Tuesday, October 2, 2012

War as seen through a horse's eyes

It's a book with strong anti-war sentiments. It's written from the point of view of a horse. It shows both the British and the German experience in World War I. It's been in print for 30 years, and yet it still comes off as being remarkably fresh. That's Michael Morpurgo's War Horse.

If it were up to me to decide which books children of today should read, War Horse would come out on top of the list. Morpurgo's narrative is very straightforward, and his sentences so crisp that they appear to be Hemingway-esque.

The horse, named Joey, has the unlucky fate to serve as a horse in the English army during WWI. But fate's hand is indeed cruel, and we see Joey taken by the English, the Germans, the French, and back to the English. It's an adventure story, really, with the horse taking center stage.

What's surprising is what we find out after reading both sides of the two warring nations. When it comes down to the soldiers fighting in the front, all they really want is for the war to end and for them to go home to their families. It's a fact not lost even on Joey.

Consider the scene between an English and a German soldier when they meet in the trenches to rescue Joey, whose leg has been caught in barbed wire. The two soldiers simply decide to flip a coin to decide who gets to keep Joey.
"In an hour, maybe, or two," he said, "we will be trying our best again each other to kill. God only knows why we do it, and I think He has maybe forgotten why. Good-bye, Welshman. We have shown them, haven't we? We have shown them that any problem can be solved between people if only they can trust each other. That is all it needs, no?"
The little Welshman shook his head in disbelief as he took the rope. "I think if they would let you and me have an hour or two out here together, we could sort out this whole wretched mess. There would be no more weeping widows and crying children in my valley and no more in yours. If worse came to worst, we could decide it all on the flip of a coin, couldn't we?"
I did find that particular scene one of the most poignant that I've read among children's novels. Perhaps we need to be reminded again that, for all the vastness that is the scope of war, the solution can be as simple as talking or even just calling "heads" or "tails" in a coin flip.

Read this book if:

  1. You have very strong feelings about war.
  2. You love classic children's novels.
  3. You've always wanted to own a horse.


Mike said...

Peter, have you seen the movie? Jeeves says that the stage play is really good. Hope it shows here. -Mike "GnP" B.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mike! Not yet. I have a friend who saw the musical. He said that it's really good!

Gem said...

I've always wanted to see the movie. I've heard that it's really good. I think I'll get DVD copy pretty soon. :)

Jack said...

That's a powerful scene you cite. What gives it its power is the fact that it's absolutely true, as anyone who's delved into history knows; wars aren't started by the people who stand to die in them.

There was a joke in Vietnam in '68: A VC and a GI, both horribly injured, are in adjoining hospital beds. A bigwig comes through and asks what happened to them. The GI says, "As he was charging, he shouted, Johnson is a bastard! I shouted back, Ho Chi Mihn is a son of a bitch! While we were shaking hands, a tank ran over us."


By the way, you're featured this week at the Hideout, so maybe an extra visitor or two, perhaps, could be?

Take care!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Gem! I wanna see the movie too!

Hello, Jack! Oh, me, featured? Thanks!