A powerful tale of war, redemption, and a hero’s journey.
In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey’s courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer’s son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?
Even though I had already seen the stage and film versions of this book, I decided to give this book a read partly due to the Remembrance Sunday commemorations which were particularly poignant as it marked the centenary of the start of the First World War.
The core story between the novel and the adaptations are similar. However, the book is seen purely from the perspective of Joey, the eponymous “War Horse”, rather than the twin storylines which followed not only Joey’s journey but that of the “main” human character of Albert Narracott, the
teenager who not only befriends Joey but searches for him due to his purchase by the British Army.
Following the story purely from Joey’s first person perspective provides focus to the storyline in three ways. Firstly, it makes Joey as much a victim of the war as his human counterparts. Secondly, it enables the reader to be objective and have no preconceived notions whether a human character’s actions are “right” or “wrong” based on nationality – all the characters who Joey encounters whether it be Albert, Captain Nichols (the cavalry officer who buys Joey from Albert’s father), Emelie, the young French girl, and her grandfather who looks after Joey whilst he serves on ambulance duties for the German army or the kindly German officer Friedrich, are treated in an even handed manner. Finally, it uses Joey’s viewpoint to show how the First World War changed from a war which was fought between nations of men and their cavalry horses into a mechanistic war with gun carriages, trenches and tanks.
Whilst I found reading this book an already rewarding experience, as I thought it would be given my previous experience of this story, there was more of a poignancy when I found out Albert’s eventual role after his enlistment into the Army (which differs between the book and the stage/film versions) echoed not only the “arena” of war (“The Western Front”) in which my great-great uncle served but the exact role that Albert serves.
“War Horse” is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough as it brings the First World War into context, especially in this significant anniversary period, but shows that everyone that served or lived in that war, whatever the nationality or whether they be human or animal, were an equal victim.