Saturday, April 17, 2010

Young Hornblower

Young Hornblower
© 1948, 1951, 1953 C.S. Forester
672 pages
(My library's copy has long lost its dustcover, but this would certainly be eye-catching...)

A few weeks ago I began reading and was immediately taken by the adventures of Captain Horatio Hornblower, an officer in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. I knew I would be reading further, and here I am. Young Hornblower collects three sets of stories set during Hornblower's early career, beginning with his induction into the Royal Navy and first assignment as a midshipman at the start of the French Revolution.  Midshipman Hornblower consists of ten standalone stories that mark Hornblower's service aboard the HMS Indefagtible, where his resourcefulness and audacity serve him, his captain, and the British empire well as it wars against 'red France', a nation that has dared to kill its king.  Hornblower rises steadily through the ranks, becoming his captain's protege and favorite prizemaster. Lieutnant Hornblower sees Hornblower transfer to the Renown, under the command of an increasingly paranoid and violently insane captain whose mental instability puts their mission at risk. Hornblower and his new friend Lieutnant Bush (his first officer in Captain Horatio Hornblower), along with the other senior officers, must find some way of restoring good order on the Renown or they are doomed. Hornblower and the Atropos, in an odd turn, is set ten years following Lieutnant Hornblower: Hornblower is not so young, nor inexperienced, for he is the captain of a ship sent to the Mediterranean on a secret mission.

Hornblower's stories are fast-paced adventure. Technical language abounds, but as general background: it can be blithly ignored in the same way viewers of Star Trek might ignore 'technobabble'. On occasions when naval mechanics influence the story, Hornblower's thoughts or his subordinates' words tell the reader what the consequences might be. Interestingly, Forester doesn't stick to the typical rise-climax-conclusion format of novels. The books' opening and ending sections may be largely unrelated to the conflict that most of the book addressed. Forester seems to find a good 'stopping place', and then ends the novel there. I don't consider this a fault of the book: indeed, the chapters that ended Lieutnant Hornblower seemed like 'extra content', content that you can enjoy but aren't necessarily recquired for the novel's plot. I shall be continuing this series.

A&E did a series of eight movies based on Midshipman Hornblower and Lieutnant Hornblower. The movies take liberties with the original source, but those liberties add to the novels rather than take away from them. They add whole subplots and allow the viewers to become familar with a set of characters rather than just one or two. You can find all of the movies on Youtube, or on Amazon here. I watched them all in a single weekend. Riveting, for me.

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