Toro! Toro! by Michael Morpurgo tells the tale of a young boy who bonds with a bullfighting bull in Spain after he helps raise the calf when its mother dies in birth. The truth about bullfights is hidden from him until he goes one day to watch a bullfight. Afterwards, the boy named Antonito is determined to free his bull named Paco.
One day Antonito decides the best way to free the bulls is to let all 50 of them go free. He knows then that since bulls are herd animals, Paco will follow his mates into the mountains. He gets up one morning early and does just that. However, on this day, his village, Sauceda, is bombed, caught in the crosshairs of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. His whole family is killed while he was away. All he has left is a horse and his bull. However, Paco escapes in his rage to not be left behind by Antonito and disappears.
Antonito is left to wander the countryside, not trusting any adults. His uncle, a freedom fighter against Franco, finds him and cares for him. Eventually, he is reunited with his sister who survived the bombing as well. She survived because she was out looking for Antonito on that fateful day.
While on the run, they hear stories of a bull called The Black Phantom that chases away the Guardia Civil. Antonio is sure this is his bull, Paco. Antonito and his sister are sent away to live with their uncle’s mother. Their uncle is never heard from again.
Later in life, Antonito has a job cutting cork in the forests of Maracha. Always longing to see his bull once more, he searches for him every day. One night he awakens after dreaming of his bull to find the grass flattened beside him, the ground still warm, and hoof prints. He knew Paco had been with him.
Antonito says, “men and women have a capacity for kindness as great if not greater than their capacity for evil.”
Good, quick read. Sad at times as a bullfight is described and I for one hate bullfights. When I lived in Mexico and Spain, I refused to go and see one, not wanting to support it. Sad when his family dies.
Paco harbors guilt at what he had done: letting go of all his father’s prized bulls. Yet, he is seven and this is all he knows.
The love, care, and compassion shown by the boy to his pet Paco is the heart of this story. I love this story because of the way it plays out. I love it when God uses seemingly bad things for good. Because Antonito was releasing the bulls, he was saved. Otherwise, he would have been killed along with his family. Because Antonito was releasing the bulls, his sister was saved, sent by her parents to go and find Antonito that fateful morning.
The love for an animal trumps right and wrong and in the end is what saves the boy and his sister. Animals hold such precious places in our hearts that a lot of us are willing to do anything it takes to save them. God is the one who placed that love for animals in us when He told us to care for all of his animals. God is the one who prompted the boy to save the bull on that day–which ultimately saved his life and that of his sister. Albeit the boy felt guilt, it was God’s will, which is often not understood.
Antonito is telling the story to his grandson. I bet he is glad that he did release Paco as he is alive today and able to hug his grandson.