Analytical Essay: War Horse
Heroic qualities can be shown in many ways, and in the unlikeliest of places
Beatrice Rose, Launceston Campus
Heroic qualities can be shown in many ways, and in the unlikeliest of places. A bold, beautiful and true statement that intertwines itself, and is very well represented throughout both the film and the novel, War Horse. The film definitely has the lead in this statement, it’s told as if it’s from the sky, the sun, clouds, the rain, and it overlooks the whole war, from both sides, good and evil. Whereas the novel is told from Joey’s perspective, and how he interprets humans actions and emotions. It tends to bend toward the heroes in Joey’s eyes, whereas in the film, there are those, that may not be in Joey’s favour but they are heroes in their people’s eyes. There are many aspects of heroism in both novel and film. Albert enlists for Joey, he wants to find him and bring him home. There are two young German boys who run from war to keep their mothers promise, this leads Joey to dear little Emilie. A British and a German soldier come together in a moment of truce for Joey. There are German men and women who go to the farms collecting food and provisions for their soldiers in battle. These are all aspects of heroism, no matter which side they are on, they are seen as heroes by their people and their country.
Heroism is shown throughout both book and film in many different aspects. The most obvious, when Joey is enlisted, and Albert, when he is of age does likewise and does everything he can to find Joey and keep him safe. The film definitely has more of a realistic touch to it. Albert enlists as an infantry soldier, where it shows him making his way through the terror and violence of war. He encourages his fellow soldiers, he tells them to stay strong. As he makes his way across no-mans-land with his own people falling down around him, he gives the wounded words of courage and helps them to a safer place. This is all part of his journey to find Joey, and to also serve his country which he did very well. Whereas the novel, Albert enlists as a veterinary officer, in the hope of one day finding Joey. He doesn’t go onto the front lines at all. Because the novel is told by Joey, it doesn’t tell about Albert’s journey through the war, until the end, where Albert nurses Joey back to health. Although these 2 scenes are shown in quite different ways, they both display both Albert and Joey’s Heroism, chivalry, courage and loyalty. They both believe that one day they will be together again.
War Horse novel: Chapter 4 pg. 28 “Joey is my horse. He’s my horse and he always will be, no matter who buys him. I can’t stop my father from selling him, but if Joey goes with you, I go. I want to join up and stay with him.”
He was trying to smile but could not. “I’ll find you again you old silly. Wherever you are, I’ll find you, Joey. Take good care of him, please, sir, till I find him again. There’s not another horse like him, not in the whole world – you’ll find that out. Say you promise?
Although there are quite a few differences there are also the similarities. Albert and Joey are separated in the same manner, both in novel and film. Ted Narracot takes Joey to be enlisted into the army, without telling Albert. By the time Albert arrives they may never see each other again. This shows selfishness on Ted’s behalf, that he did not tell Albert. But overall the film has more complexity and brings the audience in to be more involved, and it expresses both Albert and Joey’s heroism.
Now looking at the German side. In the film two young German boys, aged 14 and 18, flee from war, taking Joey with them. This displays an act of cowardice, but they did this because they made a promise to their mother that they would both get home safe at the end of the war. This definitely shows loyalty to their family but dishonesty to their country, this becomes almost selfish. There is something good that comes out of it all though. This incident leads Joey to little Emilie who cares for him as if he were hers. This brings out a little hero, from a small unexpecting French farm girl. The novel is quite different here. The two German boys do not exist at all, although Emilie does come to look after Joey, it just all happens in a different way. The German soldiers bring Joey to the farm where they will pick him up later, when he’s needed, and this is where little Emilie finds Joey.
War Horse novel: Chapter 10, pg. 74 “Topthorn and I were by now seasoned campaigners, and it may well have been that that drove us on out through the roar of shellfire back towards the trenches each morning, but there was more to it than that. For us it was the hope that we would be back in the evening in our stable and that little Emilie would be there to comfort and love us.”
The film in this scene is the more preferred, it adds more depth and realism to the storyline, it gives some more youth, after Joey being centred more around the higher ranking soldiers and older men, whereas the novel it gets a bit boring, nothing much happens, it doesn’t really differ much between scenes and chapters. The film brings out more personality within each character, most audiences would find the film more attracting, and favour it over the novel.
A scene that is well renowned in both book and film is a German soldier and a British soldier come together in no-mans-land in a moment of truce for Joey. Here they flip a coin to determine who takes him, they help each other untangle Joey from the barbed wire. They exchange names and a handshake. These are two very brave, heroic and courageous men, who have been fighting for a few years and come together as friends for Joey. There really aren’t many differences in this scene in both novel and film. The film brings the scene alive, the accents of the men and also the friendliness in both their voices is enough to select film over novel. The novel, although it does describe this scene, doesn’t really capture the true spirit of the moment like the film does. There is of course the blaringly obvious similarities. These two very brave soldiers come together in the same way in both film and novel, the scene plays out the same way, and they are both in good humour and only doing it for Joey, to help save his life. During the two soldiers’ brief discussion, they realize they are very much alike and that the war might be needless if two people like them could just sit down and talk it out. The English soldier wins the coin toss for Joey and takes him back to camp. So all in all the novel and film are sitting about equal, the heroic and chivalrous qualities are both shown the same way, but the film captures the moment just that little bit more, with the voices, actions and emotions.
War Horse novel: Chapter 16 pg. 118-119″You choose the side you want, ‘head or tail’, I think you say. I will show the coin to everyone on both sides and everyone will know that whichever side wins the horse it is only by chance. Then no one loses any pride, yes? And everyone will be happy.”
“I think if they would let you and me have an hour or two out here together, we could sort out this whole wretched mess. There would be no more weeping widows and crying children in my valley and no more in yours. If worse came to worst, we could decide it all on the flip of a coin, couldn’t we?”

