Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
War Horse: Michael Morpurgo, December 30, 2015—January 3, 2016
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Michael Morpurgo’s classic children’s novel War Horse is told from the perspective of Joey, a horse who finds himself part of WWI.
While Joey’s narration repeats the words spoken by the people around him (in English, whether British, French or German), he himself has no dialogue. He also has very little reflection on the words spoken and, as he is unable to make very many decisions for himself, is a somewhat passive protagonist.
In anyone else’s hands, any of these elements might kill the book but Morpurgo uses them very cleverly. It is that powerlessness from which War Horse shares its message. Quite simply, Joey tells the reader what people to do one another during the conflict. There is no rationale. There is no justification. It sounds utterly barbaric and senseless.
While Joey never expresses it overtly, other characters do. Everybody we meet is part of a war they didn’t want and can’t control. It is because it’s apolitical that the point is so well made. Joey’s journey takes him into the company of both Allied and German forces, and there are no winners in this story.
A number of sequences deserve whole discussions of their own. In particular, the Welshman and German officer meeting in no-man’s land to decide which of them gets to take Joey is as powerful as any treatise on human nature and the effects of war.
Joey moves frequently and finds himself in new company over and over again. Nevertheless, some of the passages are incredibly moving, none moreso than the denouement. Somehow, in revealing the waste and sadness of war, Morpurgo finds beauty despite it. Challenging but uplifting, War Horse and its themes are as relevant today as they would have been to the time it was set, more than a century ago.