Sue Campbell: Hello, and welcome to the Mommy’s Pen Podcast. I’m your host Sue Campbell, a writer and children’s book author. And I am here with my 11-year-old daughter Nora. Can you say hello?
Sue Campbell: This week on the podcast, we are taking a look at a specific genre, and it’s one that you don’t run into very often anymore but I think it’s kind of on the brink of making a resurgence. And it’s the Western genre. We’re gonna look at it using the help of one of our favorite animated kid’s shows called Spirit Riding Free.
Sue Campbell: Do you happen to remember what the first episode of Spirit Riding Free is called?
Nora: Lucky and the Unbreakable Spirit.
Sue Campbell: Yes, Lucky … that’s very good! Now that you’ve said it I know that that’s what it is, but I couldn’t have come up with it on my own. So the very first episode of this series, season one episode one, is a great example of a Western and not only is a great example of a Western but it’s a great example to show you how you can use all the obligatory scenes and conventions of a genre and still make it fresh and fun. So when we go into all of the specifics, we’ll tell you how those were freshened up for this episode.
Sue Campbell: So, Nora, do you want to start describing the episode itself? We’ll give the overview of the episode, and then we’ll dive into how it meets the genre?
Nora: Well, it’s starts when Lucky, who’s a girl from the city, and she’s basically kind of uneducated in a way of living out basically in the middle of nowhere.
Sue Campbell: She’s not used to the frontier.
Nora: And she’s on the train going to a little town called Miradero where she’s going to live. She goes out … What’s that little part where she goes out called?
Sue Campbell: Like the caboose? She goes all the way to the end of the train out to the viewing platform.
Nora: And she sees a herd of wild horses. She sees one of them then these guys come along and throw ropes on them. She gets upset, and her dad says, “They’re just taking them to be broken. It’s fine. Stop being so annoying,” basically.
Nora: And then she arrives, she meets this annoying girl called Maricela-
Sue Campbell: When she gets to town.
Nora: Who’s the mayor’s daughter and has a voice like this!
Sue Campbell: Very snooty.
Nora: Yeah basically. Then, she still doesn’t feel like her new home is very good. She meets the horse that they tied up and he seemed kinda sweet to her.
Nora: Then she goes into school. Her teacher is rude to her. Some people … She isn’t able to make any friends, and at the end of the day, she’s petting some horses and their owners come and say “hi” and they’re basically having a nice conversation.
Nora: And Maricela’s just like, “Come along, Lucky!”
Sue Campbell: Kinda ruins it for her.
Nora: And then-
Sue Campbell: Makes Lucky seem as snobby as Maricela.
Nora: Yeah, and then she overhears Pru and Abigail. Did I mention those are their names?
Sue Campbell: Those are their names, of the two girls whose horses Lucky was petting.
Nora: Saying that they’re gonna ride up to a canyon called Filbert Canyon.
Sue Campbell: Filbert Canyon.
Nora: I said that. And they won’t … This kid asks why they won’t invite her but they say “oh, she doesn’t ride” and they’re kinda weird about her. Then, she goes back to her house.
Sue Campbell: And she overhears them being rude about her.
Nora: Where Aunt Cora, her aunt, just says, “Your father is off to dynamite some filthy canyon.”
Nora: And she’s like, “Not Filbert canyon!”
Nora: And Aunt Cora’s like, “Yeah that’s the one.”
Nora: Then she’s just like, “I have to save them!”
Nora: So she just barely saves them from an exploding canyon.
Sue Campbell: Whoa whoa whoa. Back up. Back up. How does she save them?
Nora: With the horse.
Sue Campbell: Right so she has befriended this wild stallion who she saw get captured, and she’s befriended him and he’s not doing very well. They’re trying to break him, and he refuses to be broken. He’s the strongest willed horse they’ve ever seen. But when Lucky’s been befriending him the whole time and talking to him and making friends with him. And so when she needs to get to the canyon, she knows she can’t run there in time so she takes Spirit. She just rides him bareback, even though she’s totally inexperienced and Spirit is an unbreakable horse. She jumps on his back and off they go.
