Joey the War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo is a novel of the horse at war, told in the first person from the perspective of the horse.  Orginally published in 1982, the book has been republished as the theatrical version has become a major hit on the London stage. Though it is written for children and young adults, it is a moving and emotional story that will appeal to adults as well –especially those who have a special affinity for horses.  It is a short book that can be read in an evening, but still conveys a full and satisfying story.  Though the book takes place in the midst of World War I, its central theme is that the best of man can be evoked, even in difficult circumstances, by the simple goodness found in horses.

Morpurgo does an outstanding job drawing you into the world as seen by Joey, the part thoroughbred English farm horse who finds himself in the British cavalry in 1914.  For the next four years Joey experiences all the roles of the war horse:  cavalry mount, ambulance team, and artillery horse.  He also meets and befriends people and horses on all sides of the war:  Germans, British, and French.  One of the secrets of War Horse, I believe, is that Joey is a believable horse.  Morpurgo gives Joey just enough awareness and voice to allow him to tell his story, but not so much that he becomes a cartoon of the horse.  Though the author gives voice to Joey’s thoughts, those thoughts are mostly about what is important to a horse:  food, the weather, water, other horses, fear, excitement, and did I say food?   Morpurgo captures the fact that Joey is aware of humans and their world, and can distinguish and values the difference between different people.  Thus, the horse knows who is kind, who cares, and who does not –and responds to that treatment.

Michael Morpurgo is one of Great Britain’s top Children’s book authors.  He has written over 100 books aimed at young readers.  He is not a military historian but he relied on detailed interviews with World War I veterans to bring authenticity to Joey’s story.  The major military themes in the book are accurate:  the difficulty of cavalry attacking wire, the role of artillery teams, the functioning of the veterinary service, and the fate of horses at the end of the war.  Morpurgo also demonstrates a solid  understanding of horse care, training, and breeds.  I was particularly impressed with his mention of the Hanovarians and Haflingers in the German artillery service.

War Horse is an enjoyable and touching afternoon’s read, expertly written for the adult and child.  It conveys the essential goodness of animals and horses in particular, and demonstrates how they bring out the best in men even in the middle of the horror of war.   Like all good war fiction, War Horse is essentially an anti-war story.  It reminds me again of my own conclusion after writing my non-fiction work on war horses:  the best thing man has ever done for horses is develop technology to the point that the horse no longer has to participate in war.

War horse was the runner up for the best Children’s book award in Great Britain, the Whitbread Award, and has been turned into a hugely successful play in the London theater.  It is scheduled to begin playing in New York in 2011.  I highly recommend the book and the play –though the latter is only by reputation.

The above quick clip is the trailer for the play.  The below clip describes the horse puppeteering required to make the play work.  Its technically fascinating and definately a show I would travel to see!

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm  Comments (36)  
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36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. wow awsome

  2. I’ve had this book for a long time. It is one of the best books that I have read, and I read alot. 🙂 It really opens your eyes to the ways that horses in World War 1 were probably treated. It was a really moving book.

  3. This book is amazing.It is so touching I cried.I recommend this book to everyone! =)

  4. will this come to australia ??

  5. Does the horse die? I can’t read it or see the movie adaptation if the horse dies. That kind of story is too traumatic for me – think Old Yeller.

  6. worst bok ever

  7. horse doesn’t die and i loved it and it is a movie now i have seen the shorts can not wait

  8. I`ve read the book and watched the play in london and i think that they are both brill the book show you what the war would have been like for a horse but the play show you and you belive it because its right in frount of you, you almost feel like part of the play its self.

  9. GREAT !!!! So glad to hear he lives .

  10. is it fiction or non-fiction

  11. i think is has a base of non fiction in it with some fiction thrown in going by the books intro if i remember right

  12. It’s hard for me to watch movies where animals are mis-treated, dying or die. Glad to hear Joesy doesn’t die, but does the film show him being mis-treated or a lot of other horses being mis-treated, dying or dead? Yikes….that would make it a real tear jerker for sure.

  13. […] blogged last year about both the book and the play.  Click here for my book review. Both were excellent.  Add in Steven Spielberg and the movie HAS to be great!  From the trailer […]

  14. I am genuinely disappointed to learn the principle horses in the film version are puppets.

  15. But after doing some preliminary searches online – I’m now delighted to learn I misunderstood the blog here thinking that puppets were used in the film version. Sorry about my oops! above. I did read though where Steven Spielberg is disappointed that the horses in the film are not near as expressive as the the puppets. While this is disappointing for him, it won’t be for me since I know very well the limitations of real horses expressions.

