Saturday, July 22, 2006

Goodbye, Hornblower

Yes, Horatio Hornblower is a silly name. But it's one of the endearing traits of the 11 books by C.S. Forester that Hornblower hates it more than we ever could. I was about to tackle the naval books of Patrick O'Brian (which were the basis for the very good film "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World") when I realized all the reviews said they were the best of their kind since the "Hornblower" books. Well then, I ought to read Hornblower first, right? Mind you, I had to read 13 O'Brian books to prepare for that movie (since it was based on a combination of the first and 12th or 13th one in the Aubrey-Maturin series) and now I was suggesting tackling a chunk of the 11 Hornblower books but I did it anyway. This is why I'm VERY prepared for most interviews and desperately behind on rent. (I spend countless hours and hundreds of dollars preparing for ONE interview, when I can.) But it paid off, of course. The Hornblower books are a great intro to nautical ideas that O'Brian also explains but far less simply. And of course Hornblower has become the basis for an Emmy winning series of TV movies starring the absurdly handsome Ioan Gruffudd. Since Hornblower ages decades over the course of the books, I can only hope making them into worthy TV movies will be a career-long goal of Gruffudd. What makes Hornblower so fascinating is his self-lacerating opinion. He's a terrific leader, of course. But Hornblower knows deep down he is scared to death in battle (and rebels against those feelings by forcing himself into derring-do almost anyone else would blanche at). He knows only stupid luck has preserved him on numerous occasions. And the love and respect of his men is a torture and curse to him because Hornblower KNOWS how unworthy of it he truly is. A more conflicted character is hard to imagine -- especially since his somewhat easily wounded pride and inability to give himself a break somehow endears him to us. All of which is a roundabout way of saying I have just finished the last tale in the Hornblower series, "Hornblower in the West Indies," and must say goodbye to him once and for all. It's always bittersweet when you've fallen for a character that appears in a series of books. Especially when the author is dead, you know the tales can only go on so long and the finish line keeps coming closer no matter how you try to parcel the books out and hold off on the next installment as long as possible. Sometimes you can wait a day or two, sometimes a year or two, but eventually they have to end.

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