Monday, June 22, 2015

Sometimes it's better to watch the movie first... || Part 2

Not too long after watching the Horatio Hornblower movies, I found the three books, in the center of the picture above, at an antique store. Finding a set like that in such good condition was really exciting! That started off my collection, but I didn't want to start reading the series in the middle. I found the rest of them at Thrift Books for only a few dollars each, and then I was ready to begin!

One thing I would like to note before continuing is that there will be a few spoilers/warnings in some of the reviews. And just to add as well, while the movies were PG, I'd rate the books PG-13, and will be discussing some of the reasons why.

Midshipman Hornblower

First published in 1950.

We meet Horatio as he comes aboard his first ship as an anxious, frightened 17 year old beginning his naval career as a midshipman. He is inexperienced, friendless, and trying his very best to struggle through the rough life of a sailor. 
Reading about how he's treated and the things he has to go through made me feel so bad for him! Yet it makes you cheer for him all the more as he learns different lessons and grows in experience and responsibility. 
I really liked that I had seen the movies first, and could picture the actors in the character roles. Though, as I mentioned in Part 1, I missed Archie's part, as Horatio really could have used a friend like him. The book is broken up into shorter stories, instead of one cohesive plot line, which makes it a little choppy to read, but still enjoyable.

Lieutenant Hornblower

First published in 1952

The story line of this next book corresponds the TV movie, The Mutiny. In that, Hornblower is the character you love and care about, Lt. Bush is the newcomer, and right away you aren't sure what to think of him. Really, it was a difficult way of introducing his character, so the moment I started this book and found it was from Bush's perspective, I was so excited!
In the previous book, you get to know Horatio; see his strengths, weaknesses, and learn how he thinks. In this one, you get to step back and see him from someone else's perspective. Since I was familiar with the storyline, I loved the different point of view, and to see Bush's thoughts through the whole situation.  
At first, Bush sees Hornblower as cold and indifferent, but you the reader know otherwise. Hornblower has been friendless since we first met him, and Bush, though he admires Hornblower's intelligence, is unsure of what to think of him. 
As the events of the story unfold, and the two work together, they grow to understand each other more, and make quite a good team. Though Bush doesn't have Hornblower's brilliance, he's a good problem solver and sees what needs to be done. While Hornblower might get wrapped up in the heat of the moment, Bush is there to keep his mind on essential things to make sure things run smoothly. It's an interesting dynamic that is switched in the next book with Hornblower as captain and Bush as his first Lt..

Hornblower and the Hotspur

First published in 1962

Not even two weeks have past since the ending of the last book, and Horatio finds himself at the alter, marrying his landlady's daughter, Maria Mason. Maria adores Horatio, but he is rather bewildered by the whole matter. He doesn't dare break Maria's heart, yet he knows his life holds little room for a wife and family. On the other hand, he's never had someone care about him so much, and try as he might to hide his emotions, he does care for Maria in return.
Just as in Midshipman Hornblower, with Horatio having the head knowledge of sailing, but no experience, Horatio now delves into a new learning experience; marriage. He says the right things to his smitten bride, but it takes a bit for the feelings behind them to grow. Added to that, he now has command of his own ship, the Hotspur. Thankfully, he has Bush as his first lieutenant. Leaving Maria only a few days after their wedding to an indeterminable time at sea isn't the best way to start a marriage, but Horatio must do his duty.
Excitement is never far away as England and France verge on another war, and Hornblower's crew follow their captain loyally into adventure after adventure.

I enjoyed this one, and loved how it showed that Horatio really loved Maria more then it portrayed in the movies. 

Hornblower During the Crisis

First published in 1966

 Hornblower during the Crisis is an unfinished work because of C. S. Forester's death in 1966. It makes it a bit hard to read as it leads to the start of an exciting mission for Horatio, and then cuts off before the mission begins. The events leading up to that point are worth reading, but it is a bit of a letdown when you reach the end, though understandably so.
There are two short stories tacked on the end that feel rather disjointed. Although, I did enjoy Hornblower's Temptation, and the bit of a puzzle he had to solve. The last one jumped to near the end of Horatio's life with Lady Barbara, which was a spoiler for me since all I knew was that he had been married to Maria.

