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April 21, 2009
May 17, 2002
April 24, 2009
C.S. Forrester's Hornblower stories are
tightly integrated on all levels:
puzzles of strategy and tactics
psychological depth They're about over-coming
self-doubt as much as they
are about clever feats of
The name: Hornblower
I often heard about the Hornblower series when
I was a kid, but I didn't consider reading it
until I was much older.
I think that the very name "Hornblower"
turned me off, it sounds really dorky,
completely inappropriate for a
But Forester clearly did this on
purpose. There isn't any reason to
expect a given name to be appropriate Unless you believe
to someone's character -- people grow into their
names (perhaps not such
So instead of a naval hero named Jack a ridiculous thought).
Cannon or some such, Forester selected
the ridiculous Horatio Hornblower.
Forrester also made it a point
to make that name completely and
totally inappropriate, in any
sense he could think of:
o Hornblower never plays
music, in fact he's
o There's no suggestion
of homosexuality in Of the British navy's trinity, there's just
Hornblower's character. one tiny hint of "sodomy": "Harrison was a
fine seaman, but with a weakness for using
o His men call him by his cane on well-rounded sterns."
nickname "Old Forrester was
Horny", but in the playing a game
first entry in the Though in the later about what he
series, he pointedly stories Hornblower does was allowed to
does not sleep with display a tendency to write about:
the female lead. fall in the sack with
random exotic babes. In additon to
o Hornblower never "blows (This might later characters
his own horn": he's not remind one of are named things
just "modest to a another like "Spendlove"
fault", he refuses to fictional and "Ramsbottom".
say anything about his captain...)
achievements, because he
genuinely doesn't Erin Horáková argures persuasively
believe they're worth that Kirk's reputation for promiscuity
all that much. is grossly exaggerated. (And as far
as Hornblower is concerned, I remember
the Russian Princess with the
fleas... any others?)
Hornblower is a
character who's [ref]
of his own
character is Bush (his first officer) points
completerly this out early on, saying
disconnected something like: "That man is the
from reality. best officer in the British navy
*and he doesn't know it*."
Because of this, attempts at
filming the Hornblower character
are doomed: How can you get
inside a character's thoughts far
enough to show that his obvious
achievements have no effect on
Roddenbery sold the Star Trek series
by calling it "Hornblower in space".
A ridiculous thought,
He had the idea that he was going to even without being
get Hornblower's complexity squeezed burdened with William
into the character of a Pike or a Shatner.
Rodenberry's approach was to
begin each segment with a
pensive "Captain's Log" They dropped this concept pretty
voice-over, and to close each quickly, and Shatner's smug,
segment with Kirk spinning swaggering Kirk character began
toward the camera, looking to evolve.
One of the the virtues of the Forester
stories is the near complete lack of
sentiment: Hornblower isolates himself,
he's completely without close friends.
Lieutenant Bush is one of his biggest
fans, but Hornblower can barely spare a
kind word for the man.
Nearly all adventure fiction written
after Star Trek is completely plagued
by trek-style sentimentality...
Patrick O'Brien makes a show of writing
the anti-Hornblower, but it's clear
he's just doing Kirk and Spock.
Forester writes a style that
we now find a little archaic:
Every young writer is
indoctrinated with the "show
don't tell" rule these days.
Forester occasionally just
tells you something directly In general, I think that "show
about Hornblower, making a don't tell" is oversold. E.g.
flat statement about his "War and Peace", among other things,
character. contains an extended rant on
Napoleon's extreme stupidity in
In the _Hornblower Companion_, the Moscow campaign. It hardly
Forester himself mentions this strikes me as a flaw of the book.
issue as the kind of thing that
he would agonize over while
writing a novel: should a point
about a character be put across
"editorially", or demonstrated Today, there's an
through speech or action? insistance that the
voice of the novel
never take on that
But what actually raises these books up to the level
of great literature is Hornblower's character. He's
extremely good at what he does, but refuses to
believe it. He's constantly plagued by self-doubt,
he's always looking over his shoulder, worrying about
how events will be interpreted back home by both the
admiralty and the British press (Hornblower's worries
about The Media strike me as an extremely modern
touch for some adventure fiction published in 1938).
His "cross-grainedness" adds a nice level of
complexity to these works. His mood swings and an
amazing talent for being unhappy will no doubt remind
you of other people you know (possibly yourself).
Something I'd wondered about: is there some
historical figure that Hornblower's character is
modeled on? And the answer from the _Hornblower Note: this contradicts
Companion_ is that Forester appears to have used the "self-esteem"
his own character as a model. Despite being a doctrine that's so
sucessful author, he was evidentally cursed with popular these days: One
the self-critical state of mind that he endows may be successful in
Hornblower with. spite of, perhaps
*because* of one's poor
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