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As a regular book reviewer on another site, specialising largely in modern history, in the last two or three years or so I have read several titles on various aspects of the First World War. All of them have been non-fiction - with the exception of this. In the course of shelving and tidying in our library at work, this little volume caught my eye.
The war horse of the title is Joey, a red bay with a distinctive white cross emblazoned on his forehead and four perfectly matched white socks - a pattern, you understand, not literally two pairs of garments on his feet. He is also, unusually perhaps for an animal, the narrator of this story, which is told entirely in the first person (well, first four-legged person, if you like). At the age of six months he is bought in a farmers' auction in Devon by Mr Narracott. The transaction comes about more or less by accident as the purchaser was slightly drunk and determined to outbid a hated rival who was also bidding. Once Joey is taken back to the stables by his irascible owner who is beginning to think he has made a terrible mistake, his young son Albert immediately takes a shine to the animal. Horse and boy grow up together, Albert training Joey to work on the farm, and they become the best of friends. Then several months later, the family's basically happy existence comes under threat when they learn that Britain is at war with Germany.
To Albert's horror, his hard-up father, who despite his initial reservations and hard-man character has also become fond of Joey, is forced to sell him to the army for use as a cavalry horse, and Joey finds himself on a ship to France. Although he greatly misses his young master, a feeling which is mutual, he is soon befriended by other horses and kindly officers, the later recognising him as an exceptionally fine animal. Among those who befriend him are Topthorn, another stallion; Captain Nicholls, who admires him so much that he makes sketches of him and eventually immortalises him as an oil painting; Friedrich, one of the most pleasant Germans you could hope to meet, who thinks war is crazy and cannot wait for the fighting to be over so he can return to his butcher's shop; and Emilie, a small girl who lives with her grandfather as they have lost most of the rest of their family. But the battlefields of France bring ever worsening conditions; and some of his companions and protectors, whether they have two legs or four, do not survive the fighting.
Joey sees and is in the thick of some of the combat himself, in the days when cavalary charges are about to become obsolete in the face of chemical weapons and tanks, and he is also used to help bring wounded soldiers from the battlefield to hospital. At length he too becomes ill, the result of a shrapnel wound. He's just an animal, say some of the less sentimental. Is his life really worth saving when the health of so many wounded soldiers is also at stake, and when medical resources and manpower are at a premium? We all know the answer.
Moving swiftly along to avoid any spoilers...
Beneath the heartwarming story of human and animal companionship are serious messages. The dreadful atmosphere of war is conveyed, although bearing in mind that the book was written for youngsters, not with the full force of stark stomach-churning realism that you would expect in a novel for adults. Moreover, the humans are fully rounded personalities, not portrayed in black and white. Mr Narracott may be a hard-drinking, bullying type at first, but he has his good side, as do some of the German soldiers and commanders, who do not want to be at war and are far removed from the German military officer stereotype of school history lessons. There is the underlying message that war, atrocious business though it is, does act as something of a leveller, if only to those innocents (animals as well as people) who are called to serve their country, and therefore pay the price, of the consequences of failures by politicians and diplomats, none of whom are called to expose themselves to the risk of battle. Above all, there are innocent people on both sides. The 'enemy' aren't all necessarily baddies - far from it.
The book was first published in 1982, has been regularly reissued since then, and has probably never been out of print. More recently it has been turned into a stage play and film, although I have not seen either and my knowledge of it is based solely on the novel. It is a fairly brief story, which I read comfortably in one day and on two 40-minute bus journeys. The 2006 edition, the one which I read, has very appealing watercolour illustrations throughout by artist Francois Place.
Michael Morpurgo (b. 1943) began his career as a primary school teacher before he turned to writing. He has published over a hundred books, mostly for children. 'War Horse' was inspired partly by a conversations with people in his local at Iddesleigh, Devon, who could recall the Great War in different ways.
The book was written for children, and I would guess from the age of about ten onwards. But I am sure many an adult would find it equally appealing, as I did.
In War Horse, Michael Morpurgo writes a really touching story of friendship and adventure that, despite the tears, I was unable to put down. So I warn you now, this was a great but heart-wrenching read, and one that will require you to keep lots of tissues close at hand.
Set in the bleak ear of World War I, the story is told from the horse's perspective, but as the reader will learn, Joey is not your average horse. When he is recruited to serve in the cavalry, he is torn away from his boy, Albert, who swears that no matter what, he will find Joey again and bring him home.
