Thanks to Rick Spillman at the excellent Old Salt Blog for reminding me in a recent post that July 4th is not only the birthday for the United States but also the birthday of my favorite literary character of all time, Horatio Hornblower.
When I was 11, I was home with the flu. To help me pass the time, my father gave me his well-read copy of "Captain Horatio Hornblower", which contained Forester's three original stories of this brilliant yet flawed Napoleonic era British naval officer. I'd never read anything like it before and was hooked immediately. From there, I devoured the other Hornblower novels and then moved on to the imitators like Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho and Dudley Pope's Lord Ramage though surprisingly, I never developed a strong liking for what many consider the best of the Hornblower successors, Patrick O'Brien's Jack Aubrey. Still, none of them could measure up in my eyes and in the 29 years that have passed, I've repeatedly returned to the Hornblower books as you would to an old, dear friend.
Hornblower became such a compelling character for me that my passion for the stories influenced my choice of academic studies in college and compelled me to spend time spent at sea on both a sailing research vessel and as crew and ship's historian for one summer on the replica HMS Rose, now known as the HMS Surprise from the outstanding film, Master and Commander and on display at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
There are other books and characters I love but none of them so changed my life like C.S. Forester's works and Horatio Hornblower. Happy birthday, Captain Hornblower!