Thanks to a wonderful gift from my husband David, I had the pleasure of enjoying a fabulous night of theater. My stage treat: War Horse. To watch life-sized puppets mimicking the movements of horses with subtle yet natural grace was truly amazing. The puppets moved, “breathed,” and reacted as if they were living creatures.
Equally wonderful is the story of how Michael Morpurgo came to write the novel which inspired the play about a horse named Joey swept into the turmoil and destruction of World War I. This heart-touching tale had many sources of inspiration: Michael’s grandfather was a Belgian patriot during World War, his mother’s brother was killed in World War II, and he read many of the early twentieth century war poets. Michael also talked with World War I veterans about their bond with their mounts.
As Michael recalled: “I had written one or two books already, but now for the first time, I came across a subject that I cared about deeply, one that I felt I could write from the heart.” It was the story of World War I, “as seen through a horse’s eye, a horse that would be reared on a Devon farm…”
Though he had the concept for his novel, Michael wasn’t sure he could make it work — that he could convince readers that the bond between Joey, the horse, and his owner, Albert, was real. Then the simple act of a child gave him the courage to tell his story. A troubled child named Billy had stopped speaking at age 7. He came to stay on the farm that Michael and his wife owned as part of a program that brought troubled children to the country.
One night, Michael came upon Billy talking freely to one of the horses. As the author recalls: “He spoke confidently, knowing he was not being judged or mocked. And I had the very strong impression that the horse was listening, and understanding, too. It was an unforgettable moment for all three of us, I think.”
It was this incident, so fleeting, yet so powerful, that emboldened Michael to pursue his idea and write War Horse, the children’s story that eventually evolved into an exciting and moving piece of theater. We never know when some image, some fragment of conversation, some long-forgotten memory is going to spark our creativity. So let’s stay open and expectant — and write on.