However, the emotional attachment of the audience to the horses can go only so far in a story that unflinchingly recounts the horrors of World War I. As magnificent as Joey might loom in the imagination, the human casualties must inevitably outweigh the fate of Joey and his fellow animals in this war to end all wars. In the play, a horse-loving soldier is told to save his pity and love for his dying comrades, not the horses. After which the soldier says to his steed, "You are a magnificent horse ... [but] I'm afraid magnificence isn't worth a damn here!"
"You look at a horse caught in barbed wire and shrieking and you share in the grief with the person sitting next to you in the audience," says author Morpurgo. "And you think, if that were a man crying out, as it should be.... After all, millions of men went through the most appalling suffering in this war. Ten million men died. Eight million horses.
"But I think somehow we can put our grief into these innocent creatures and come to an understanding of what war is, the awful stupidity, pointlessness and waste of it all," Morpurgo says.