What could be more playful than a winged horse? A whole herd of tiny winged ponies! In this post we look at the power of the cute factor in representations of Pegasus through the Miniwings series by NZ-based writer Sally Sutton and illustrator Kirsten Richards.
Miniwings are a series of books by New Zealand author, Sally Sutton and illustrator Kirsten Richards, about two little girls, Sophia and Clara, who have toy winged horses (named Oceana, Firestorm, Moonlight, and more), who come to life when adults aren’t around. It’s a popular form of children’s literature, sometimes called ‘toy fantasy,’ where toys have secret lives of their own. Sometimes, as in the case of Winnie-the-Pooh, they look to the child (Christopher Robin) for guidance. Sometimes, as in the case of Miniwings, they cause all sorts of comic mayhem.
‘Collect all six heart-warming and hilarious glitter-twinkly adventures’ is what the publisher’s site urges little girls to do. The Miniwings have their own language, in which words like pinky-purple and glitter are sprinkled liberally. The flying ponies are super-cute, in shades of pastel: pale pink, blue, green, purple, coral… they’re emininently desirable, and thoroughly collectible.
The original Miniwings–Pegasus
In some ways, Miniwings comes a long way from the original flying pony– the mythical winged stallion Pegasus, who sprang from the blood of Medusa, when the hero Perseus severed her head from her shoulders, and on whom the hero Bellerophon rode to defeat the Chimaera.
In other ways it’s a natural progression: from winged stallion to cuddly mischief-maker. They say every little girl wants a pony; I didn’t, but I did like the idea of Pegasus, the winged horse, who sprang out of the drops of blood from the Gorgon Medusa’s neck, when Perseus severed it. I imagined hanging out with Pegasus, feeding him golden apples.
It never occurred to me that Pegasus might be lonely as the only flying horse in all of Greek mythology (curious how many singular figures there are in that body of myths–or at least in the myths that are selected and passed on to us as children).
But this might have occurred to Sally Sutton. Shrink Pegasus to pocket size, give him several siblings/friends, make him mischievous rather than majestic, and you have a charming mythical figure ready-made for fantasy-comedy adventures in a domestic setting.
Playful Classics and Secret Fantasies
A major trope in children’s fantasy is the idea of secrecy, and the idea that adults cannot always understand, identify, or see the fantasy that kids know about. It underscores a secret, magic, world for children, with special rules and delights. Miniwings is that kind of children’s fantasy novel: Clara and Sophia are the guardians of their fantasy zone–though it threatens to disrupt real life as well.
In each volume a different winged pony causes a different kind of havoc: the titles are a clue to this. Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder kicks off the series, followed by Whizz’s Internet Oopsie, and Oceana’s Kitty Catastrophe , while Firestorm’s Musical Muck-Up is due in bookstores in May this year. With these stories, which show the mythical creatures causing mayhem in different areas of kids’ daily lives,you can see a lovely comedy ensuing. It’s a kind of fantasy known as ‘intrusion fantasy,’ an offshoot of magical realism, where fantasy elements intrude into real life, or coexist alongside it. There’s no need to go through a portal to another world: magic comes straight to you … how lovely (at least sometimes)!
One of the things I’m most interested in, in my work for the Our Mythical Childhood project is the intersection between classical reception and children’s literature. And I’m particularly interested in the idea of playfulness. I don’t know (yet) whether Sutton and Richards have done serious research into the myth and origins of Pegasus, or whether they simply like the idea of a tiny flying horse. Similarly, I don’t know whether the makers of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series are devotees to the myth of Pegasus, or simply want to allow their characters the joy of flight.
Fantasy, animation, illustration, and children’s texts are delightfully open to playful interpretations. And so is myth, which likely accounts for its so many modifications and variations, of the kinds we are tracking in the Our Mythical Childhood project. Indeed, the image for Our Mythical Childhood is a dreaming child asleep on her Pegasus rocking horse, delightfully designed by Matylda Tracewska.
For pure pastel Pegasine (Pegasian?) playfulness, you can’t go much further down that route than Miniwings. I showed my four year old niece Miniwings on my phone and asked if she would like a copy. She glanced at it, said ‘yes,’ matter of factly, and then asked me to pass her the toy unicorn she currently likes to sleep with.
My niece has a birthday coming up in a couple of months. Whether the Miniwings will fly from my Mythical Childhood bookshelf, to her real childhood nest of toys (dolls, babies, princesses, animals real and mythical), is an open question.