Pawnee boy is rewarded by the horse’s mystic powers” (Goble, CIP page). The boy betrays the horse, feels deep regret, and is forgiven by the Father above. The  horse comes back to life and rewards the boy with wild horses, which he shares with his tribe.


Type: This folktale is both a pourquoi and a wonder tale. Readers learn how the Pawnee people came to own a large herd of wild horses that were born in the “spirit” world. The main horse character has mystical powers and talks.


Characters:  The grandmother’s personality is not developed at all, and the boy’s personality is not developed in depth. Readers learn that the boy is poor, kind-hearted, eager to be a man and a good provider, and overly proud once he meets with success. The boy learns his lesson and deeply regrets not listening to his mystical horse.  Once the boy is forgiven by the Father above and rewarded by the mystical horse, he shares his new-found wealth with his grandmother and his tribe. The mystical horse, another main character, is a stereotype. The horse probably symbolizes love and forgiveness from the Father above.


Setting: In the opening page, Goble tells readers that the story takes place “In those long ago days, when the Pawnee people …would leave their earth-lodge villages and travel out on the Great Plains to hunt buffalo” (unpaged). In an author’s note, Goble writes that “The ancient domain of the Pawnee people was within the present states of Nebraska and northern Kansas” (unpaged).


Plot: This is a tale about pride, repentance, and redemption, one of the most common plots in literature.  A poor young boy treats a horse kindly and is rewarded by the horse’s magical powers. The boy then lets pride get in the way, and he loses the horse. Repentance brings the horse back, and the boy receives gifts that benefit his family and other tribe members.


Themes:  One theme is that kindness has its rewards. Another is that a boy can be brave and can inspire bravery in men.  A final theme is that if a person is truly sorry after he/she makes a mistake, the Father above will forgive, love, and help the person.


Rating Considerations: The well-researched, stunning illustrations complement the text.  The story is engaging and well-written.


Illustrations: Goble has researched his patterns and illustrations extensively, and he includes detailed source notes in the book.  One can view Goble’s illustrations again and again, and they still seem fresh. “The ink, watercolor, and gouache paintings make full use of color, texture, and form, both in the minutely detailed naturalistic flora and fauna and in the exquisite abstract patterning” (Booklist, 2003). Goble alternates the use of diagonal lines showing movement with vertical and horizontal lines revealing quiet, reflective moments.   The gorgeous patterns of wild horses in varying earth tones invite readers to return for another “look.”