In the grand tradition of almost all good adventure literature coming from Britain let me introduce to you a man by the name of Cecil Scott Forester. Called C.S. by his audience. His real name was Cecil Louis Troughton Smith. C.S. Forester was the author of several novels, but perhaps his most famous and most influential book is actually a series of books about a character with the unfortunate name of Horatio Hornblower.
The novels span many years of Horatio’s life and his many adventures and it is here that I must confess that I have not read the novels, though I do suspect they’re very good as they are often cited as influences or recommendations by other famous authors. For instance, Hemingway (Ernest not Muriel) once said “I recommend Forester to everyone literate I know.” Which is a clumsy way of putting it, but who am I to rewrite Hemingway? And Winston Churchill was also quoted as saying “I would rank Horatio Hornblower at or around 80 on a list of the greatest adventure stories in any genre.” Which is a tad made up, but true to the spirit of Churchill and so I will allow it.
My experience with Captain Hornblower comes from a Television series that aired in the early 90s on A&E. It stars an actor whose first name is Ioan (pronounced rather reasonably as yo-un) and whose last name is Gruffudd (which is inexplicably prounounced like Griffith). It is needless to say very good. Although a tad on the episodic side, the films are overflowing with the little touches that make Horatio’s world believable.
It begins with Horatio coming onboard as a midshipman and promptly getting seasick. He’s a quiet lad who keeps to himself, but is devoted to duty and honor. Soon the Napoleanic wars have started and Hornblower shows himself to be both brave and intelligent. He can’t really help but be promoted even though he actually tries not to be. This of course does not sit well with the officers who have more seniority than him and are being left behind. Horatio is only 17 and is still a little wet behind the ears and so does not instantly triumph, but instead has to deal with enemies both foreign and domestic.
Again the best parts are the attention to detail. In the way the ladder is built into the ship itself. The code of battle. The honor of a duel. And of course there is the great sailor talk: belay, focsle, main top gallant, larboard, starboard, and groovy. C.S. Forester was not a one hit wonder either. He’ll pop up on our list again. Though I’ll let you wait and see when and where. The Hornblower series is available on Netflix or Amazon or Itunes, but one word of warning, A&E never completed the series so eventually you’ll have to take Hemingway’s advice and actually read some Forester for yourself. That is, if you want to know how everything turned out.
Next up … 78!