Morpurgo has written more than 120 books, but War Horse may be the best known. He started writing the story after he met a few veterans from WWI at a pub in England. The old vets told him about a common practice where the military would take horses from local farms to use in battle. Morpurgo was so touched by their stories, that he went home and began dreaming up his own tale about cavalry horses in WWI. He said that he never actually picked stories to write, but that the stories picked him.
From the Horse’s Mouth
One of the most interesting choices Morpurgo made in writing War Horse was to let the horse, Joey, tell a lot of the story. Joey speaks just like one of the human characters, and it is clear that he doesn’t want to be involved in the fighting. Somehow, it is very easy for readers to connect to the horse characters.
“Animals have an intelligence that we cannot understand,” Morpurgo said. “And one of the terrible things we do on this planet is that we don’t value them. We use them up.”
Joey is more than just a character; he represents a common bond between both sides of the war. Horses in the story were like victims, caught in the middle of so much fighting. The horses didn’t want to go to war, and neither did many of the soldiers.
In one important scene, Joey breaks free from the cavalry and starts running through no-man’s-land, the piece of land between two fighting armies, and he becomes tangled in the barbed wire that separates the two sides of the war. Both the Germans and the English soldiers are horrified to see Joey running and in so much pain. Amazingly, the soldiers from both sides stop shooting and rush to untangle Joey. The English and German soldiers empathized with Joey. They were scared too, and they didn’t want to be fighting either.
When the two sides stop shooting and unite for a small period of time to help the Joey. The horse becomes a symbol of peace, because both sides can feel for him and understand its terror. They find common ground as a result of Joey’s entanglement. War Horse does not linger on the blood and guts in the war, the loss and suffering of those around Joey is crystal clear.
“You do not need to be shown the blood and gore of war to know how people suffer from it,” explain Morpurgo.