War Horse: More Than An Animal

Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse made me break my own rule. Once upon a time, I told myself that I should always acquire the hard-copy of a book, if there’s an animal on the jacket. But, I bought War Horse on Amazon’s Kindle, despite knowing that there is a gorgeous horse on the cover. I relaxed my rule because I didn’t want to wait for a week to read the most celebrated book of Morpurgo. I loved his The Butterfly Lion, and I wanted to start War Horse the very next day. I am so glad that I succumbed to the urge. Because War Horse is the best book I have read this year. It’s official! 🙂

War Horse

Joey — a bay-red horse — is skittish. He is named Joey by his Albert, only because the young boy has another horse called Zoey. Although Joey hates his owner, Albert’s father — whom he refuses to call his master — he begins enjoying Zoey’s company, and Albert’s unconditional love. He slowly forgets his mother, even learns to do a lot of farming work, and lives a calm, yet happy life with Albert. But it’s only short-lived, for Albert’s father sells Joey to the army, as war breaks out. Under the love and care of Captain Nicholls, Joey travels from England to France, and also befriends a stallion called Topthorn. The duo prove their prowess in the war, and become the favourite horses of the soldiers. Together, Joey says, they make a magnificent sight. 🙂

Everything goes downhill, as war worsens. Joey makes many friends, but suffers many a loss, even refuses to let go of his dead friends, and reaches a deplorable state before the war ends. To my relief, Morpurgo throws in a couple of plot-twists that make Joey happy. If you would let me spoil it for you… everything ends well. Sorry! 🙂 (But I still cried, and shed buckets and buckets of tears. That’s the strange thing about life. Even happy things make you weep like a baby.)

Morpurgo is now one of my favourite writers. His commentary on war, which he articulates through Joey is beautiful. Although Joey narrates his story, he doesn’t include his take on war, but only recounts what he sees, hears, and experiences. All the enlightening opinions that are offered are by the very soldiers who fight.

‘I tell you, my friends,’ he said one day. ‘I tell you that I am the only sane man in the regiment. It’s the others that are mad, but they don’t know it. They fight a war and they don’t know what for. Isn’t that crazy? How can one man kill another and not really know the reason why he does it, except that the other man wears a different colour uniform and speaks a different language? And it’s me they call mad! You two are the only rational creatures I’ve met in this benighted war, and like me the only reason you’re here is because you were brought here. If I had the courage – and I haven’t – we’d take off down this road and never come back. But then they’d shoot me when they caught me and my wife and my children and my mother and my father would have the shame of it on them for ever. As it is, I’m going to live out this war as “mad old Friedrich”, so that I can return again to Schleiden and become Butcher Friedrich that everyone knew and respected before all this mess began.’

‘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. Goodbye 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?’

In The Butterfly Lion, Morpurgo pours his out for a white lion cub, whom I wanted to adopt. 🙂 In War Horse, his love for horses shines through in every passage. He has now made me question my very existence. What have I been doing with life, if I haven’t befriended a horse ever? 🙂

“Don’t you ever think about anything else except horses, Rudi?” said his companion, keeping his distance. “Three years I’ve known you and not a day goes by without you going on about the wretched creatures. I know you were brought up with them on your farm, but I still can’t understand what it is that you see in them. They are just four legs, a head, and a tail, all controlled by a very little brain that can’t think beyond food and drink.” “How can you say that?” said Rudi. “Just look at him, Karl. Can you not see that he’s something special? This one isn’t just any old horse. There’s a nobility in his eye, a regal serenity about him. Does he not personify all that men try to be and never can be? I tell you, my friend, there’s divinity in a horse, and especially in a horse like this. God got it right the day he created them. And to find a horse like this in the middle of this filthy abomination of a war is for me like finding a butterfly on a dung heap. We don’t belong in the same universe with a creature like this.”

There is something beautiful and heartwarming about people, who talk to animals, who believe that they listen, and who think that their words would comfort them. War Horse is replete with such lovely characters, and it’s such a pleasure to meet each one of them. And, besides all that makes the book special, I’m also in awe of Morpurgo’s extraordinary talent to paint the aftermath of war in a simple, yet moving manner.

War Horse is for you if you love animals. It is for you if you like reading books on war. It’s still for you if you are okay to try something touching and marvellous. 🙂

PS: I can’t wrestle the urge to watch the movie tonight. Have you read the book or watched the movie?

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