Wednesday, July 1, 2009


The Hornblower Companion: An Atlas and Personal Commentary on the Writing of the Hornblower Saga, with Illustrations and Maps by Samuel Bryant (1964) – well, that about sums it up. This book was published after the ten complete Hornblower novels, but before C. S. Forester began writing Hornblower During the Crisis.

The first half of The Hornblower Companion includes thirty maps that detail each of Hornblower’s adventures, with locations of key events highlighted, and with commentary by Forester on each facing page. There are plenty of spoilers here, so first-time readers of the Hornblower novels should not plan to follow along with these maps. Throughout this section, Forester celebrates how he has made Hornblower one of the luckiest characters in literature. He repeatedly refers to events resulting in Hornblower’s success as “convenient” and “fortunate”, and in defense of his contrived plots only says that if “ordinary rules” applied to Hornblower there would be no Hornblower stories (that is most certainly true). Forester never met a convenient coincidence he didn’t like.

The second half of the book contains Forester’s notes on writing. He describes how the idea for Hornblower originated, how each novel developed, and how his many health problems affected the process; he also details his writing methods. A pattern appears – nearly every Hornblower novel was planned to be the last one Forester wrote. The notes make some similarities between Hornblower and Forester himself rather obvious – the constant dissatisfaction with life is the main thing; Hornblower has also inherited a number of Forester’s mannerisms. These notes also highlight just what a good job Forester did fitting Hornblower’s chronology together (since he wrote them out of sequence) with relatively few inconsistencies.

Astonishingly, mind-bogglingly, Forester says, “In my opinion the story about Hornblower and St. Elizabeth of Hungary…is the best story I have ever written”. “St. Elizabeth of Hungary” from Hornblower in the West Indies – that excruciating, predictable, contrived, hackneyed, deux ex machina-ridden, facepalm-inducing story. What on earth does he like about it? Forester never quite says; in any event it is obvious from this and other passages that Forester is utterly unable to evaluate his writing objectively.

Hornblower fans who are geographically challenged and anyone curious about the writing process will find The Hornblower Companion of interest. Certainly it is illuminating to get Forester’s take on things.