Posts Tagged horse

More War Horse

(c) Bridget Worth

It’s curious what fiction can do, how a painting in a story can become a real painting. Such a picture,  invented in War Horse had to be created for real. I’m copying this blog:

Morpurgo’s myth revealed

By Emily Butcher | Published: 31 OCTOBER 2011

After 20 years, Michael Morpurgo reveals the hidden truth behind the opening lines of his hugely popular novel War Horse, in a warm and humorous interview with Clare Balding.

In the old school they now use for the village hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse. He stands, a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks. He looks wistfully out of the picture, his ears pricked forward, his head turned as if he has just noticed us standing there.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Little did Michael know, when he first drafted these fictional lines back in 1981, what a worldwide success his book, and the subsequent National Theatre stage production, would become; nor the havoc it would wreak on a certain Mrs Weeks of Iddesleigh, Devon.

Mrs Weeks, the lady who now lives next to the village hall mentioned in Michael’s opening lines, is regularly inundated with War Horse enthusiasts searching for the painting of Joey. However, their quest has always been in vain as the painting has never existed…until now.

To help Mrs Weeks stave off disappointed visitors, Michael asked Ali Bannister, the equine artist from the upcoming Spielberg-directed film, to create an oil painting ofJoey. And, before it takes pride of place on the wall of Iddesleigh village hall, visitors to the National Army Museum can see the painting displayed for the first time ever in the War Horse: Fact & Fiction exhibition.

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“I go about once every six weeks to make sure it’s still there”!

… and now, watching this, I realise there’s a sequel, and one of those beautifully drawn and painted books by Michael Foreman (I’ve mentioned these before), and Morpurgo’s favourite among his books…

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War Horse

With the film coming out, I thought it was about time we read Michael’s Morpurgo‘s book, and even, if possible, went to see the play with its amazing horse puppets.

Naturally, you have to think, is it suitable for children? It’s a children’s book, and a children’s play, but for what age? It’s a book about World War I after all. There’s the trenches, there’s killing, death.

I downloaded the book from audible.co.uk in audio format – and we’re listening to it now in the car on the way to and from school. John Keating has an unusually slow and deliberate way of reading, but he does the accents very well.

As for the play, I’ve been looking at booking some seats in the spring. Checking the reviews, I thought the Guardian one was interesting:

 …it seems excessively fortuitous that Joey, captured by the enemy, falls into the caring hands of a German captain as horse-obsessed as Albert . And when the rescued Joey in 1918 is saved from slaughter only by a jammed pistol it seems providence is working overtime. But the narrative failings are overcome by the brilliant work of the Handspring Puppet Company…

Is it really excessively fortuitous? Is providence really working overtime? It is a children’s story after all. Aren’t children entitled to identify with the characters in their books, to want them to survive, succeed? Michael Morpurgo is taking his readers on a harrowing journey into the horror of the Great War. This is not a formula book; you don’t know where it’s going to take you. Before we started it I needed to check that the protagonist, Joey, doesn’t die in the end. (And he doesn’t in the play or the film.) The book is telling the story of a terrible time.
It’s interesting to listen to Michael Morpurgo talking about it. As he said in the Evening Standard:

I met a man in a pub. It was in my village, The Duke of York, in Iddesleigh in Devon. He was in his eighties and I knew he’d been to the First World War as a young man. For no good reason I happened to ask him what regiment he’d been in. “Devon ­Yeomanry,” he said, “I was there with ‘orses.” He told me things beside the fire in the pub that day that you don’t read in poems or books, that you didn’t see in films. It was as if he was taking me by the hand and showing me, ­passing it on; about living with fear and horror, about how the only person he could talk to was his horse, when he was feeding him at night, alone.

