Glyn Harper – Roly, the ANZAC Donkey


Roly, the ANZAC Donkey by Glyn Harper,
illustrated by Jenny Cooper.
Auckland: Publisher: Penguin NZ, Imprint: Picture Puffin.
RRP: $19.99.
Pb, pp32,
ISBN-13: 9780143506638,
ISBN-10: 0143506633

Reviewed by Cassandra Fusco.


In the eleventh-century someone wrote, The Song of Roland, a romanticised, embellished account of war and a warrior, equipped with an unbreakable sword.[1]

In the 21st century George Martin’s epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire[2] were dramatized as A Game of Thrones. Featuring several Roland types, power plays and violence, the series was distributed internationally and attracted numerous awards.

More recently still, Glyn Harper[3] has written about another Roland and another war – through the eyes of a donkey:


Hello. My name is Roly. I’m a donkey. Let me tell you about the time during the First World War when I worked at a place called Gallipoli. I met a man there from New Zealand who was very special. He and I worked as a team to help rescue soldiers who had been hurt in battle.

           Roly, the ANZAC Donkey[4] describes the world around him, the rescue tasks he and a soldier perform and how their teamwork is halted. This non- judgemental perspective, together with the author’s use of evocative spatio-visual metaphors, is effective and affecting, allowing the difference between the characters’ and the readers’ comprehension of the ravages of war to be generously quarried. (Is there is any understanding of war?)

Ultimately, this small book – a confluence of language, ideology, time, space and exquisite, well-placed illustrations – makes for a large book, kindred to Le Quesnoy (2012) and Jim’s Letters (2014) by the same author and illustrator.[5]

Question – can Roly compete with the other war ‘songs’ on offer? Let’s hope so.

[1]Roland even gets a mention in Dante’s Divine Comedy as one who fought for the faith.
[2] Martin’s inspirations included the Wars of the Roses and the French historical novels, The Accursed Kings [Les Rois maudits] (1955-60), by Maurice Druon.
[3] Glyn Harper is Professor of War Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North, Aotearoa New Zealand.
[4] Based on real people and events, this is a story about Richard Alexander Henderson (a soldier in the New Zealand Medical Corps), the donkey he finds, befriends and works with in Gallipoli and the ache of leaving these hardworking animals behind.
[5] Le Quesnoy (2012) ISBN-13:9780143504566 and Jim’s Letters (2014) ISBN-13:9780143505907 are based on historical documents and narrated primarily through the eyes of children. The first concerns the liberation of the medieval town of Le Quesnoy (north east France) from occupying German forces by New Zealand soldiers in 1918. The second, through letters, traces the lives of two brothers, one on a NZ farm and the other in war-torn Egypt and Gallipoli.

Cassandra Fusco is the editor the Reviews sections of takahē. She is also the NZ editor for three international arts journals: Craft Arts International (Sydney), Asian Art News (HK) and World Sculpture News (HK).

T85Cover small

First published
takahē 85
December 2015