Tuesday, October 4, 2011

War Horse (1982): Chapters 16-21 (The Last Chapters of the Book)

Before I conclude my summaries of War Horse, I'd like to show everyone the new trailer that was posted today:

This trailer is a huge improvement over the last one, in my opinion. It's more visceral and tragic.

But without further to do...

Chapter 16

As Joey walks around the battlefield, he is cheered on and beckoned by both sides. Eventually, a German in a gray uniform and a Welshman in a khaki uniform both advance towards Joey before regarding each other with silence for some moments. They decide to determine Joey's fate over a coin toss, and the Welshman wins. Proud that they have been able to resolve the matter peacefully, the Welshman remarks that if more people were like this, the war would be over faster. To which the German replies, "If we did it that way, then it would be our turn to win. And maybe your Lloyd George would not like that."

Chapter 17

Due to his wounded leg, Joey enters the Welsh army gravely ill. When he is greeted by a group of excited soldiers in a stable, a large, mustached sergeant tells them to mind their own business and get back to work. Then, when the sergeant orders one soldier to get Joey cleaned up for "Major Martin", to the point where "you could use him as a shaving mirror," the unseen soldier replies, "Yes, Sergeant" -- and Joey recognizes the voice. 

It is Albert. Although Albert begins talking to Joey about the horse he lost in the war, he does not seem to recognize Joey. Then Albert's friend David enters the scene and helps clean Joey up; he is all too familiar with Albert's horse stories. But when David takes a close look at Joey for himself, he realizes it may be him. Though Albert thinks it's a joke, David declares, "Berty... I'm not teasing, honest I'm not. Not now."

Once David describes Joey's features, Albert circles around Joey and looks into his eyes. "Joey?" To make sure it is really him, Albert walks to the gateway and whistles in his familiar owl whistle, somehow freeing the pain in Joey's leg for an instant. And Joey trots toward him and buries his nose in his shoulder.

"It's him, David," Albert said, putting his arms around my neck and hanging on to my mane. "It's my Joey. I've found him. He's come back to me just like I said he would."

"See?" said David wryly. "What did I tell you? See? Not often wrong, am I?"

"Not often," Albert said. "Not often, and not this time."

Chapter 18

Despite the constant monitoring of Albert, Major Martin and Sergeant "Thunder", Joey does not get better. He has bad forelegs and loses his appetite. Even the sight of Albert makes him flinch. Major Martin suspects that shrapnel wounds have affected Joey terminally and that nothing can be done for him. For it seems as though Joey has been stricken with tetanus, or "lockjaw".

Though the major and sergeant suggest Joey be euthanized, David reminds them that a horse is just important as any soldier in the cavalry. The sergeant orders David not to talk back to them, though the major knows he means well. But Albert and David vow to help Joey in any way they can, and their wish is granted.

To save Joey, they have to put his legs in a sling, keep in a whisper around him, make him a bed of straw, keep him in the dark and feed him only oatmeal and milk. As the days pass, Joe's pain spreads, but he is kept alive by Albert's presence. 

Finally, on a winter night, Joey's pain in his throat loosens, and he is able to neigh again, waking up Albert. "Was that you, Joey?"

The entire regiment is amazed, and soon Joey is walking again. The pain in his back is gone. 

"You've done it, Joey. You've done it. Everyone says the war's going to be over soon -- I know we've been saying that for a long time, but I feel it in my bones this time. It'll be finished before long, and then we'll both be going home, back to the farm. I can't wait to see the look on Father's face when I bring you back up the road. I just can't wait."

Chapter 19

Joey may be healed, but the war is not over yet. Albert and Major Martin go back into the battlefields with him, and he is used as the lead horse in the tandem team. David predicts that the war could be over by Christmas as long as the "Yankees" do a little more to help.

Albert likes to talk to Joey about his sweetheart up in the village, Maisie Brown, who "bakes bread like you've never tasted before," and who has "eyes as blue as cornflowers, hair as  gold as ripe corn, and her skin smells like honeysuckle -- except when she first comes out of the dairy. I keep away from her then." He says that although Maisie Brown cried for Albert when he volunteered to go to war, she was the only one who believed he was right to want to go find Joey.

They receive news one evening that David has been killed by a stray shell. According to Albert, David was once a manager of a fruit cart in London, outside Covent Garden. "There's just you and me left now, Joey," mourns Albert, "and I tell you we're going to get home, both of us.* I'm going to ring that tenor bell again in the church, I'm going to eat my Maisie's bread and pastries, and I'm going to ride you down by the river again. David always said he was somehow sure that I'd get home, and he was right. I'm going to make him right."

There is not much celebration when the war finally does end. People seem more relieved than overjoyed that it is over. Albert still appears to be unhappy over David's death. Major Martin announces that everyone might be home by Christmas, but Sergeant Thunder asks whether the horses will go home on the same boat as them. To which the major replies, "No, Sergeant... I'm afraid the horses won't be coming with us at all." Instead, the horses will stay in France. Because most of the horses are sick and can't really be looked after, they are to be sold at a courtyard auction, which can only mean one thing: they will be sold off to butchers and chopped up into meat.

Albert's voice rang out across the yard. "What, all of them, sir? Every one of them? Even Joey that we brought back from the dead? Even him?"

Major Martin said nothing, but turned on his heel and walked away.

