Friday, June 13, 2008

Horatio Hornblower

Soon after buying the first three books of the Horatio Hornblower series as a Christmas gift I have found myself entangled in the world of the Napoleonic era brought to life by C. S. Forester. The series follows the navy career of Horatio Hornblower, starting as a midshipman, who always finds himself in a middle of adventure and situations that seem impossible to solve.
The books all portray different encounters with the enemy or special missions, and also the struggling of Hornblower to care for his family whom he doesn't see most of the time and to not fail in the social scene. One would assume that the story gets repetitive after the first couple of books, but it doesn't. Every battle, every ship, every situation is different, the same escape strategy can't be used twice. The author has a big playground to move his protagonist, with all the high seas open to British ships and the rapidly changing political situation at the turn of the 18th century.
The series has proven to be a great source for expanding my vocabulary and knowledge of the era. Seafaring has its own vocabulary, a vocabulary that is not fully covered by my regular dictionary (which has nonetheless proven very useful for me over the years, yet I have outgrown it, it seems) thus making me resort to my Webster. The dictionary was a good place to start grasping the most necessary concepts, to fully understand them though I had to go to a naval museum. For me the Vasa Museum in Stockholm was a very good experience in this regard, having explanatory illustrations and text, actual equipment of the 17th-century ship with explanatory text of what-goes-where and does-what on the ship, and models to demonstrate sea manoeuvres like tacking.

Note about the availability of the series, and buying options:
  • In Hungary the first three volumes may be bought as a "Trio pack" containing the new edition in some shops of Libri. To my knowledge no volume has been translated and volumes 4 through 11 are not sold in Hungary, thus I had to order them from Germany (in general ordering the series from Germany might be the cheapest solution overall).
  • From you can order the whole series as part of three omnibus editions, and as separate volumes with quality covers and an introduction by Bernard Cornwell. You shouldn't read the introduction until you have finished reading the book, as it contains spoilers.
  • To my knowledge in the US the new and omnibus editions are mostly unavailable so the best choice is to buy the separate volumes with the old cover.

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