WAR HORSE by Michael Morpurgo


Age Range: 10 - 14
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In effect, a horse's eye view of the First World War—heart-rending in Black Beauty tradition, anti-war like All Quiet..., certainly unusual and dramatic.

The spirited young stallion is purchased by a Devon farmer, vicious when drunk, to thwart a despised neighbor; he is protected, however, by the farmer's gentle young son Albert, then 13, who names him Joey (to rhyme with old farm horse Zoey), tends him fondly, and trains him—"inside a week," after a paternal threat—to pull a plow. ("For [Zoey's] sake and for my own sake, for Albert's, too, I leaned my weight into my collar and began to pull.") Rumbles of war, then the reality: Joey is sold to the British cavalry, distraught Albert is turned away as too young, Joey acquires a new protector in Captain Nicholls and a new friend in majestic Topthorn. Following Captain Nicholls' death Joey and Topthorn are the sole horse survivors of what will be the war's last cavalry charge—clearly insane in the face of machine guns and barbed wire. Now German "prisoners," they are first utilized to pull ambulance wagons (under the reluctant aegis of a German aristocrat-horselover); then, happily, put to farm work by an elderly Frenchman and his lovable granddaughter Emilie; then recalled, to haul guns, by other, sterner Germans. (Says insightful Joey: "It was not that they were cruel men, but just that they seemed driven now by a fearful compulsion....") Staunch Topthorn dies, and Joey finds himself alone in No Man's Land, approached by a single Briton and a single German...who toss a coin—which comes up heads for the Briton. At the veterinary hospital, he is reunited (surprise) with Albert; then, saved by an all-hands effort from tetanus. But, incredibly, worse is still to come: at war's end, the war-veteran horses are auctioned off, and Albert and his buddies are almost outbid for Joey by the local butcher...when little Emilie's old farmer-grandfather steps in...not to rescue Joey for her but to present Joey to Albert in her memory. (That sentimental nadir is followed, fortunately, by brief word that Albert's soon-to-be-wife "never did take to me, nor I to her.")

Despite relentless English and German anti-war rumination, and Joey's own supra-equine understandings: some distinct glimpses of how it was to be a war-horse—in addition to that thundering melodrama. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 1983
ISBN: 978-0-439-79663-7
Page count: 184pp
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1983


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