Chapter 20

Sergeant Thunder rallies up a conspiracy amongst his fellow soldiers to raise money to save Joey for Albert. Coins are collected in a small tin box. The sergeant reveals that this is actually the major's idea, but cautions the soldiers not to speak of it to anyone. Allegedly, the major has even "given us every penny of his pay that he had saved up -- every penny."

Albert realizes he can no longer promise Joey that he'll save him from certain death. He thinks only God can help them now. "I remember old Miss Wirtle telling me once in Sunday school back home: 'God helps those that helps themselves,'" Albert remembers. "Mean old devil she was, but she knew her scriptures well enough." The next day, Albert leads Joey into the courtyard auction. He is the last horse to be brought out.

When the price on Joey's head raises, the only two people left bidding are Sergeant Thunder and"a thin, wiry little man with weasel eyes who wore on his face a smile so full of greed and evil that I could hardly bear to look at him." The bid eventually rises to twenty-seven pounds, at which the sergeant realizes he cannot pay for Joey. The greedy man -- Monsieur Cirac, a butcher from Cambrai -- has been buying horses all morning, and it seems as though he will have Joey, too.

Then, "a white-haired old man leaning heavily on his stick", whom Joey recognizes after some hesitation, bids twenty-eight pounds. Declaring that Joey is "my Emilie's horse", the man declares he will bid 100 pounds if he needs to.

No one said a word. The butcher from Cambrai shook his head and turned away. Even the auctioneer had been stunned into silence, and there was some delay before he brought his hammer down on the table and I was sold.

Chapter 21

Although the major and the sergeant are speaking privately to the old Frenchman, Albert is not convinced that Joey is falling into a safe pair of hands. His friends try to console him, insisting that it could have been worse, but he is uncertain. According to the old man, Joey would stay peacefully on his farm and would never have to work again.

When they all come over, Albert thanks the major for at least trying to secure Joey's sale. The major and the sergeant act like they have no idea what he's talking about, the sergeant condescendingly remarking Albert might only be saying such a thing because farmboys are "raised on cider instead of milk." Puzzled by their levity, Albert asks what the old man means by saying Joey is "Emilie's horse." To which the major turns to the old man: "Maybe you would like to tell him yourself, monsieur?"

Emilie's grandfather looks stern at first, but then smiles, telling Albert he realizes that they both have a lot in common, despite having different nationalities. He recognizes that Albert must have been the one who trained Joey to be a farm horse. Then, he tells Albert the story of how Joey came to live with him and Emilie on their farm, revealing that after Joey and Topthorn were taken away, Emilie "lost the will to live" and "faded away and died last year" at the age of 15. But she had made her grandfather promise that he would find the horses somehow and take care of them. Although he never found Topthorn, he has now found Joey.

Referring to Albert as a "Tommy" (slang for a Brit?), Emilie's grandfather then says that he believes it was noble of the major and the sergeant to try to buy Joey for Albert, and that he recognizes how much Albert loves Joey. He doesn't believe that, being an old man, he could take care of him very well, and he believes Emilie would have liked that and "would want me to do what I will do now."

He proposes to sell Joey to Albert. Sell? Albert has very little money. But Emilie's grandfather chuckles, "You do not understand, my friend... you do not understand at all. I will sell you this horse for one English penny, and for a solemn promose -- that you will always love this horse as much as my Emilie did and that you will care for him until the end of his days. And more than this, I want you to tell everyone about my Emilie... that way she will live forever, and that is what I want. Is it a bargain between us?"

At first, Albert is silent. He holds out his hand, but the old man instead puts his hands on Albert's shoulders and kisses him on both cheeks. "Thank you," he says. He then says to Joey, "Goodbye, my friend," touches him lightly on the nose with his lips, and adds, "From Emilie." Before leaving, he cracks a joke about how English people are "meaner" than the French -- because the Sergeant has not yet paid him his English penny. The sergeant produces a penny and gives it to Albert, and when Albert runs over and hands it to Emilie's grandfather, he replies, "I shall treasure it... I shall treasure it always."

And so I came home from the war that Christmastime with my Albert riding me up into the village, and there to greet us was the silver band from the village and the rapturous pealing of the church bells. Both of us were received like conquering heroes, but we both knew that the real heroes had not come home, that they were lying out in France alongside Captain Nichols, Topthorn, Friedrich, David, and little Emilie.

My Albert married his Maisie Brown as he said he would. But I think she never took to me, nor I to her for that matter. Perhaps it was a feeling of mutual jealously. I went back to my work on the land with dear old Zoey, who seemed ageless and tireless, and Albert took over the farm again and went back to ringing his tenor bell. He talked to me of many things after that, of his aging father who doted on me now almost as much as on his own grandchildren, and of the vagaries of the weather and the markets, and of course about Maisie, whose crusty bread was every bit as good as he said. But try as I might, I never got to eat any of her pastries, and do you know, she never even offered me one.


  1. Adam:

    I've enjoyed reading your summary of "War Horse." I was planning on seeing the movie upon release, but now you've peaked my interest even more.

  2. Thanks, Tom. What I really want to do now is see the play; I hear the movie is actually more based on the play than the book. Unfortunately, the play isn't coming to St. Louis stages... at least, not in time for the movie's release. But that's okay. Perhaps it's better if we don't know too much about Spielberg's film before going in.


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