Friday, April 2, 2010

Captain Horatio Hornblower

Captain Horatio Hornblower
© 1937 C.S. Forester
504 pages

Captain Picard: Just imagine what it was like. No engines, no computers... Just the wind...and the sea... and the stars to guide you.
Commander Riker: Bad food, brutal discipline... no women. (Star Trek: Generations)

I've been itching for a read involving adventure, so when in the course of reading an interview with Sir Patrick Stewart wherein Stewart recounted Gene Roddenberry giving him a set of books about the seafaring adventures of Horatio Hornblower of the Royal Navy in the hopes that Stewart would find Hornblower's character of use in maturing Jean-Luc Picard, my interest was piqued and I decided to give the books a try.

Captain Horatio Hornblower is a collection of three novellas following the service of the titular character in the first decade of the 19th century. Post-revolutionary France is now ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, who will soon attempt to turn all of Europe into his private domain. Great Britain stands nearly alone against his ambition. Lacking land forces on the scale of La Grande Armée , Britain must rely on its most powerful resource -- the Royal Navy. Beat to Quarters, known outside America as The Happy Return, begins with Captain Hornblower's arrival in South America to undertake a secret mission that may change the balance of power in Europe: plot twists abound.  In A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours, Hornblower and his men return to Europe to fight France directly. Although Hornblower serves as captains, the novellas are not entirely naval:  The Happy Return combines a sea story with political intrigue, while in Flying Colours Hornblower spends most of his time on land, save a daring river ride wherein he must flee those who would see him hang. I did not expected to be as gripped by Hornblower as I was: I hardly left the book while in the course of reading, as Forester constantly kept me thinking -- "What will the captain do now?"

Horatio Hornblower is certainty the star of the books, and in him Forester has created an interesting character. As a captain, Hornblower must maintain the respect and loyalty of his crew at all times. Though imperiled or frequently cast into difficult circumstances impossible to anticipate,  Hornblower must maintain a steely sense of calm and make decisions to face every crisis of command. This is especially evidence in The Happy Return, as Hornblower is forced to make possibly life- and career-ending decisions that will effect Europe's political scheme on his own, as he is separated from England by oceans that would take months to cross. Behind the facade of the perfect captain lies a flawed man who hides his blemishes as best he can, but who is haunted constantly by the idea that he isn't all he should be. Most endearing for me was his unrequited love for a certain nobleborn lady, which develops in the first novella and ripens throughout the latter two.

I have seldom been as enthralled as I have been in reading Captain Horatio Hornblower. I am presently engrossed in the eight-movie series about his early career, and will certainly be reading the rest of the series as I am able.

"What are we do?" he asked feebly.
"Do?" she replied. "We are lovers, and the world is ours. We do as we will." (p. 161, Beat to Quarters/The Happy Return)


  1. Interesting bit about Picard....

    I've got some historical fiction coming up (comparatively) soon which you might like...

  2. I shall look forward to it, then

    I don't know if I encountered the interview or Hornblower proper first....but the interview with Stewart cemented my desire to see what the books were like.


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