The Story of War Horse: A Book, A Film, and Finally a Huge Puppet

A member of my family who has ridden horses and loves all things horses gave me a DVD entitled Making War Horse which I watched right away. But I had never read the famous children’s book of the same title. Things at home became less complicated and so I set about getting the novel into my Kindle and reading it. This morning I finished.  Published in 1982, Michael Morpurgo’s novel was eventually adapted for a film by Steven Spielberg and a play at the National Theater. The story uses first person point of view of the horse centrally involved in the book, named Joey. This is a technique seen in the famous children’s book of years ago, Black Beauty. War Horse too is a children’s book. Joey is a perfect horse, beautiful and smart. He goes to live at a farm, the first of many moves he has to endure. There he meets Albert, the young son of the farm’s owner, who is at the beginning of the book a mean, drunken man. But Albert loves the horse he must care for, and Joey loves Albert too. They become inseparable and have complete trust in one another. Eventually the father decrees that the horse must be sold. He has to earn his way, the father tells his son. Joey is sold to the British army; Britain is going into war with Germany; the first World War is starting. Albert pleads with the military to let him enlist as a training soldier for horses. But he is not old enough. He tells Joey he will find him and the horse goes sadly away with the military. An important part of this story is concerned with Joey telling us his impressions of other horses and other humans and how wars are fought. Mr.Morpurgo’s research for the story included how many horses died in the First World War and how they were killed.  The suffering of both the soldiers and horses is described accurately and poignantly. Indeed, the details of what Joey, with whom we are invested, suffers in Britain, Germany and France are excruciating. I was constantly afraid that Joey might be killed, as other horses are in the book and other humans who have liked Joey and tried to help him.

When the book became a play presented in the West End, the theater district in London, the brilliant idea of creating a huge, lifelike horse puppet was conceived. The Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa was commissioned to build the horse. If you would like to see what Joey looked like and his interaction with actors, go to YouTube and see that  fantastic horse move realistically, make horsey sounds, nuzzle Joey, and react to things as all horses do. To buy the DVD “Making War Horse,” go to


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