In the original story of Lady Godiva, an English noblewoman accepted a bet with her husband to lower the city’s taxes if she would ride naked through the street. Covered only by her hair, Lady Godiva rode a horse through the town as everyone politely closed their windows. Everyone, that is, except for a tailor named Tom, who couldn’t help but sneak a peak. Tom was quickly struck blind by God, and the phrase “peeping Tom” was invented. But Seuss’ version of the story has a few important differences.
First, there are actually seven Lady Godivas, who are all sisters. And the ladies are all engaged to a set of seven brothers with the last name Peeping. Unlike in the original story, the sisters aren’t naked because they’re trying to win a bet. They just like being naked. As Seuss explained, “they were simply themselves and chose not to disguise it.” And unlike the original Godiva, they grow to hate horses after their father is killed on one. Hoping to prevent more deaths, the sisters put off their engagement to the Peepings to warn the rest of the country about the danger of horse riding.
The sisters set out to learn a set of “horse truths” that they can share with the rest of the English. Each of the Godiva sisters has their own story within the book as they learn their own personal horse truth. For instance, the book starts with Teenie Godiva. And in spite of her name, she’s the biggest of the sisters. After finding out she’s too fat to ride a horse, she goes to the barn and finds a horse that their uncle originally gave them as a gift. After looking in the horse’s mouth, it bites her nose off. Teenie returns to her sisters with the horse truth, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Up next is the smartest Godiva, Dorcas, who wants to figure out a way to travel by horse without riding it. Her experiment fails after she gets the cart/horse combination in the wrong order and crashes. Her horse truth? “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” Then there’s Arabella, who works her horse until it becomes an alcoholic and refuses to ever drink water again. As she learns, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
The remaining sisters have their own horse-based misadventures, of course. Mitzi learns not to change a horse in midstream after her horse-powered boat sinks. Lulu learns horseshoes are lucky after getting kicked into a pile of hay. Gussie finds a horse of a different color after she escapes from the castle with the help of some paint. And finally, Hedwig finds out it’s pointless to lock the barn door after her horse has left. Of course, while all the Godivas are nudists, there’s nothing X-rated in the book. But maybe there should have been because the book was about to be the worst failure of Seuss’ career.