Heroic qualities aren’t always noticed when looking at the antagonist, in this case, the Germans. They are the ‘enemies’ so never really given much of a chance in novels and films. In the film German soldiers come with civilians both men and women to Emilie and her grandfather’s farm to gather up fruit and vegetables and any other supplies that they need on the front line. These people are selfish in the way that they take what’s not their own, but really they are doing it for their side. Those German soldiers on the front line are exactly the same as those on the British, they’re fighting for their country, and will be disgraced and looked down upon if they do not fight for their country. This is where the heroic qualities come to light. They may not be doing it the right way, but they’re doing everything they can. When looking at the film, some of the Germans feel bad for taking what’s not rightfully theirs but they’re staying loyal to their country.
War Horse novel: Chapter 11 pg. 84, “By dull light the artillery troop was drawn up in the yard and ready to move. There was a loud incessant knocking on the farmhouse door, and we saw Emilie and her grandfather come out into the yard still dressed in their nightclothes. “Your horses, monsieur,” the bespectacled officer announced baldly. I shall be taking your horses with us. I have one team with only four horses, and I need two more. They look fine strong animals, and they will learn quickly. We will be taking them with us.”
This scene is not displayed in the novel, instead another artillery unit come to the farm to take joey away, where he is forced to pull heavy guns to the ridge and then do it all again. Joey loses one of his dearest friends in this scene, Topthorn, who stayed with Joey from the beginning of his enlistment. The film is obviously the preferred option in this scene, it brings more interest, and different personalities and varying selfish but heroic qualities in human nature.
Heroic qualities can be shown in many ways, and in the unlikeliest of places. When considering the above points has been proven correct. Throughout the book many different qualities have been shown, the main one, heroism, but there was courage, chivalry, selfishness, loyalty, cowardice, just to name a few. From when Albert went to find Joey after his father had enlisted him, the film definitely dominated in this scene. In the film two young German boys run from war to keep their mothers promise, leading Joey to little Emilie. When a German and British soldier come together in a moment of truce for Joey, this is displayed very well in bother novel and film, but the film has captured the moment better with the emotions and actions. And lastly the Germans come to take food and supplies to their soldiers on the front line, this is shown in the film but not so much in the novel. Overall the film definitely has the lead out of the two. It adds more depth, interest, leaves the imagination satisfied with what’s been created from the original novel. It has been done very well, and has now proven to be even better than the already world-famous novel War Horse. It is a beautiful and touching story that anyone can watch or read and be perfectly satisfied when finished, and love it so much you’ll read it or watch it a second or even third time.

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– Quotes from War Horse novel


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