The Eighty-Dollar Champion
By Elizabeth Letts
One of the intrinsic myths lodged deep within the American psyche is that of the underdog who prevails against all odds. We Americans frequently don’t live lives driven by persistence and “true grit,” but we believe in their transformative powers.
There’s a somewhat corny saying about dreams that happens to be accurate – “It’s OK to build castles in the sky. Now go out and build foundations under those castles.”
As I read Elizabeth Letts’ “The Eighty-Dollar Champion,” the marvelous retelling of what is now the “Snowman Legend,” I was constantly reminded of how inextricably castle building and foundation building must be linked if miracles are going to happen.
Usually, the dream comes first. In this case, it was Harry de Leyer’s dream to be something more than a hardscrabble Dutch émigré in a hardscrabble horse business in tough economic times.
Then came the potential magic carpet in the form of a horse, Snowman, apparently endowed with enormous jumping gifts.
So now we have the castle, Snowman the Wonder Horse, out there hanging in the sky. That’s the easy part. We all have those daydreams. They come, and they fade by the thousands, by the millions every day, all over the world. That’s because castle building is so easy, and foundation building is so desperately hard.
The dream should have ended right there, in the same way that most dreams end, in the usual “If only” litany of reasons and excuses.
There’s a saying, “He would not be denied.” Snowman may have had the talent, but nobody would have ever heard Snowman’s name if Harry de Leyer had been willing to take the easy “No” for an answer. Harry is described in the book as famously stubborn, and it’s this stubborn refusal to be denied that is at the heart of “true grit.”
I understand the reasoning behind the title “The Eighty-Dollar Champion,” but I would add a final “s” to the word “Champion.”
Snowman, alone, would have stayed in that truck. Harry, alone, would have stayed on the farm. Apart, each of them was earthbound. Together, they learned to fly.