An Evening with Michael Morpurgo, Author of War Horse

Michael Morpugo is the teacher that changes your life. If you were lucky enough to have him, then he was the type of teacher who left his indelible mark on you.

We got to see some of that last night as we spent the evening with him and musician John Tams, who introduced and ended the show with one of the haunting anthems culled from the past and integrated into the stage production that is based on Morpugo’s now classic novel, War Horse.

Settling into the intimate atmosphere of the Panasonic Theater, Michael and John made themselves to home and introduced us to Joey’s world with the Author’s Note. Morpugo, unlike some authors, has a speaking voice for story-telling and you couldn’t help but ease to the edge of your seat to listen to all he wanted to share with you.

Instead of spending the evening reading selections, they opened the floor to questions about Michael himself, and of course the novel, play and upcoming film of War Horse. It was in this forum that he truly shines. He told tales of engaging his sixth year students by pointing his fingers at them and asking them questions as well as (something he did with the audience, and the children in attendance as well) reading to them at the end of each school day, until he discovered he didn’t like the story he was reading them, and then with his wife’s encouragement to tell his own stories, because he was an ‘excellent liar.’

He told stories of letters he gets from people, recalling their grandfathers’ experiences in the first world war, and the loss of their horses. For each man that died in the first world war, a horse died as well, those numbers are huge, and boggle the mind, for both man and beast. Sadly, though after the war, the men who survived got to come home, but the horses were not so lucky, and many of them were sold to French butchers for meat.

Tales like this stunned the audience, but Michael, quickly and smoothly, made sure that the evening’s events were not morose, and would share funny tales of the tiny village he lives in (population 80), and field questions from adorable children.

The appeal of his work, and War Horse in particular is incredible! Especially as it was originally published in 1982, and languished in relative obscurity for 25 years, until the stage play was created, and then Joey’s world just took off, and got the love and respect it finally deserves. The audience shared stories from children who wanted to know how long it took him to write his books, to retired librarians who shared stories of their families trials and losses through the war, and fathers who were eternally grateful for getting their sons to read.

For those of us in attendance, we all received a signed copy of War Horse, which I am already halfway through, and am enjoying immensely, and just continues to build up my desire to see the movie next week, and the play when it opens in February.

It was a wonderful evening filled with laughs,tears and song, both he and John made the audience feel part of the event instead of just observers, which is exactly how he writes.

I’ll leave off with something he said that struck me, “It takes two minds. A book is only an object until it has a reader.” And this world needs more of them.

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