The Horatio Hornblower tales
by C.S. Forester
Cecil Scott Forester's writings are mainly fiction based on military (especially naval) history, which he delivered to the minds and hearts of more readers than any other writer in that area. Besides the celebrated novels and short stories about Mr. Horatio Hornblower of the British Navy at the time of the Napoleonic wars, Forester also wrote a biography of the Empress Josephine, a novel called The Captain from Connecticut
about an American naval officer in the same era, and (representing the sharp-shooters who fought against the French in Portugal) Rifleman Dodd
. Forester also wrote on the World Wars, including a controversial critique of the British management of WWI called The General
, and a story about a spinster missionary and a cockney pilot who harry the Germans in the heart of the dark continent, called The African Queen
(memorably filmed with Bogey and Kate Hepburn
). I can personally recommend each of these books.
But I especially recommend the Hornblower saga, which is what first brought me into the world of C.S. Forester. The philandering British writer was in Hollywood, working on a screenplay about pirates for one of the major studios, when a rival studio released a film of Captain Blood and stole Forester's thunder. Rather than let all his painstaking historical research go to waste, Forester sketched Beat to Quarters while fleeing back to England to avoid a paternity suit in the States. The result was the smashing trilogy that continued with Ship of the Line and Flying Colours, all published in 1938 and '39, and the magnetic, contradictory, eternally enigmatic character of Horatio Hornblower. So fascinating was this character, and so enthusiastic his reception, that Forester obliged the public with several more novels and short stories, until his sudden death in 1966 cut short what would have been the novel Hornblower During the Crisis.
The Hornblower novels combine magnificently realized historic research with suspenseful chases, heartpounding battles, fevered love stories, and - best of all - the always fruitful study of the inner workings of Hornblower the man. In these books you feel that you are living virtually an entire naval life, and a remarkable one at that.
Now you are going to ask: Are you crazy? Why should anyone who likes Harry Potter like this stuff? Well, that's a good one. I guess one answer is that I like Harry Potter and I like Horatio Hornblower too, so it could happen. Give it a shot and see for yourself. But maybe a better answer is what I wrote in my review of The Coral Island, which I won't repeat here. If that works for you, then try these books!
Only one other question must now arise: what order should I read the Hornblower stories in? Answer: It's up to you. But I can offer you not one, but TWO suggestions for you to consider.
Either you can take the route I took, and read them - as a current series of paperbacks numbers them - in chronological order from the beginning of Hornblower's career to the end. Or you can do what I often wish I had done, which is read them in the order Forester published them, so you can experience Hornblower the way his first generation of fans did, and meet him where the world first met him (Beat to Quarters, etc.). The listing on the main page of the Book Trolley is in the order of publication. The "Career of Hornblower" order of the eleven books is as follows:
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower--actually a series of short stories about Hornblower's earliest naval adventures, published between 1948 and 1950.
Lieutenant Hornblower--published in about 1952.
Hornblower and the Hotspur--the tale of Hornblower's first command, 1962.
Hornblower During the Crisis--the beginning of the novel Forester left unfnished at his death in 1966, plus two short stories (one of them from 1950) which actually belong at different points in Hornblower's career.
Hornblower and the Atropos--another "first command" sort of scenario, written in 1953.
Beat to Quarters--the beginning of the original trilogy, 1938-39.
Ship of the Line--the heart of the first trilogy, 1938.
Flying Colours--the conclusion of the first trilogy, 1938-39.
Commodore Hornblower--the story of Hornblower's rise through the ranks continues, 1945.
Lord Hornblower--drawing the Napoleonic wars to a climactic close, 1946.
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies--another set of short stories dating from 1957 and -58.
These are somewhat adult stories. There aren't smut by any means, but there is a bit of questionable morality (particularly in the romantic area), so parents might want to read the books themselves before deciding whether to give them to their kids. Also, there is some pretty graphic violence and death in them, and some of the deaths are pretty heartbreaking. War is hell, don't you know.
And last but not least, readers might want to warm up for these books by skimming a history of the Napoleonic wars, and keep a dictionary of naval terms handy if you aren't a sailor yourself. Some Americans might not even know who Wellington and Nelson were, leave alone the difference between a main brace and a main sheet. Some of us might even think Waterloo is a college town in Iowa, and Trafalgar is a character in The Lord of the Rings, and the yardarm is the thing they use in football games to mark first downs. If you resemble these remarks, you have a choice of doing a bit of preliminary study, or picking things up as you go along. If you're the type who gives up easily, I recommend the preliminary study. As for me, I just guessed my way through all 11 books, and then looked up reference books to find out how much I had learned along the way. It was quite a bit!
Recommended Age: 14+
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