War Horse: Michael Morpurgo talks to CBC Books

From the page to the stage to the big screen, British author Michael Morpurgo's moving children's novel War Horse has made quite the journey.

First published in 1982, the novel is about a spirited horse named Joey and his best friend, Albert, a farm-boy in rural England. The two become separated after Britain enters the First World War and Joey is sold to the army. The story follows Joey as he tries to survive the war, serving first in the British cavalry and then for the Germans after being captured, while Albert leaves home in a quest to find his beloved friend.

Morpurgo, 68, recently spoke to CBC Books about the inspiration behind his novel.

"There are many, many stories written about wars, and almost all of them are from one side or the other," he said.

"I didn't want to write a story about the British side, or the Canadian side, or the French side, or the German side, I wanted to write a story about all their sides. I wanted a view, if you like, of the universal suffering of that war. How could do I that? I could take a horse to that war...let the horse tell the story."

When War Horse was first published, it garnered critical praise and even finished as runner-up for 1982's Whitbread Book Award. But it was a minor hit sales-wise and seemed destined to remain in relative obscurity, even as Morpurgo developed into one of the U.K.'s most prolific and celebrated children's authors.

That is, until, the acclaimed National Theatre of Great Britain adapted War Horse into a stage production. Using innovative puppets to create life-size, moving horses, the show debuted in 2007 to rave reviews.

Morpurgo has described the adaptation not as a play but "a theatrical moment for people to savour and rejoice in."

Toronto's Mirvish Productions is bringing the award-winning play to the city's Princess of Wales Theatre from Feb. 10, 2012, until June 30.

But before that, the movie adaptation of War Horse, directed by Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg, opens in North American theatres on Christmas Day.

So was it difficult for Morpurgo to let his story go to other storytellers? He said it was important to him that the adaptations stayed true to the spirit of War Horse, but left it to the producers to carry out their own unique vision.

"I think if you impose upon theatre or film your own strictures as to how it should be done, you're making a big mistake. The people who know how to do that are not book writers...usually the best people for that are people who have experience and have a genius, a talent, for making theatre or making film. At some point you have to trust that. You have to hand it over and just let them get on with it."

War Horse contest winners! (Updated Jan. 13, 2012)

Congratulations to Ron Webber, Karen Currie and Ann Sutherland. They were selected in our random draw and will receive signed copies of War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. Thanks to everyone who entered!


War Horse

by Michael Morpurgo

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From the publisher:

"From master storyteller Michael Morpurgo comes an incredibly moving story about one horse's experience in the deadly chaos of the first world war.

In 1914, Joey, a young farm horse, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges towards the enemy, witnessing the horror of the frontline.

But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey's courage touches the soldiers around him."

Read more at Egmont Books.

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