Hornblower Companion Paperback – 1 Jul 2003
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In this companion C.S. Forester sets out to describe and illuminate, using beautifully drawn charts, all the incidents which his fictional hero has experienced in the Hornblower novels. He also describes how the novels were written, what inspired the adventures and how they relate to the real world of the Royal Navy.
About the Author
C.S FORESTER was born in 1899 and turned to full-time writing after the success of his first novel, Payment Deferred (1926). He is, of course, best known for his creation of the British naval officer, Horatio Hornblower, who has delighted hundreds of thousands of readers for over fifty years. As well as writing biographies and travel books he is also remembered for The African Queen which was made into a successful film.
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If you are intrigued, then read the novels first and then buy this companion book.
The first comprises `The Hornblower Atlas', namely thirty maps with additional commentary from the author. The first map is a general overall plot of Hornblower's travels around the globe, but, as Forester explains, in fact Hornblower's travels were restricted almost solely to the Atlantic to the Atlantic and its attendant seas. Co-incidentally, he writes, "these were the only waters with which Hornblower's biographer was familiar while writing about the closing years of the Napoleonic Wars." On these maps, Forester writes that he "wanted to find out if the novels would pass the rather searching test of ... geography as well as history."
These maps are certainly helpful, but they are not free of criticism. For example, the positions of the shore batteries and the lighthouse are not marked in map three; map five features Gibraltar but not Algeciras; and there is no sign of San Anton in map seven. Maps twenty-one and twenty-two are not really maps at all, but diagrams of naval engagements. Forester's commentary is concise and to the point, but often betrays a self-deprecating irony. For instance, on map twenty-nine, Forester notes, "The defection of Le Havre ... is paralleled by the defection of Bordeaux at the same moment in history; the parallel is made closer still by the undeniable fact that the Duc d'Angouleme was apparently present in the two cities simultaneously, and the student is faced with a choice between history and Hornblower."
The book's second part comprises "some personal notes" in forty-one short parts (over sixty-three pages) from Forester, dated 1963. After first comparing himself as a jellyfish, he relates how he meditates on ideas and how these become translated onto paper. But "the pleasure to be found in the act of composition is overlaid by the physical and mental fatigue that it occasions. From one point of view I would rather be in the dentist's chair."
We learn how the character of Horatio Hornblower slowly formed in Forester's mind during a stroll he had on a long sea voyage home from California via the Panama Canal. The character was constructed as an amalgam of some of his own personal qualities and of some seen in others. The forename derives from `Hamlet' rather than Nelson, although the name was by no means unpopular in Georgian England; and "then ... it seemed a natural and easy step to Hornblower." One wonders, though, how much we are told is true, since the author is writing so many years after the events and motivations he describes. Even Forester later expresses doubts: "I fear I am not being entirely honest, even while trying to be."
Originally intended to appear in just one novel (`The Ship of the Line'), a sequel (`Ship of the Line') entered the horizon after Forester visited Spain during its civil war. Here, Forester givers quite a detailed and insightful account of writing this instalment, going on to describe the process of going back into Hornblower's own personal origins. The remainder of the series are then reviewed from his own unique perspective. A postscript appears as part forty-two, dated 1964, two years before he died. Here he writes that he is thinking of filling the gap in the series between the Hotspur and the Atropos involving forged orders.
From the above, I hope I have made it clear why I consider that those wishing for more information from the author himself about the origins and development of the Hornblower series of novels that he created really need to read this book. It offers a few more clarifications of the action (through the maps) too. There is, alas, no index.
It was only when I was asked to write this review that I even opened the second part; Forester's explanation of how the series came to be written, why he started in the middle of Hornblower's naval career, and even just how he came to be called Hornblower. I found this insight into the mind of a favourite author quite fascinating.
So, in effect, you get two books for the price of one!