April 21, 2009
                                             May   17, 2002
                                             April 24, 2009

   C.S. Forrester's Hornblower stories are
   tightly integrated on all levels:

          historical detail
          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
fictional hero.

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
   completely tone-deaf.

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."
   the inevitable
   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]
inner assessment
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
   his self-image?

   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
                                         "editorial" voice.

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