Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower - C. S. Forester

 Well for my 50th post I have the first chronological novel in the Hornblower series. I didn't want to start this series until I had read all the Bond novels, but since someone else has borrowed the next few novels I need I thought I'd take a look at this very famous character. I have been wanting to read Hornblower for years especially after reading that Winston Churchill himself was a huge fan.

 Horatio Hornblower is a very famous character, but there is a problem with this novel as it isn't exactly the first novel Forester wrote. In fact it is the sixth as he wrote The Happy Return first in 1938, and then 6 subsequent novels. The novels proved so popular that Forester then wrote Mr. Midship Hornblower which saw the start of Hornblower's career as a sick 17 year old in 1948. The problem with this novel is that even though it is chronological it isn't a novel per se. It is in fact 10 short stories that are not inter-connected in anyway. I found this frustrating as I thought that it was the first novel in a series when in fact it technically isn't. Possible in hindsight it is better to read the series in the order Forester wrote them.

 Bernard Cornwell done the same thing with his Sharpe's novels. Cornwell gained the inspiration for Richard Sharpe from Forester's Hornblower, and even after one Hornblower book there is very little difference between the two series in my opinion. Cornwell starts Sharpe off in Sharpe's Rifles and finished with Sharpe's Devil. Then, like Forester, wrote Sharpe's Tiger which went into Sharpe's pre-Spain career in India. If you have read the Sharpe's novels chronologically you'll find a certain amount of dis-jointedness due this order. I get the feeling that the Hornblower novels may suffer from the same thing.

 To be honest, once I realised this was a novel out of its actual chronological order of publication I found it difficult to read, and didn't enjoy it as I might have otherwise done. In hindsight if I knew then what I do now
I would have read the first published novel and the others in that order. For me reading this as a chronological order novel is a waste of time and probably only Hornblower purists and aficianados will enjoy it.

 The background to the Hornblower novels is interesting because Forester initially was writing a script for a pirate movie in Hollywood. But Errol Flynn's Captain Blood came out before he finished his script, and with too many parallels between Flynn's movie and his script he shelved it. But he then adapted it to what became the Hornblower novels. He wrote most of the novels in America after the War in California and their influence was even felt in Star Trek which was initially pitched as 'Hornblower in space'. Certainly they are enduringly popular, and have influenced any number of imitators since. As a character his popularity and fame is only surpassed by that of  Sherlock Holmes. Bernard Cornwell even states the series is the greatest military history fiction ever written. I can't comment on that until I have read the other novels!

 Mr. Midship Hornblower for me was a disappointment, only because it isn't a novel being 10 short stories in novelised form. I think if you intend to read this series you are better off reading them in the order they were written, and not in the subsequent chronological order. Certainly influential but overall a bit simplistically written. If you have read Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's novels then in all intents and purposes I feel that Forester's Hornblower novels are very much in the same category quality wise.

 The influence of Hornblower cannot be stressed enough and the novels have been adapted to film and television. Click here for more about this character and his legacy:

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