December 27, 2010

AFTER MARRYAT, BEFORE O'BRIAN (via Jim Siegel):

'Ship Of The Line': Sailing To Fantasy And Back (Abraham Verghese, December 22, 2010, All Things Considered)

When I was 10 years old, I went off to sea in a British frigate to battle Napoleon's navy and thwart his ambitions in Europe. I made this perilous journey courtesy of C.S. Forester and his wonderful novel Ship of the Line. It was in those pages that I first met Captain Horatio Hornblower, truly an unforgettable fictional character.

More importantl it was the first moment that I felt totally transported by a book, felt the little signals we call words do their magic alchemy, even though I had enjoyed reading well before that. However, that book took me from the boredom of a school vacation ruined by rain day after day, and transported me to 1810 and to the Catalonia Coast. I understood for the first time that reading was a collaborative venture — Forester provided the words, I provided my imagination, and together we made a mental movie in which I had ownership.

Hornblower, the protagonist, was full of contradictions: loved to be at sea but was prone to seasickness; courageous outwardly but full of self-doubt; a brilliant navigator and tactician but awkward with women and uncomfortable in social situations. I devoured the book, went back to the library and found it was one of a series, tracing Hornblower's career from lieutenant to admiral, with many a setback and tragedy along the way. [...]

Recently, in a bookstore, I found the entire Hornblower series available in an affordable paperback set. I raced home with them and was overjoyed to find that the books kept me just as engaged now as when I was a boy.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 27, 2010 5:48 AM
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