Sunday, January 1, 2012

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

When I think about World War One, I think of mustard gas, trenches, no-man’s land, rats and disease, but I never knew that horses played any part in it.  Thanks to Michael Morpurgo’s book , I’ve learned a few things.  Though tanks and machine guns would eventually change the face of that conflict, initially all the major combatants began with cavalry forces. 

Another revelation for me was Michael Morpurgo himself.  He’s written over 100 books and is England’s third Children’s Laureate, but until my son brought War Horse home, I’d never heard of him.

The British Council on Literature describes him as old-fashioned because “unlike many of today’s authors for young people, Morpurgo rarely features contemporary family issues such as divorce, inadequate parents or urban social problems.  Instead many of his books have historical and rural settings, and he uses his gift for telling enchanting stories to explore timeless values such as stoicism, courage, and trust.”  

War Horse is the story of Joey, a British thoroughbred who is shipped off to France to help in the war effort.  The book is written from his perspective as he responds to the people he meets, which include English and German soldiers as well as French civilians.  Men of every kind are drawn to the beautiful horse and the story is built around their words and actions toward him.

The inspiration for the story came from Morpurgo’s conversations with a WWI veteran who told him that in the horror of the war the only thing that kept him sane was being able to talk to his horse. “That was all that kept me surviving ‘cause I would go to the horse lines each night to feed the horses, and I would talk to my horse, and I’d talk about my mother, and I’d talk about my sweetheart and about home.  And about being frightened. Terrified.  Particularly the last one.  You could not talk amongst your chums about being terrified ‘cause everyone was terrified.  People were dying all around you and you saw things that you simply couldn’t talk about.” 

Morpurgo has given his readers a gift.  In situations where hope seems lost, love and compassion break through the darkness, reminding us that in this world of woe there are still threads of grace.  Highly recommended.


bookwormans said...

This book is on my "to read" list. I saw the play when I was in London, and then saw the movie last week. It is such a wonderful story!

Serena said...

I'll be reading this book for the WWI reading challenge in 2012. I cannot wait to get to it. We've added your review to the War Through the Generations page. Thanks.