Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse is a simple yet effective book. Primarily a children’s author, Morpurgo enthuses very adult issues into the small book, bringing the reality of the first world war to a larger audience.
Told through the eyes of the book’s protagonist, Joey the horse, the story manages to provide a neutral statement on the attrocities of war. Joey, a tall red thoroughbred who takes the breath away from anyone who looks at him, is taken from his stable in Devon and thrown into a war zone. Here he meets friends and enemies, but the distinction between the two is not based on German vs English. He relates with those who are nice and fears those who threaten him.
It is Joey’s friendships that help make the book work as well as it does. Equestrian friend Topthorn offers hope when despair surrounds them whilst friendly officers and youthful German Emillie only have Joey’s best interests at heart. It is Joey’s relationship with original owner Albert that is most touching, the two only being separated by the onslaught of war.
The brave and hopeful language used throughout the book is inspiring, as is Joey’s commitment to his friends. There are some truly worrying moments toward the end of the book whilst the vivid moments of battle bring the reality of war back to the reader. Joey’s will and determination, perhaps best signified in his unifying trip into no man’s land, is inspiring and forms the crux of the book.
Not just a children’s book, War Horse is a delightful, if rather harrowing, read, telling the story of friendship overcoming the horrors of war.