War Horse

Michael Morpurgo's 1982 short novel War Horse, the story of Joey, a horse who is pressed into service in World War I, is a modern classic. I think it's been constantly in print, made into a film, and adapted into an extraordinary stage show with life-size puppet horses (coming to Australia in 2020, I see).

Therefore it feels slightly churlish to admit that I wasn't completely enamoured of Joey's adventures. Now that I'm thinking about it, it reminds me a lot of Black Beauty, which I read several times as a child -- it shares the same calm, slightly ponderous first person voice, and the same panoramic sweep of potential equine experience. One difference is that Joey doesn't converse with other horses; he makes friends with them, but it's a silent communion. He does overhear many human conversations, on both the English and German sides of the fighting, and he experiences even-handed kindness and cruelty from both sides.

The aims of War Horse are admirable, showing the humanity and futility of the conflict and the way in which innocent animals (and people) became caught up in the machine of war. But somehow I couldn't completely sink myself into the narrative. I've always had a bit of resistance to stories told from an animal's point of view; perhaps this is just my prejudice showing. I'll be interested to see what the rest of my book group make of it.


  1. Have you read any other Morpurgo? I think Joey's 'voice' is similar to the voice in which most of his stories are told; I'm afraid I have always found his style terribly dull. But I feel very churlish saying that because Warhorse is the only book that my son ( a mostly non-reader) has actually reread several times out of choice. I do think he's admirable for writing stories set during periods of history that it's useful for children to know about, and in a simple, easy-to-read style; school libraries are full of his books and 'Private Peaceful' is a set text in many schools for 11/12 years.
    You might be interested in one he's written about children being shipped from the UK to Australia after WW2 called 'Alone On A Wide, Wide Sea'. Oh, and btw, the play of Warhorse is amazing - go, if you get the chance!

  2. Oh, I'm so relieved you said that, Ann! I thought it was just me. I know he is a national treasure, and I admire his work, but I've read about three of his books now and haven't really got on with any of them (not even Private Peaceful!)
    And obviously it works for some readers, like your son.
    I would love to see Warhorse on stage, it sounds incredible. And I will look out for 'Alone on a WWS'-- I'll give him one more chance :)