Nora: Basically, the premise of this entire series is they don’t really think before they do things.
Sue Campbell: It’s a common theme, certainly, but Lucky ends up saving Pru and Abigail from being blown up.
Nora: And then they become friends and Spirit is her horse.
Sue Campbell: I think we need to back up and explain just a couple of things. The reason her dad is blowing up a canyon is actually ’cause he’s the owner of the railroad.
Nora: He’s not just going out to blow up a random canyon for no reason.
Sue Campbell: They’re going to be expanding the railroad so they’re dynamiting in this canyon to make room for the tracks. So that’s one thing-
Nora: He’s not just someone insane guy who’s just dynamiting a canyon for fun.
Sue Campbell: He just moved to the frontier so he could blow stuff up. People do that. People totally do that.
Sue Campbell: And then the second thing is Lucky does not have a mother. Her mother died so she lives with her father and her Aunt Cora.
Nora: And Aunt Cora is kinda like Maricela except grown up.
Sue Campbell: Right.
Nora: And funnier.
Sue Campbell: Aunt Cora is not used to frontier life either. She’s very prim and proper, and she’s doing this basically for Lucky and for Jim, who’s Lucky’s dad.
Sue Campbell: Okay, so that’s the first episode, and then Spirit and Lucky come back. They are … And Lucky also … Pru and Abigail are getting in trouble from Pru’s father for going out to the canyon in the first place.
Nora: Because it was off-limits.
Sue Campbell: Cause it was off-limits. She wasn’t supposed to go, and Lucky took the blame for them.
Sue Campbell: And Pru’s father is the one who captured the stallion so when he finds out that Lucky was able to ride Spirit, she … he gives her Lucky.
Nora: Spirit not-
Sue Campbell: Spirit, sorry. He gives Spirit to Lucky.
Sue Campbell: And then Lucky decides that he shouldn’t be owned by anyone so she actually sets him free.
Nora: Yeah but then he comes back to her.
Sue Campbell: But she never makes him wear a saddle-
Nora: And then you always cry.
Sue Campbell: And then I cry. Oh my god, this show is a tear-jerker, I’m telling ya.
Nora: For you, it is.
Sue Campbell: Almost every episode has me in tears.
Sue Campbell: Okay so that’s an overview of the episode. Let’s take a look at why we think it’s a Western.
Nora: Well, we think it’s a Western cause it is a Western.
Sue Campbell: But here’s why.
Sue Campbell: So again, I just want to point to the Story Grid Editors Roundtable for the great work that they’ve done in explaining the Western genre. If you’re interested in learning how this plays out in an adult story, there is an episode where the Editor Roundtable tackles the movie True Grit. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, and they list all of those obligatory scenes and conventions in that podcast so that’s where we’re getting this from.
Sue Campbell: Let’s just go over what a Western story is, and what are the obligatory scenes and conventions of a Western? So there’s always some sort of value at stake in any story, and when you’re talking about a Western, it’s freedom. It’s freedom versus being subjugated. So you’re gonna have a story where one of the main characters is trying to break free and keep their own autonomy.
Sue Campbell: So one of the things I love about this episode being a Western is that the character who is trying to keep their own autonomy is Spirit, the horse. It’s not a person, and these are not talking animals. Spirit is very horse-like and so this is … He is not a character in the sense that he’s going to talk and tell you what’s going on with him. It’s all told through the natural characteristics and mannerisms of a horse.
Sue Campbell: So I thought it was very fresh to use him as the main character for that-
Nora: Except in later episodes, Pru pretends to talk as Spirit.
Sue Campbell: But that’s just silliness. So that’s the global value for a Western story, and I absolutely love how they do that. Using Spirit to live that out.