Yet that day is a long time in coming. And as the years pass Joey moves from one owner to the next, some kind, some not so... but all the while his thoughts are with his boy, Albert. Meanwhile, all around him the war rages and despite the misery and cruelty he suffers, Joey never loses hope that one day he and his boy will be reunited...
Although aimed at a younger audience, I felt like this was a book that would be enjoyed anyone aged 10 or over. With so many strong elements of friendship, loyalty and hope, it is a book that will inspire and encourage you to believe in miracles. Because watching Joey battle against all the odds, willing himself home... I couldn't help but cheer him on.
Plot wise the story was also very eye opening. For example, looking at a war torn land from a horse's perspective made me more aware that it wasn't just the humans who suffered. Nor was it just the humans who battled. Many animals were injured, sacrificed and needlessly killed, just the same as the men. Overall it made War Horse a very enlightening read and one I can't praise it enough. 5 stars!
Despite having read prolifically for the majority of my life, I must confess to having never before read a Michael Morpurgo book. With the Warhorse film all over every form of advertising for the past year, my 8 year old son has been very keen to watch it, but we decided it would probably be best to read the book first, as we are uncertain as to how suitable the content would be for one so young. My father in law bought him a Morpurgo collection for Christmas, and we have just finished reading Warhorse.
The first thing that struck me was the clever point of view. I read the book out loud to my son, all the way through, and after the first page we stopped and discussed how interesting it was that the story is told from the perspective of Joey, the horse around whom the story is centred. No part of the book is unimportant, and Morpurgo gives us equal detail about each element of the book as we follow Joey from his home on a Devon farm with his beloved owner Albert, to the heartache of having to go to war without Albert who is too young, and then all of the adventures he has and characters he meets along the way.
Morpurgo describes the horrors of war very cleverly, and I found that this book was the perfect opportunity to discuss the war with my son. The story focuses on the First World War, where cavalry was initially such a vital component, an element of warfare that soon was discarded as the massacre of a ridiculous number of horses and riders were killed in the intense and destructive fighting that raged during the war. We then see Joey becoming useful for other elements during the war, and Morpurgo then focuses on the veterinary aid and the use of horses to retrieve wounded and dead soldiers to bring them back behind the lines.
And the author doesn't just give us a biased and Allied perspective, taking Joey across to the German side where he finds just as love and hate as he did beforehand. It seems as if it's Morpurgo's way of showing how disgusted he was by the thought of war, and how there were innocents on either side caught up in a political struggle that affected those it shouldn't have done more than those responsible for it. The message is subtle and probably lost on the majority of younger readers, but any parent reading this book with their kids could take this as a prime example to talk about the war without worrying too much abotu disclosing too much detail and focusing on what you want to.
By the same notion, the elements of death and destruction are almost glossed over, not treated any different to the other elements of the story, and this also allows younger readers to experience and learn about the horrors of war without being overly affected or scared by the reality of the situation. Morpurgo does develop some characters that it's easy to get attached to, and as some of them die through because of the war or the harshness of the unsheltered winters, there is a bit of tugging at the heartstrings, but almost in the same way as the horrors are glossed over, the heartwarming elements of the book are just as memorable as the more depressing moments, and I think this represents the book very well.
As a lead character, Joey is very well written. I thought the visuals I was able to gather of him were very clear, and were those of the companionable Topthorn, a fellow stallion, and the human characters of people such as Albert, Captain Nicholls, Friedrich, Emilie and some of the nastier types in the book as well. By the end of the book, we were both impressed, and in mixed emotions. As my son becomes more and more interested and able with his reading, he is beginning to understand the way he feels about them, and why some books flow quicker than others, and also why he feels happy that he has read a book but sad that it is finished. We both felt that this had been a very memorable read, and we are going to give it a short break before reading Farm Boy, the shorter and less lauded sequel. I imagine we will watch the film before then, hoping that it has stayed true to the book where possible.
Morpurgo's writing style is very good in this. I'm not sure an 8 year old's attention span would last, as the chapters are a decent length apart and there are some more complicated words in there. I understand that the target audience is the other side of 10 to where he is at the moment, but there were the odd occasions where we stopped so I could explain passages of text and also some vocabulary issues that needed clarification. Overall though, there was complete flow, and the emotional attachments that Morpurgo manages to drag you in with showed quite clearly. There was even one moment where I was almost choked up and unable to continue. I won't tell you which moment or which emotion caused it. All I will say is that it is an exceptional read for sharing with your kids, and is written in a very inclusive way, appealing to many different reading styles at the same time.
