War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

War HorseInformation

Goodreads: War Horse
Series: War Horse #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 1982


Joey adores his master Albert and his work as a farm horse in England.  But then World War I comes and the army needs every horse they can get.  Soon Joey is fighting in France and inspiring the men with his bravery.  But all he really wants is to find his way back to Albert.


War Horse warms the heart with its story of the bond between a horse and his master, and the terrors they endure while attempting to reunite.  Though written for a younger audience and thus silent on many of the horrors of war, the story provides  just enough details to reveal the pain and the sorrow that follow Joey throughout his career in the army.  The ever-present suffering is lightened by small glimpses of kindness and friendship, but these moments ultimately make the return to the grind of war even more unbearable.  Joey’s strength throughout, as well as Albert’s determination to do whatever it takes to find his horse, brought tears to my eyes and will, I have no doubt, do the same to others.

Though written from the perspective of a horse, the story lacks some of the whimsical charm or even the strangeness readers might expect.  Joey seems to understand the world around him extraordinarily well, talking about developments in the war and other human affairs like mortgages as if he knows all about them.  I would have expected a horse either not to care about such things or not to understand them–would an animal, after all, really think money made sense or politics or any of that?  He also has an extraordinary ability to repeat entire conversations verbatim, regardless of the language humans speak.  Interestingly enough, however, Joey does not seem to have a consistent ability to interpret what he hears.  For instance, he can tell readers that his owner is talking of selling him, and yet he walks off with his owner willingly and is surprised to find himself sold.  It makes me wonder how he learned all about humans and their wars and their ways when he seems to be repeating merely a bunch of strange sounds the humans make.

Aside from the perspective, I enjoyed the rest of the story reasonably well.  I found it impossible, I admit, not to compare the book to the film, and I (unfortunately for the book) realized quickly that I like the film more.  The movie, after all, can show things Joey cannot–the expressions and emotions of the soldiers, the reality of the war, the suffering of the civilians.  Joey experiences the world a little more simply, speaking not of death but of an empty saddle; remarking on the dead horses more than on the dead men.  Some of it, of course, stems from his horsiness, but the rest, I cannot help but suspect, is so as not to upset younger readers.

War Horse is a moving and a heart-warming story, one that brings readers on an incredible journey through the horrors of World War I by reminding them that love is always stronger than hate.  And yet, in the end, I would pick the movie over the book every time.


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