Sue Campbell: Obligatory scenes? You need to have an inciting attack by the villain and in this case, for right now, the villain is Pru’s dad. The people who are capturing the horse to try to train it and break it.
Sue Campbell: Him. Sorry, not it. That’s terrible. I hate when people call animals “it.”
Nora: You just did that, Mom.
Sue Campbell: I just did it. But I’m under a certain amount of pressure.
Sue Campbell: And full disclosure, this was Nora’s first day of school and we are totally behind on recording the podcast so this is due out tomorrow. So we’re trying to knock this out. If Nora seems a little exhausted today that’s why.
Nora: I am not exhausted! You are just exhausting!
Sue Campbell: We’re probably both.
Sue Campbell: The next obligatory scene is a hero sidesteps responsibility to take action.
Sue Campbell: How do you think this one meets that?
Nora: Not exactly sure. You explain this.
Sue Campbell: I think… ‘Cause Nora and I talked about this. Lucky is also a hero in this story, and she wants to take action when she sees Spirit being abducted. She runs back to tell her dad to try to get him to do something about it and he basically makes her sidestep responsibility. Because she’s a kid.
Sue Campbell: So that’s another interesting thing, is sometimes when you’re talking about kid’s stories, these things get handled in a different way because kids don’t have their own autonomy.
Sue Campbell: Right, and then you have the force to leave the ordinary world, the hero lashes out.
Sue Campbell: So there, actually, I think both Spirit and Lucky do some lashing out in this. They’re both forced to leave their ordinary world so Spirit is forced to leave his … What do they call a pack of stallions?
Sue Campbell: His herd. And he lashes out-
Nora: It’s not a murder like crows.
Sue Campbell: Yeah, a murder of horses would be super creepy. More creepy than crows even.
Nora: Crows aren’t creepy. Crows are awesome.
Sue Campbell: Where were we?
Sue Campbell: Okay forced to leave the ordinary world. So Spirit lashes out and refuses to be broken once he’s forced to leave his herd, once he’s captured, and Lucky has her own sort of little hissy fit a couple of times because she’s been forced to leave her ordinary world of the city and all of her friends and what she’s used to.
Sue Campbell: And then you have discovering and understanding the MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is whatever the villain is desiring here. So this one is a pretty light touch in the episode. It’s not a big part of the story. But it’s understanding that in the West, you take wild horses and you break them and train them, and you turn them into horses you can sell. So it’s pretty clear what Pru’s dad is doing, and he is sorta the villain. Though, in the end, overall, he turns out to be a very nice man.
Nora: Yeah he’s also really funny. Remember, in Lucky and the Harvest Hunt where he’s like, “What is wrong with that family?”
Sue Campbell: And then the hero’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the villain is not gonna work.
Sue Campbell: So what do you think about that one?
Nora: Sorry, could you repeat that, I wasn’t paying attention.
Sue Campbell: So the hero’s gonna try something and then try to outmaneuver the villain to win and it’s not going to work.
Nora: Just refusing basically … he just refusing to do anything?
Sue Campbell: That too. And I think also Lucky tries to persuade Spirit just to kinda make friends and deal with it. It doesn’t really work. So then, the hero at some point needs to realize that they have to change their approach to have some form of victory, and then they reach sort of an “all is lost” moment.
Sue Campbell: So I feel like this one is played out by Lucky. Right? ‘Cause she’s forced to go to school. Her aunt puts her in this hideous froofy pink dress.
Nora: She says … She actually … This is a quote from the thing, “I look like a marshmallow with feet.” And she actually sort of does.
Sue Campbell: A pink marshmallow with feet.
Nora: I don’t think she says pink.
Sue Campbell: No, I’m saying pink. So she realizes she needs to be herself. So at some point when she has the “all is lost” moment after she hears the two girls Pru and Abigail talking about her like she’s a snooty-pants, she realizes … She goes home, she takes off the dress, she puts on regular clothes.
