Before it was a stage playthat won five Tony awards, before it was a moviedirected by Steven Spielberg, it was a book, a book for older children. It was first published in 1982, and it remains in print. A new centenary edition, to mark the anniversary of the start of World War I, was published in 1914. By any measure, it’s a beloved book.
War Horse is the story of Joey, a horse separated from his mother at a young age. And it’s the story of Albert Narracott, the son of a Devon farmer who raises the horse, trains the horse, rides the horse, and loves the horse.
And it is the story of the First World War, told from the perspective of Joey.
It seems almost unbelievable today, but the beginning of the First World War in 1914 saw armies across Europe using cavalry troops. It was long at all before horses were replaced by machines, but horses played an important role.
In the case of Joey, and unbeknownst to Albert, Albert’s father sells Joey to an officer preparing to leave for the fighting in France. Devastated, Albert soon learns he’s too young to enlist. But Captain Nicholls, Joey’s new rider, promises Albert he will look after the horse.
Joey describes his training, in England, his transport to France, his friendship with the black stallion Topthorn, and his first engagement in warfare, during which Captain Nicholls is killed. The experiences of the two horses tell the story of what happens to British soldiers, German soldiers, and French civilians.
Morpurgo is one of Great Britain’s best-known and best-loved children’s writers. He’s written some 130 children’s books and won numerous prizes and recognitions. Earlier this year, he received a knighthoodfor his services to literature and charity.
I could say more, a lot more, but that would be giving the story away. Suffice it to say that War Horseis a simply marvelous story, the story of a horse and the boy who loves him.
The trailer from the 2011 film:
Top photograph: A scene from theWar Horse stage play at the National Theatre, London.