    Mr Spielberg expressed great frustration, I read, when he couldn’t get the horses to do what he wanted. Welcome to the horse world Mr S!

  16. I’m glad to hear they are puppets because if thery were real and got hurt or killed in the movie, I would’nt be able to finish watching the it.

  17. they are real in the movies and no horse was killed in it ! they play dead in movies and are not hurt in them

  18. the puppets were in the play not the movie ! the movie has REAL horses in it

  19. The reason I like this story is because it shows you just how far some people will go to find something they love and it also shows you the courage that horses have.

  20. I know they play dead, but I feel like somewhere/somehow it really happened and I don’t want to know about it…I couldn’t finish watching Water for Elephants after that man whipped Rosie the 1st time..that was it for me.

  21. it is based on fact sadly that is war i now see what you are talking about you are talking the war not the movie did you know dogs were also in the war read a very good book of stories of war dogs loved that too lots of humans and animals died and it is a sad waste of life to any side and to the ones fighting cause they are only doing what they are told to and i reckon of you left it to them there would be no fighting just wait to the end of the movie to see why i say that or if you read the book you know what i am talking about the book was awesome if any have not read it i highly recommend it

  22. yes i watched the movie haven’t read the book yet but will but i was in tears in water for elephants totally for both the elephant and the two young people in it

  23. Movies like this I wait for video so I can pause, and cry, otherwise people in the theatre would think I’m crazy. I just hate to see innocent animals that can’t help themselves because humans put them in that situation get hurt & killed…it’s just too hard for me to watch. Guess I’m too emotional.

  24. you are allowed to be , in water for elephants and any movie that does that i end up crying in the cinema and i am sure i am not the only one ,

    Joey was an amazing horse from what i read in the book and his mate was too but when they got caught the horses were split up to go to different area’s and the story followed Joey not the other one

  25. soooo joey doesn’t die in the movie???

    in a way this movie/book reminds me of Black Beauty, a story told through a horse’s point of view..i really wanna read the book now 😀

  26. if it goes by the book he doesn’t

  27. From what I have read, Spielberg wanted to make sure it stayed PG-13 so that families could see it. In an interview, he stated he wanted to leave some of the graphics to the imagination (which is fine by me — my imagination runs rampant)! Can’t wait to see it.

  28. ha ha paige you said bok

  29. many fellow human beings lost their lives in war fighting for your freedom you enjoy today, too bad people are more concerned about animals welfare than remembering vetrans!

  30. Has anyone seen the play in NYC? Tickets were a gift from well-meaning friends who know I love animals, but I can’t watch the play if the horse dies or horses are miserably treated. Someone PLEASE warn me of the sad parts before I embarrass myself.

  31. R we remember the humans too don’t worry about that! This movie at the moment is about a young man and a horse !
    Jill there are always sad bits no matter what and there are sad bits and happy bits too, I have not sen the play as I am in australia but I am sure it will have both bits in it sadly war is not a happy thing no matter how you dress it up

  32. It is sad but the truth hurts anyone whoever owned or dreamed of ever owning ahorse can see whats man greed and total lack of respect humans have for the horse it show in the usa with the countless number being slaughter for foo or just for bingin the wrong palce at the timeorjust to feed the ever love of horse meat in the european countries maybejust maybethisoustanding movie that shows just some oft he horrors the horses went thru just to please mankind and may beit will help put atotal whoa on the abuse for what just afist full of dollars wake up people if wasnt fort he horse where would the human race be pay the horse backfor all it has done forus put a stop to all this human unkindness

  33. Hi i am wondering whether to download the book on my kindle but i cant read the book if the horse dies just like i cant watch king kong either i just end up a mess. After reading these comments i think i will download thanks.

  34. Not sure what happened to Emily….Did she died ?

  35. In response to R’s comment, I think it’s best to say that human’s have the intelligence and free will to determine their own fate – animals do not. They are forever loyal and innocent and their fate is often determined by the foolishness and heartlessness of man. I believe their is a statue of war horses in England to honor their lives and deaths in serving a war that man created. Unfortunately, it is opinions like yours that to this day allow severe animal abuse to exist in this country. Please do not misconstrue my words – I do honor the men and women who serve our country but it is their choice to do so – what a wonderful world it would be if war didn’t exist – I wonder how many of the wars in history could have been avoided with better leadership. In any case, animals have proven their undying love, loyalty and devotion to man no matter what he makes them endure.

  36. I loved Joey! I am a big horse fan. I lease a horse named Cinnamon.

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