Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Guns Of Navarone - Alastair MacLean

 I watched the movie adaptation of this novel several nights ago for the first time in thirty odd years. It would have to be about as long as that since I last read the novel as well. I wanted to read the novel first before watching the movie but alas wasn't able to. I would have preferred to have done so because with any movie adaptation from a novel there are always changes and fiddling, or if not complete ridiculing of the original source, ( read and then watch I am Legend as a good example ).

 I read the novel over two nights and fortunately I found the movie a fairly faithful adaptation even though it has added in extra scenes for dramatic effect. The movie was critically acclaimed in 1961 and even though extremely dated now with its special effects still a worthy watch. It was written in 1957 and was MacLean's second novel after his outstanding debut with HMS Ulysses, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in naval warfare. For me it is one of the greatest naval novels ever written, ( but not quite in the league of The Boat, reviewed here several months back ).

 Funnily enough this novel was written at the same time as Ian Fleming was writing his James Bond novels. And yet whereas Fleming's novels have clearly dated, MacLean's novel has stood the test of time much better. MacLean was a far superior author than Fleming as is seen by his use of quite a number of unusual, even obscure, words in the narrative. But he has still written a novel that is accessible to all which hasn't alienated any reader of better or lesser accomplishments. As novels they are easy reading but with enough genuine literature usage to satisfy a more discerning reader.

 Of course Maclean went on to a stellar writing career and is one of the 20th Centuries greatest novelists. He died in 1988 but I remember his novels well and have read many of them. It is unfortunate that his novels seem to be out of print as they are still worth while reads and it is a shame a more modern, younger generation don't know who Alastair Maclean was. The Guns of Navarone is the first of his novels I have read since Puppet on a Chain in the early 1990's, which shows how his books have disappeared somewhat. Even my local library only has this novel of his albeit in an omnibus form with Force 10 From Navarone.

 Actually Force 10 From Navarone was the only sequel to a novel MacLean wrote, which was due to the success of the film. It also was adapted to film but it didn't have any of the original cast and flopped. This novel was also adapted to radio in 1997 into a two hour radio programme. Not bad for a book that was 40 years old at the time and I think it shows the enduring fame of the novel.

 I won't go into the differences in the film and book suffice to say the movie has only one real major change outside of adding parts not in the novel. The traitor in the book is a Navaronian whereas in the movie it is female Navaronian. The book has no female characters what so ever but the movie did so as to avoid alienating female viewers. Bums on seats meant such changes from the book for necessities sake. But really that is the only startling change. This traitor is one of McLean's trademarks which he used to great effect in Where Eagles Dare which is a very complex novel with many cunning twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. The film adaptation is excellent and has stood the test of time better than Navarone's has.

 The traitor in this novel wasn't easy to spot and even though I knew there was one. When he was revealed I was miles from the mark and nodded my head in acknowledgement of McLean's deviousness! The only part of the whole novel I actually remembered reading all those years ago was the Stuka attack, everything else was completely forgotten. Possibly the funniest thing about the whole novel is that the destruction of the guns happens in only the last few paragraphs!!! The movie stretches out the wiring of the explosives and the ensuing destruction, but the in the novel that scene is only a few pages long. Most of the novel is how the saboteurs got onto Navarone and then to the fortress. But overall the novel moves along at a brisk pace and I never felt impatient to get to the gun's destruction.

 The novel is also noticeably devoid of swearing! Bastard is the strongest word and even the graphicness of the violence is scaled down by today's standards. Luckily it avoids the feeling of quaintness as MacLean was a fine writer and this novel  feels like it could have been written in the last decade or so. I really enjoyed this novel and without question, for me personally, it is one of the novels from boyhood that fostered my life long interest in military history. The novel is pure historical nonsense but MacLean states so at the start so any inaccuracies can be overlooked and the novel enjoyed as piece of adventure and escapism. The impact of this novel can't be overlooked and Sam Llewellyn has written two more Navarone novels carrying on the tradition MacLean started.

 Still a fine novel and now 64 years old! For me a nostalgic read which has stood the test of time far better than its film adaptation. Alastair MacLean was a fine novelist and all his works are worth reading if you get the opportunity to do so.

Click here for my review on the film:

And click here for my review on Where Eagles Dare:



  1. The second book you reviewed that I actually got to read, great review and it was a damn good read.

  2. Thanks..it is certainly a good read as MacLean was certainly a fine author and it still shows.