It's not just a book thing!
It is a rare thing when a novel leads to two highly successful interpretations in two completely contrasting mediums yet Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse has achieved just that. Indeed, Morpurgo’s critically-acclaimed children’s novel has enjoyed a highly successful stage adaption by the National Theatre, which I have been lucky enough to see for myself, and was made into a feature film by one of Hollywood’s finest – Steven Spielberg – which was showered with Oscar nominations. With such high-profile reinterpretations one can only assume that the base material, the novel itself, must be littered with resounding universal messages; it must embody an unforgettable story. I can assure you that War Horse fulfils both of these categories.
In a culture rife with anti-war material, whether it’s films, books or poetry, it has become a somewhat clichéd art. Often, anti-war messages in any medium have been accused of over-sentimentality; this is where Morpurgo’s novel differs. Instead, Morpurgo takes a more impartial approach towards the horrors of World War One. The story is narrated from the point of view of Joey, a horse. It is through this that the genius of Morpurgo’s tale really shines. As readers, we receive a more objective view of war; the atrocities that surround Joey become more real and we are forced to take into account the tragedies that both sides endured throughout the conflict. The warhorses themselves are focused upon, as storming cavalry charges are replaced by the engineering of tanks and the deaths of horses reach their millions as they are forced to pull heavy guns into battle with little to no food or water. Towards the climax of the novel, we reach the moment of catharsis. As our narrator Joey finds himself caught in barbed wire, both English and German soldiers help to cut it off. Here, as the firing ceases, the two connect. We know that in this brief moment of international connection the firing will continue. War Horse is indeed a hard-hitting novel.
At the Guernsey Literary Festival this September, Michael Morpurgo will be addressing growing up in an era of war and how it affected his writing. From his experiences he has been able to create a more humanistic approach to the atrocities of war; his fascinating novel allows us to see such conflicts for what they truly are.