Hornblower and the Atropos

First published in 1953

This book does have a bit of a slower pace then the ones before it, but it is by no means dull. I loved the beginning and the series of unfortunate events that followed along Horatio and Maria's journey to London and then his first orders as captain of the Atropos. It was lovely to read about him spending time with Maria (now expecting their second child) and little Horatio, his son, before his next mission began.
I stayed up until midnight New Year's Eve to finish this book, and then cried myself to sleep. I may not have cried if I hadn't read a certain spoiler about certain characters, but knowing that made the last page all the more heartbreaking

So, with five of the books under my belt, I pressed on to the next ones, excited to finally read my antique store copies. 

High hopes were quickly dashed...

Captain Hornblower: Beat to Quarters

First published in 1937

In order of how C. S. Forester wrote this series, this is the first. The only main inconsistency with the books about Horatio's previous life was that it made it sound like the Lydia (the ship in this story) was the first ship he and Bush had been on together. So, what about the Renown, and the Hotspur?
In the beginning of the book Horatio's obsession with being the perfect captain in his men's eyes while constantly berating himself for his weaknesses really started to annoy me. He experienced this problem in previous books, but was never quite so obsessed over it.  And it didn't get better. If that was the only thing to deal with, I may have enjoyed it the same as the other books, but then Lady Barbara was tossed on board (not literally), who, despite proving herself in trying situations, holds no care that Horatio is married!!! 
Towards the end, their long talks and Horatio's introspective thoughts on how wonderful Barbara is compared to Maria led to an awkward kissing scene.  I wasn't sure if it was actually happening at first or if I was still in Horatio's head. Well, it did happened, and after Horatio emerges from the spell of the moment, I wanted to slap both of them! He halfheartedly tries to explain to her they shouldn't have done that because he's a married man, and that after they reach England they should go their separate ways. However, except for some hurt feelings,  she didn't seem to care at all! 

Captain Hornblower: Ship of the Line

First published in 1938

Certainly not a favorite in this series....mostly because of Hornblower's annoying thoughts of Lady Barbara over his poor wife Maria (even though Lady Barbara gets married to someone else in this one), and just him as a character was getting very unlikeable. If this one hadn't ended on a cliff hanger, I probably wouldn't have picked up the next book.

Captain Hornblower: Flying Colours

First published in 1938

 Why, Horatio, why??? On top of his drama with Maria and Lady Barbara, he...well, gets involved with another woman (nothing graphic is descriped, but it is made clear that they are spending nights together). I was almost enjoying this book- the exciting escape, and the change of pace from the usual sea stories, but this just made me so angry with him. They take refuge at the house of a French nobleman who is one their side, and he has a beautiful widowed daughter-in-law living with him who takes quite a liking to Horatio. I really didn't understand what she saw in him.
Poor Mr. Bush, he goes through so much in this story, losing a foot and all, and then there's Horatio, who makes himself think he's helping Bush, and everyone, and he is on the outside, but his thoughts are SO SELF FOCUSED! Yes, he can be a flawed character, but even his affair seemed so out of character, after his self control (physically, not so much mentally) with Lady Barbara. 
Since this one is one big spoiler anyway, I might as well say that Horatio finds out that Maria died in childbirth while he was away, Lady Barbara's husband dies in battle, and so Horatio and Barbara are finally free to be with each other at last and live happily ever after...right?

Commodore Hornblower

First published in 1945

So Horatio has everything he wants now, right? A beautiful, wealthy wife, a darling little son, high rank... To be completely honest, I don't remember much of this specific book, because these later ones see to run together, and I'm not quite so attached to what's going on with Horatio anymore.It was a decent story, and a little different as Horatio is stationed in the Baltic instead of South America like the past few books. While he self-doubt seemed founded and realistic in the first books, now it's just irritating and foolish sounding. 

