I was ruminating on which of my books to read next with great difficulty when I realised with a start that I own a copy of War Horse by Michael Morpogo. Now, despite being blown away by the National Theatre stage play, and enjoying the film, I apparently have never read the book! It’s a story I approached from a different angle, and I had an hour or two to kill before the Great British Sewing Bee (Jen was robbed) so I decided on a quick read rather than starting American Gods (which is next on my list I promise!).
Title: War Horse
Author: Michael Morpogo
Publication data: 1982
Format: Paperback (2013 edition)
My first ever Michael Morpogo was Butterfly Lion, or perhaps Kensuke’s Kingdom? I enjoyed Morpogo as a young teen, but somehow War Horse slipped me by. I did have a gander at the publication date, and the last Morpogo I remember reading was Nation in the late noughties… anyway. War Horse.
Unsurprisingly, the book is about a horse. A thoroughbred colt that is sold at a market to a drunken farmer, and then raised and trained by the teenage son in the years before WWI. This horse’s name is Joey. Joey gets sent off to be a cavalry horse in the war, and this tells the story of his journey through the war, thinking of his friends, and Albert, the boy who he’d loved first.
This is a children’s book – and it is about a horse in the middle of the war, and what I appreciated most about this book was how people on both sides of the war talked about the futility, the waste of life, the waste of beauty – I appreciated how neither side were painted as the good or the bad they were just two sets of ordinary people caught up in a war between nations. I think there is one point where Joey says he has seen the faces before, but they were wearing different uniforms and that point is reinforced over and over. There was a part of me (the not-very-deeply-hidden child I imagine) that found it strange that while Joey was able to perfectly understand every human he ever came across, never does he have a conversation with Topthorn – he is a horse that doesn’t speak to other horses? Eh, it probably would have taken away from the impact of the war if Topthorn had suddenly started ruminating on the state of the grass, and it would have made the story a little ridiculous (I know all this, but I was too caught in the Black Beauty of it).
In comparison to the movie, I like how they adapted it and made it even more poignant, rather than less. They changed the ending up quite a bit between book and film, and I think the stage play follows the film more than the book. In this instance, I prefer the film – but that might just be because it is more powerful as an adult. I would, however, buy this for a child in say, year 6. Although, on balance of the Morpogo’s, I would probably buy them Kensuke’s Kingdom first.