I'm certain that we will move on to more Michael Morpurgo books, and my intention is to get my son to be reading these on his own as soon as possible. For the moment though, I would certainly recommend Warhorse as an excellent introduction to the author's work, whether you are young or old. Well written and maturely presented, considerate to the subject matter and target audience and appropriately covered, Warhorse is a top children's book. Highly recommended.
I have recently reviewed War Horse the movie after seeing it at the weekend and simultaneously reading the book. Even though it is written for 11-12 year old's, I would recommend the read for all ages.
To be fair, reading and watching at the same time gave me a really good impression of the differences between the two, which I thought were acceptable and minimal. The book literally just sails with ease through your hands it is so easy to read. Above all else within the book, the bonds of friendship and of human and animal effort working jointly together and their relationship with each other, even in horrific circumstances shines through. I would definitely recommend this book as a historical study within classrooms even as I believe it could capture the imagination of children and get them to understand better what war does and how that it impacts upon life, takes it away and leaves little but hope and prayer in its wake.
Interestingly in the book, Morpurgo uses the voice of Joey (the hero of the book and movie: the War Horse), throughout the book, telling the story from his perspective, encapsulating him in frightening scenarios and being shoved from pillar to post as a consequence of anything but his own actions. Despite this, Joey takes a hero's lead and endears all who come into contact with him.
The book is far less patriotic than the movie but this I believe, is a reflection of the differences between the directors experience of war (one generation removed) and morpurgo's reflection of war, which is told in a more unbiased fashion. This is, I suggest, very cleverly achieved, whilst the younger generation read about a horrific story they become involved in it without being overly frightened.
The awful truth of war, the hundreds of thousands of men and horses that died on a daily occurrence during the First World War is difficult enough to write about. To engage an audience some of the horrors of that are not as easy to see when you are confronted with the visual image but they are still there, haunting us all from a past that cannot be forgotten but must be understood.
I had such high hopes for this book. Everyone I know who's seen the play has said how moving and stunning it was. Unfortunately, the book itself seemed to lack the dynamism and emotion of its staged counterpart. The start, which almost read like a pastiche of Black Beauty, was readable enough. However, the novel seemed to lose traction once Joey (the horse narrator) found himself in the frontline of WW1. The descriptions of what was a harsh, bloody war seemed rather pedestrian and I never felt the prose managed to quite convey the horror of what the men (and animals) must have experienced. I was also surprised to find that Joey moved from owner to owner (as I suppose horses must have during the war) - I had thought (and this was just what I'd surmised from clips from the film and play) that Joey would have remained with one main human character throughout - and that it would be the development of this relationship, during a harsh and terrifying time, which would be the focus of the narrative. Instead, it began to read like a ... then I went here, then I went there, then I went to somewhere else ... travelogue of a horse during wartime. Now, I realise that this is probably more accurate - however, it just didn't create any deep emotional resonance for me.
As for what I'd expected to be a highly charged emotional ending (would the horse die? Would his beloved rider die?), this just didn't materialise. I can actually cry at the drop of a hat, yet I finished this novel dry eyed and feeling somewhat cheated. I would say that the hype from the play and the film has maybe created a higher expectation but I have a hunch that the true horror of war and emotional elements have, perhaps, been more skilfully conveyed by the playwrights than the original author of this work.
Having been to see the stage version of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse a couple of years ago, I am now eagerly anticipating the film release. I hate watching films before I have read the book, so yesterday I finally sat down to start reading it. The book was first published in 1982 and was the runner up for the Whitbread Book Award in the same year.
Like Black Beauty, the main character is a horse and the book is written from the point of view of Joey, a beautiful red bay with four matching white feet and a white cross on his face.
The book starts with the purchase of Joey by Albert Narracott's drunken father. Albert falls in love with Joey, and breaks him in to the saddle and the plough and for a while all is happy on the farm with Albert riding out on Joey whenever he can in the beautiful Devonshire countryside.