Nora: Like clothes that totally insane people don’t wear.
Sue Campbell: So she changes her approach.
Nora: Clothes that wouldn’t look good on Marie Antoinette.
Sue Campbell: Also sort of the villain shifts a little bit when we have the classic hero at the mercy of the villain scene. And the villain becomes the railroad and progress and civilizing forces in general. So, you have, the hero at the mercy of the villain I feel like is when they’re racing to the canyon and stuff just starts blowing up all around them and they have to find the safest way out.
Sue Campbell: And Lucky finds her hidden gift of being amazing at horses and listening to horses cause Spirit knows the way out and the other girls don’t want to listen and think they know the way out-
Nora: No, Abigail’s fine. Pru’s just like, “No.”
Sue Campbell: And then you have the hero’s sacrifice being rewarded. Lucky makes the sacrifice where she takes the heat for them going to the canyon in the first place. Even though, she didn’t have anything to do with it, and she saved them from that situation. And then her sacrifice is rewarded because she ends up being wonderful friends with Pru and Abigail and she ends up having this relationship with Spirit.
Nora: I don’t think that that’s the hero sacrifice is rewarded. I think it’s Spirit … His sacrifice to not to be completely free and to be with Lucky is rewarded because she’s so nice to him … I felt like that was more Spirit than Lucky.
Sue Campbell: Say that again, sorry.
Nora: Never mind. Just listen to it again.
Sue Campbell: That’s the advantage of this, I guess.
Sue Campbell: And instead of specific scenes, there are other things that kinda have to be in the story-
Nora: Otherwise it’s just like “bluuuuh”.
Sue Campbell: So these are some of the things that make a Western a Western.
Sue Campbell: You have to have some sort of harsh hostile environment. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the American West, but in this case, it definitely is.
Sue Campbell: You have to have a hero, a victim, and a villain. And the hero, in this case, is Spirit and Lucky. Kinda both hold that role. The victim is Spirit, and then the villain is progress and forces that want to subjugate other people. So the horse wrangler and the railroad.
Sue Campbell: And then of course, you need to have a hero that wants to stop the villain and save the victim. You have a hero who is … A hero who’s operating outside the law. So that’s really Spirit just being a wild horse and not operating inside the system of domesticated horses.
Nora: But also Lucky wasn’t really supposed to take Spirit to get Pru and Abigail.
Sue Campbell: That’s true, that’s true. So she went outside the law and that, to do the right thing.
Sue Campbell: And then you have the power divide between the hero and the villain is very large.
Sue Campbell: So again, there’s a power divide between a rancher who’s got ropes and other horses and can do that, there’s a power divide there between the rancher and Spirit. And there’s also the power divide between Lucky and her teacher and her dad and her aunt. So I think in kid’s stories, again, that power divide is pretty clear.
Sue Campbell: And then you have somebody at some point is gonna say something in praise of the villain. So in this case it happens pretty early on where Lucky’s dad is talking about how “That’s just what ranchers do. Don’t worry about it. They’re good guys. That’s what’s happening.”
Sue Campbell: Anything else you want to say about why you think this is a Western, Nora?
Nora: Not particularly.
Sue Campbell: Anything else you want to say about Spirit Riding Free?
Nora: Not particularly.
Sue Campbell: Anything else you want to say about your first day of school?
Sue Campbell: Actually, reports were that Nora had a very good day. [crosstalk 00:18:31] Those were reports from Nora herself.
Nora: Yes but I just don’t think that everyone needs to know about my school day.
Sue Campbell: Okay, that’s fair.
Sue Campbell: Well, thanks for listening. This has been The Mommy’s Pen Podcast, and you can read whole show notes at Mommyspen.com where you can also sign up for our mailing list or decide to sponsor us at Patreon.com.
Sue Campbell: Thanks for listening, and we’ll be here next week.
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