I've never been shy about voicing my opinion (*in general*) about who the finest author of seafaring fiction was, is and ever shall be. Yes, I pray to Patrick O'Brian the way Baudelaire prayed to Poe. Don't judge me. But one has to acknowledge those who came before. Without Poe there would have been no Baudelaire. Without today's author there would have been no Aubrey/Maturin series by O'Brian.
Today is the forty-fourth anniversary of the death of C.S. Forester, the rightly famous author of the Horatio Hornblower series of nautical novels. He died in Fullerton, California and is buried in Loma Vista Memorial Park. It's kind of ironic for me to know that now as I spent part of my youth in Anaheim and went to school in Fullerton. So close to such an icon.
Forester was born in Cairo, Egypt to British parents and was living in England by the age of three. His first novel was published when Forester was in his twenties (A Pawn Among Kings, set during the Napoleonic wars but not specifically nautical) and his career took off from there.
A decade later, Forester was in Hollywood writing screenplays when he began the first Hornblower novel. What C.S. didn't know was that he was on his way to fame.
After a stint back in England, Forester returned to Hollywood during World War II and lived in California the rest of his life. He authored numerous novels and screenplays, the most famous outside the Hornblower series being The African Queen, which of course became the movie featuring Hepburn and Bogart. He also wrote two books about his adventures aboard his boat Annie Marble and a scholarly book about naval history, The Age of Fighting Sail.
Many critics and historians have stated unilaterally that Forester's Hornblower books are the best of any Royal Navy series yet written. Better than Marrayat, Pope, Kent, Woodman and yes, O'Brian. The argument is that Forester makes the story interesting, the characters believable and the seamanship easy to understand. To each there own, I say. Forester's series is compelling, even gripping, but I am not so much a fan that I cannot see the forest for the trees. Hornblower grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. His incessant adherence to honor, his over-riding need to be the "man alone" and infallible commander, his failure to marry the woman he loves. Gah! Do something "bad" already! Jack Aubrey he ain't.
But that's just me. As I said, to each his own. One thing I do find particularly interesting about the series is the hero's name. The overwhelming number of people I've spoken or corresponded with about the books assume (as I once did) that Hornblower's given name comes from the famous Nelson. Not so, according to Forester:
"Horatio" came first to mind, and oddly enough not because of Nelson but because of Hamlet... Then from Horatio it seemed a natural and easy step to Hornblower.
When Forester died his publishing company went into a minor paroxysm wondering what they would do about the loss of such a lucrative author and series of novels. The answer was found six months later, when Forester's editor approached Patrick O'Brian about creating a new series about Nelson's navy. And so the baton was handed over. And the adventure continued.
If you'd like to read the Hornblower series, I suggest (as I do with the Aubrey/Maturin series) that you start at the beginning. Any book will stand alone, however, and my personal favorite is Beat to Quarters. Here are the books in order for your convenience and as a tribute to the great author who to this day gives so many so much pleasure. Fine weather and fair winds, sir.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Hotspur, Hornblower During the Crisis, Hornblower and the Atropos, Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, Flying Colours, Commodore Hornblower, Lord Hornblower and Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies.