Posts Tagged Michael Morpurgo

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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more on Gawain

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Somehow Michael Morpurgo keeps some of the poetry of the telling.

 

Here is another translation – as a small sample – of the bit where the lady of the castle comes to tempt and test Gawain while the lord is out hunting. Gawain pretends to be asleep and …

Then he straightened and stretched and stirring toward her
he opened his eyes and acted astounded.
Then he crossed himself as if he claimed protection
from that sight –

Her chin and cheeks were sweet,
B
lending red and white;
H
er voice a pleasant treat
W
here small lips smiled delight.

Now and again I look at the original – which would be impossible for me to read – and spot a few familiar words. Here’s the same bit in middle English:

Þen he wakenede, and wroth, and to hir warde torned,
And vnlouked his y3e-lyddez, and let as hym wondered,
And sayned hym, as bi his sa3e þe sauer to worthe,
with hande.

Wyth chynne and cheke ful swete,
Boþe quit and red in blande,
Ful lufly con ho lete
Wyth lyppez smal la3ande.

I’ve just spotted a cartoon version on youtube – which has the defect of being over much too quickly – I hate to lose any of the details of the story:
(looking at it again there’s lots that I like in the original that’s not there – but well done to ’em for making it)

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Gawayne

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I had told Sam the story of Gawain and the Green Knight before, but I was looking forward to the time I could read the version by illustrious author Michael Morpurgo and authorial illustrator Michael Foreman.

Sam had to ask me the meaning of some of the chivalric technical terms –

“What does ‘honour’ mean?”
“What does ‘integrity’ mean?”

Had I not mentioned them before? Just as well we read the book.

A few points about the tale.

1. It’s one of my Favourites.
2. It – probably did not happen here.
3. It would be great dramatised.

Of course, Sam loved it. Now I want to find the best ones for us to jump onto next: the round table, Merlin, the sword in the stone, Camelot, Kay and Morgan le Fey… and of course a few more of those interesting words!

El pointed me to a good telling of this tale which is also sometimes told about Gawain too.

And where to go then?

I like the Parsifal – Grail story, but don’t know a good children’s version of that. The Lancelot – Guinevere story should have one too…

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