Monday, 11 June 2012

War Horse

I haven't seen the film but I did read the book last week.

It must be some years since I have read a children's book, and although I  enjoyed reading to my daughters when they were growing up, it must be 50 years or so since I read one for myself!

War Horse is a touching story, set during the Great War. I found it evenly balanced in its view of the Tommy and German soldier-so different from the war stories of my youth when all Germans were evil and the Tommies were all saintly brave.

The book closes with a simple and I suspect commonly held view of death and memory. A Belgian farmer whose grand-daughter had greatly loved Joey (the War Horse) stepped forward after the War, when the War Office had insisted  selling all redundant horses, and bought Joey. Then in an act of sweet compassion, he virtually gave (he only asked for an English penny)  the horse  to Albert,  who had cared for Joey at the beginning of the book.  He was a young farm hand from England who had travelled all the way to the trenches to track down Joey, and rather miraculously found him.

The old farmer had bought Joey for his grand-daughter Emilie. She had cared for Joey during the German occupation, but had lost touch after Joey was requisitioned away. Sadly Emilie had died, and the old farmer, bought Joey in her memory.
'I will sell this horse to you (Albert) for one English penny and for a solemn promise-that you will always love this horse as much as my Emilie did, and care for him until the end of his days. And more than this, I want you to tell everyone about my Emilie, and about how she looked after your Joey, and the great black horse when they came to live with us. You see my friend, I want my Emilie to live on in people's hearts. I shall die soon,  in a few years no more, and then no-one will remember my Emilie as she was. I have no other family alive to remember her. She will be just a name on a gravestone that no-one will read. So I want you to tell your friends at home about my Emilie. Otherwise it will be as if she'd never even lived. Will you do this for me? That way she will live for ever. And that is what I want. Is that a bargain between us?'
I guess that encapsulates many peoples view of  'living on after death'. Sadly the reality is that broken down and neglected grave-stones, and family tree hunting-with all their surprises, prove that such 'living on for ever' is an illusion.

The Christian hope of 'life after life after death' (Tom Wright's phrase), is so much more solid. As dear old John Newton would say,
Solid joys and lasting treasures, none but Zion's children known'

When you get a minute, take a listen to this exhilarating talk on resurrection by Professor Tom Wright.
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