Lord Hornblower

First published in 1946

When this one started, I was excited. It seemed it would be back on track with the old adventures. About halfway through his adventure ended, he had to return home...and he got bored. At a party, he bumps into a certain beautiful widow from his past, and so after sitting home and doing nothing, Barbara away helping her brother with something, he decides to go to France for a little visit. 
Again, this affair seems so out of character for Horatio, or at least so immature. Doesn't he learn anything? As before, there's nothing graphic, but you still get the idea of what's going on, and it is super frustrating.
Horatio's faithful friend William Bush is killed in action in this book. The way it was told was rather confusing, and for a while I just thought he was missing and would return a few chapters later. But sadly, no. 

So, could I manage to finish the series? There was only one book left, but after so much disappointment... Well, I might as well get it over with. 

You illustrate my sentiments exactly, Horatio.

Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies

First published in 1957

Not a bad ending to a half wonderful series. Actually a little more then half wonderful, as I loved the first five books, choked through the next five, and thoroughly enjoyed this last one. There are a few main adventures in this book, of course taking place in the West Indies. They were all very interesting and exciting, and I especially liked that it ended with an adventure with his wife, Barbara.

So, were they worth reading?

I did enjoy C. S. Forester's writing. For being filled with details of life at sea and nautical terms, it was always interesting to me and understandable. 

Horatio Hornblower certainly isn't your average hero type character. Like anyone, he has his flaws and weaknesses, along with his strengths. But the main thing that bothered me was that he was always struggling with the same things- his character never really grew or progessed. Maybe Forester couldn't do that because of the order he wrote them in; he probably wanted to keep his character consistant, but it ended up feeling unrealistic. I'd say Horatio's character is much better in Forester's later writing, but since that's about Horatio's early life, it's kind of backwards. 

 The first five books are great reads, but I was really dissapointed with the rest of them. Unless you really want to read the original stories, I'd say, just enjoy the movies. :)


  1. I'd say...just enjoy the movies. :-) Wow, there's a lot here I did NOT know about the Hornblower books! I prefer to just treasure the stories as portrayed in the movies; I think they really improved on the original characters.
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

    1. Yeah, they really took the best out the books and added a little more to make some pretty great movies. :)

  2. I've seen the first movie. I want to read the first book, I just keep forgetting about him. And then I feel bad

    1. That's cool! But don't feel bad, Horatio will still be there whenever you get around to him. :)

  3. Thanks for the reviews! And I love your mismatched set. I only own the first three books so I'll probably finish them and then... I don't know. At the rate I'm reading them, it will take me another ten years to finish them all anyway. xD I love nautical adventure stories, though, so this summer I'm picking up the first Master and Commander book, which I have heard great things about (the movie is terrific, too).

    1. You're welcome. :) And I think you'll really like the first three, but venture onwards at your own risk. :)
      I'd really like to read those books too, and I'll have to look into the movie!

  4. I nominated you for the Liebster blog award :)

    I don't understand how authors can ruin good books with trashy things like that :/

    1. Thanks, Keturah!

      Yeah, it's pretty sad when they think they need to add stuff like that for drama or who's knows what.

  5. This was fantastic to read, Emma, because I have been wondering about the books for a while now. I LOVE the Hornblower miniseries so much, and Hornblower, Archie and Bush are such well-loved characters, I have always been keen to know what the books are like, though I have heard only half-good things for them.

    I have a copy of Lieutenant Hornblower, so it is good to know that it wasn't a bad one. But ugh! These later books sound dreadful in regard to Hornblower :P

    So glad the movie did not go along that line and was such a delightful series!
    ^_^ P.S. Though I always wished that Hornblower showed more emotion to his wife, Maria.

    1. That's ok! I'm glad you liked it. :)
      Yeah, I was sad to find out Horatio wasn't so great in his later life, but his earlier years are fun to read about.

    2. Oops, that was me, forgetting to sign out of Becca's account. :)

  6. **p.s. Goodness me, I meant Bethany not Emma, I am so sorry!! :)

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