When war breaks out, Albert's father sells Joey to a Captain about to head to France. Albert is heartbroken when he finds out, but manages to get there in time to say goodbye to Joey and promises that when he is old enough he will head out there himself.
The story then follows Joey's journey through the war, initially as an English cavalry horse to his capture by the Germans where he firstly ends up pulling ambulances and then guns. He then ends up back with the English again after a heart warming encounter between a German and a British Soldier in No Mans Land.
I don't want to give too much away about the end of the book for those of you that haven't seen it so I will stop with the story line now!
The book is small, only 182 pages, and I finished it in less than a day. The book is very easy reading. I hadn't realised at first that it was a children's book. As such it is quite simplistic - the story is about war but as it is from Joey's point of view there is nothing in depth about it - no hand to hand combat or fighting scenes, just the mad dash through the enemy lines and the desire to survive in the awful conditions pulling heavy ammunitions carts around.
The book beautifully portrays the relationships being built between Joey and Albert, then Joey and Topthorn, another cavalry horse he spends much of the war with and then Joey and Emilie, the young girl who looks after him whilst he is pulling the ambulances. It shows the way that the horses were treated on both sides and the cruelty of some towards not only the horses, but towards other people too. I must admit I shed a tear or two reading some of the scenes, especially when Joey finds himself on his own with nowhere to go except away from the tanks and the guns. Morpurgo does a fantastic job of telling the story of the war and humanising both sides. Mad Old Friedrich is one of my favourite characters in the book and I felt so sorry for him - not wanting to be there but having no choice.
I finished the book on the tube this morning and it was a struggle to compose myself - had I been at home I think I would have had a bit of a blub!
It seems wrong to compare the book to the stage show as obviously this came first, but it is so short that I found the stage show put the necessary meat on the bones of a great outline. I am so excited about the film now! Part of me wishes Morpurgo had written it as an adult rather than a children's book, but this would probably cause it to lose some of its innocence and magic. I would definitely recommend!
Thank you for reading.
i am a horse lover and owner, and for my birthday a good friend bought the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, a fictional book based on the horrific conditions and lifes of horses sent to war with their soldier companions. the book has also been made into a hit play.
the text is very easy to read and dialogue easy to follow, the story follows the times of one particular horse, it instantly keeps your attention, you want to read on. a lot of people do not realise what a sad plight these horse had during the 1st and 2and world wars serving along side our country men. the author takes you into the trenches and back to the terrifying long hard days and nights, the loses the heart break and the heart breaking trials they all faced, it captivates the imagination and grips you page by page, as you so want to hear a happy ending for this amazing animal. i would recommend this book to any animal lover or anybody who loves an underdog, it compells you, moves you and opens your eyes to what happened all those years ago, a fantastic story with loveable characters for all ages.
Michael Morpurgo "War Horse"
My edition was a Paperback with only 182 pages. It is published by Egmont Books in 2006. I am a big fan of this publisher as they are an Ethical company committed to using products from managed forests and controlled resources. They want the workers involved in the supply chain to produce the books to be treated with fairness and respect. They are a children's book publisher and state that;
" produce books that enrich and entertain.....we go even further, considering the world in which our consumers are growing up"
This was a freebie that I got from a site that I click on and collect points. This was one of the items being offered for the points and as I like Michael Morpurgo's children's books I asked for this. The price on the back is £5.99 but as always you can get it for 1p plus p&p from Amazon.
The blurb on the back reads:
"I saw the grey soldiers ahead of us raise their rifles and heard the death rattle of a machine gun...."
"A powerful story of the truest of friendships in the worst of wars from the award winning former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo"
I have read that Steven Spielberg purchased the rights to Michael's novel, and he will be directing the film as well. It will be produced by DreamWorks and will be released in August 2011. The stage adaptation was originally put on at London's National Theatre in 2007 and is currently on at the New London Theatre in the West End. Having read the book I would be very interested to see the stage production and how they adapt the story for the stage.
What's the Story?
The story is set in World War One told through the voice of a cavalry horse called Joey. We first meet Joey as a young frightened foal being auctioned at a market. He is bought by a drunken rather rough farmer but fortunately he is lovingly treated by Albert the farmer's son and supported by the farm horse Zoey. Despite being a horse of breeding Joey is taught to work on the farm as no animal can be kept on the farm and not earn its keep as the family had little money.
