Study Guide

War Horse Friendship

By Michael Morpurgo


Chapter 5
Captain Nicholls

"Come to think if it, we have a lot in common, you and I." (5.5)

While on leave, Captain Nicholls tells the ladies what he has in common with a horse. But seriously, folks, out of all the soldiers Joey could have been paired with, Nicholls is the best. Strong but sensitive—he's a perfect match for Joey.

[Topthorn] was the first horse I had ever come across that I felt could challenge me for strength, but there was also a kindness in his eye that held no threat for me. (5.18)

Where Zoey was old and kind, Topthorn is young, vigorous, and strong. Horses love to work, so it's only natural that Joey would be attracted to some friendly competition.

Chapter 6

[Captain Nicholls] was always light on me. And there was always some warm word of encouragement or gratitude after a long ride. (6.7)

Nicholls doesn't see Joey as property or a tool, but as a friend. Even though he has to use him to ride, Nicholls still thanks Joey for his service. Some captains don't even do that to their men.

Topthorn, I noticed, always shook his head in the water before he started to drink so that alongside him I was showered all over my face and neck with cooling water. (6.4)

This is a little maneuver Topthorn does to show how special Joey is to him. Remind you of a secret handshake or something that you have with your friends?

My comfort came from Topthorn, who [...] would lean his great head over the stall and let me rest on his neck. (6.2)

Horses can be imposing creatures sometimes. But to their friends, both human and horse, they can be tender and gentle. Like people, they have all sorts of sides to their personality.

Chapter 11

She sat astride me not as my mistress but rather as a friend. (11.2)

Is Emilie and Joey's bond more meaningful for Joey or for Emilie?

Chapter 12

[The Haflingers] looked up to us for support and friendship, and we gave both willingly. (12.9)

Other horses aren't the only ones who look to Joey and Topthorn for support and friendship. Joey and Topthorn provide support—both physical and emotional—to their human friends as well. Can you think of any specific examples?

Chapter 13

There seemed to be an empathy between [Topthorn and Friedrich], that of one soldier to another. (13.8)

Have you ever looked a pug square in the face and thought, "Hmm, he's a curmudgeon just like me"? Well, humans and animals often become friends because they see themselves in each other. Friedrich strongly identifies with Topthorn; both are the strong silent type, being forced to a job that they don't really want to do.

Chapter 15

I knew that once I left [Topthorn] I would be alone in the world again, that I would no longer have his strength and support beside me. So I stayed with him and waited. (15.1)

When Topthorn dies, Joey experiences the same intense grief that a human might feel over the death of their own best friend on the battlefield. The bonds of friendship make the horses easy to empathize with, don't you think?

Next to me, old Zoey leaned over her door to try to touch me, but our noses could not quite meet.

Zoey is Joey's first friend, but they're not exactly BFFs. What is it about Zoey and Joey that make them less compatible than, say, Joey and Topthorn?