Then some weeks later I came across a picture by one FW Reed, painted in 1917, of British cavalry horses in the First World War charging up a hill towards the German positions, towards the wire. Some were already entangled in it. Like the private in the old song, they were “hanging on the old barbed wire”. I telephoned the Imperial War Museum and asked if they knew how many horses had been killed in the First World War. A million or more, they told me, and that was just in the British army; probably eight million horses died on all sides. With the real possibility now growing in my head that I might write a story about the First World War, not from one side or the other, but from the perspective of a horse that is used by both armies, so that it could be a story of the universal suffering of that war, or any war, I began my research.

And how will the film be? Blockbusters, family films, can be clichéd, sentimental. Trailers even more so:

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surprising results

Beneath the patched robe of the Mulla Nasrudin there is sometimes wisdom…

nasrudin 2

Two of his stories suggest to me that we could achieve surprising results if we were prepared to do unusual things. The first is about keeping dry:

A man invited Nasrudin to go hunting with him, but mounted him on a horse which was too slow. The Mulla said nothing. Soon the hunt outpaced him and was out of sight. It began to rain heavily, and there was no shelter. All members of the hunt got soaked through. Nasrudin, however, as soon as the rain started, took off all his clothes and folded them. Then he sat down on the pile. As soon as the rain stopped, he dressed himself and went back to his host’s house for lunch. Nobody could work out why he was dry. With all the speed of their horses they had not been able to reach shelter on that plain.

‘It was the horse you gave me,’ said Nasrudin.

The next day he was given a fast horse and his host took the slow one. Rain fell again. The horse was so slow that the host got wetter than ever, riding at a snail’s pace to his house. Nasrudin carried out the same procedure as before.

When he got back to the house he was dry.

‘It is all your fault!’ shouted his host. ‘You made me ride this terrible horse.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Nasrudin, ‘you did not contribute anything of your own to the problem of keeping dry?’

(text copied, with thanks, from here)

The second is about staying warm, and it’s just the first bit that I’m thinking about, though the rest is good too:

On a frigid and snowy winter day Mullah Nasruddin was having a chat with some of his friends in the local coffee house. Mullah Nasruddin said that cold weather did not bother him, and in fact, he could stay, if necessary, all night without any heat. “We’ll take you up on that, Mullah Nasruddin” they said. “If you stand all night in the village square without warming yourself by any external means, each of us will treat you to a sumptuous meal. But if you fail to do so, you will treat us all to dinner.” “All right it’s a bet,” Mullah Nasruddin said. That very night, Mullah Nasruddin went up to the flat roof of a building. He spent the whole night pushing around a block of stone that had been left on the roof, and by doing so kept warm. In the morning, he went down triumphantly to his friends and told them that they should be ready to fulfill their promise.

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“But as a matter of fact you lost the bet, Mullah Nasruddin,” said one of them. “At about midnight, just before I went to sleep, I saw a candle burning a window about three hundred yards away from where you were . That certainly means that you warmed yourself by it.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Mullah Nasruddin argued. “How can a candle behind a window warm a person three hundred yards away?”

All his protestations were to no avail, and it was decided that Mullah Nasruddin had lost the bet.

Mullah Nasruddin accepted the verdict and invited all of them to a dinner that night at his home. They all arrived on time, laughing and joking, anticipating the delicious meal Mullah Nasruddin was going to serve them. But dinner was not ready. Mullah Nasruddin told them that it would be ready in a short time, and left the room to prepare the meal. A long time passed, and still no dinner was served.

Finally, getting impatient and very hungry, they went into the kitchen to see if there was any food cooking at all. What they saw, they could not believe. Mullah Nasruddin was standing by a huge cauldron, suspended from the ceiling.

There was a lighted candle under the cauldron. “Be patient my friends,” Mullah Nasruddin told them. “Dinner will be ready soon. You see it is cooking.” “Are you out of your mind, Mullah Nasruddin?” they shouted. How could you with such a tiny flame boil such a large pot?

“Your ignorance of such matters amuses me,” Mullah Nasruddin said. “If the flame of a candle behind a window three hundred yards away can warm a person, surely the same flame will boil this pot which is only three inches away.”

(adapted, with thanks, from here)

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