When war breaks out Joey is sold for the army to use as a cavalry horse which really upsets young Albert who swore he would find Joey again. The rest of the story tells of the horror that Joey faced on the front line, from charges in battle to being caught by the Germans, being used as a gun horse and making and loosing friends all on his way to try to find Albert again.
What did I think?
On one level this is another horse story like of Anna Sewells' "Black Beauty" as it tells the life story of a horse and all he has to go through throughout his life as he changes hands from one owner to the next. On another level it can be seen as a story that shows the horror of the First World War made slightly more palatable for young readers as it is told through the eyes of a horse rather than showing the suffering of the men.The story looks at war from both sides, both the German and English and in very dramatic and awful scene between enemies in the book we clearly see the futility of war.
The story gives an alternate take on the war and how it affected everyone who lived through this shockingly horrific time in history. In some parts it was quite uplifting when the strong spirit of Joey touched the soldiers he worked alongside enabling them to raise their spirits enough to carry on. It opened my eyes as to how the war animals must have suffered during the war and the way that they suffered just as the men did from cold, hunger, danger and exhaustion. Throughout the book Mr Morpurgo does perfect credit to whoever gets dragged into the nightmarish abyss of war at any time and any place and we get a very clear picture of this awful time. His understated style only adds to the qualities that characterize the book as it is.
This is also a story about love and caring. Not only do we have the love and loyalty between Joey and young Albert but we see this throughout the book as after Joey is sold and loses his good friend Albert he becomes loyal to his cavalry rider, then a young girl, other animals and makes relationships with a wide variety of people who also are affected by the war in some way. This is not a light fluffy read and despite the fact this is aimed at younger readers it tells it straight with no glossing over how awful the war was for both soldiers and animals.
The book has a strong storyline and the characters are loveable and you find yourself getting deeply attached to them. There were times when I was almost in tears as Joey does go though the most awful horrors but remains strong and loyal throughout. It brings home the whole feeling of fruitlessness of war and highlights the plight of horses and other innocent animals that become casualties of war.
This would be an excellent book to use with young readers studying World War I as it would stimulate discussion and be a very dramatic way of learning about the horrors od war in general and this one in particular. Morpurgo's style may seem simplistic at first but that is partly because he is aiming the book at younger readers but I found that despite the outwardly simple text I was quickly drawn into the story and wanted to know how things would turn out for Joey.
I can highly recommend this book not only for younger readers but also as an adult I was gripped by the story and wanted to know how he would survive these horrors. Despite the gloominess of the subject matter the story is so well written and there are enough uplifting times to avoid the reader becoming too weighed down by the horrors suffered during the story. The story is tightly written, the narrative excellent, and the things that happen in the story will live with you long after the book is finished.
This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
My wife watched a review of the stage play of this book, and immediately wanted it.
That was quite a few months ago and I showed no interest in it until I had to work nights and needed some reading material.
Although this book is aimed at younger readers I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who wants a good read.
The story starts in Devon with a young horse up for auction, and follows him through his early life. Through the war, meeting ,getting to know, and loosing many owners along the way.
Until the final scenes when he is reunited with his first owner, but isn't recognised immediately and tries frantically to let him know who he is. Then to top it all is put up for auction again, maybe to be purchased by a butcher... what will happen? why not give it a read I can highly recommend it.
It also brings home the whole feeling of fruitlessness of war and highlights the plight of horses used.
War horse by Michael Morpurgo is a tale of World War One seen through the eyes of a cavalry horse. Joey starts off as a young foal scared and worried at a market. When he is brought home he is lovingly treated by Albert a farm boy and the farm horse Zoey. But Albert's father regretted the purchase of the horse and although Albert taught Joey to work on the farm, the family had little money. When war broke out his father sold Joey to the army to use as a cavalry horse. When Albert found out he swore he would find Joey again. The rest of the story tells of the horror that Joey faced on the front line, from charges in battle to being caught by the Germans, being used as a gun horse and making and loosing friends all on his way to try to find Albert again.
I loved this story because it gave and alternate take on the war and how it affected everyone. It showed how the strong spirit of Joey touched the soldiers and made them feel stronger again. It opens our eyes to how it must have been for the horses of the war and the way that they suffered just like the men did. This book may not be a heart-warming experience but it is defiantly a keeper in my opinion. It has a strong storyline and the characters are loveable and you find yourself getting deeply attached to them. This book had me almost in tears it was so strong.