In what order should I read the Hornblower series?
February 13, 2015 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to pick up the Horatio Hornblower series next. There seems to be a significant difference of opinion out there on whether to read them in publication order or fictional-chronology order. In what order should I read them and why?
posted by Errant to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, those are great books! I happened to read them in fictional-chronological order and enjoyed that approach greatly.

That said, I have no argument against reading them in publication order.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:54 PM on February 13, 2015

I read them in the order I found them in the library. I didn't find the chronology mattered much-- after a handful they became very same-y. Horatio sails under shitty, overbearing, incompetent admiral, makes admiral look ok, things work out.

If you've read Patrick O'Brian, these books are an amuse bouche. If you haven't, do that immediately.
posted by yerfatma at 3:58 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was going to add a postscript, but I didn't think it was actually necessary considering the question I asked. I guess it is. I'm going to read Patrick O'Brian later, whenever I feel like it. No further discussion of his work is required. I'm going to read these books next, whether you personally think they are worth my time or not. No further discussion of that is required. Thanks.
posted by Errant at 4:04 PM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

I read them as a kid in whatever order I managed to get hold of the books - and personally I did find that there was enough change that occurred as Hornblower advances through the ranks/time passes/romantic relationships and friendships develop that I did regret not having read them in chronological order.
I'm not sure what the publication order is, and presumably it is inherently far more coherent than an entirely random approach (as well as letting you see how Forester's conception of the character developed etc.). But I think that if I had the opportunity to read them from scratch again and no issues in terms of access to the books I would want to go for a chronological approach in order to move with Hornblower through his changing responsibilities and perspective as he travels from Midshipman to Admiral - although certainly they are self-contained enough that divergence from whatever order you choose would have no great effect!
posted by an opinicus at 4:12 PM on February 13, 2015

I read them in fictional, chronological order and that worked fine. The other way would be publication order, which would have the meat of Hornblower's career first, and then jumps back in time to Hornblower as a midshipmen and documents his ascent of the ranks.

I wouldn't suggest skipping around, as there really is a fair amount of continuity.
posted by chrchr at 4:21 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Always read such series in publication order would be my advice, regardless of internal chronological order.

Pros: you get to experience the books as the original readers did, get the development of the series.

Cons: first novel might not be the best, or actively awful, which isn't the case here.

Reading them in internal chronological order it takes a while to get to the good stuff and Forester got a bit precious with his hero as the series grew longer. The first three novels are much better in that regard.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:29 PM on February 13, 2015

I read them a while ago, in character-chronological order. I recommend it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:29 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't read them since my teenage years, but I read them in more-or-less fictional chronological order, and would recommend that. You follow the arc of the career and get a feel for life on a ship that I think makes the character at higher rank appear a little more appealing.

This also has the advantage of putting what I though were the weakest books (Commodore & higher ranks) off to the end.
posted by mark k at 6:55 PM on February 13, 2015

Chronological, I say. There's something satisfying about starting at the beginning of Hornblower's story with him, when he's a too-old midshipman going to sea for the first time, constantly thrown into situations he's not at all prepared for.
posted by not that girl at 10:08 PM on February 13, 2015

I'll go against the grain and recommend starting them off in publication order, and then mixing it up and going basically into chronological order, but only after completing the first trilogy.

It starts with Beat to Quarters (The Happy Return in the UK), then A Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours—I think you can swap the first two of those, actually, and in some anthologies they actually are the other way around—but then, I'd skip The Commodore and Lord Hornblower and read the prequels instead: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Hotspur, and Hornblower and the Atropos. IMO, these are sort of the peak of the series; it's where Forester really gets into stride. You may find yourself chewing through them rather quickly.

Only then, if you're still interested, would I go back and read the higher-rank novels: The Commodore, Lord Hornblower, Hornblower in the West Indies, and The Last Encounter.

As others have alluded to, the later novels tend to be a bit weak, but I like starting off where contemporary audiences would have as I think it's the best introduction to the character.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:32 PM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Unconventional advice here: neither. I strongly recommend starting with Lieutenant Hornblower, the second book in the sequence chronologically. Because the book provides Lieutenant William Bush's introduction to Hornblower, it ends up also providing an enchanting introduction to the reader as well. It is no spoiler if I tell you that Bush is destined to be Hornblower's lifetime friend, or that Lieutenant Hornblower is the only one of the books that is not written from Hornblower's viewpoint.
posted by wjm at 2:09 AM on February 14, 2015

These are the first adult books I ever read. I read them in mostly fiction chronological order, and it worked for me, but it's not so important after the first three or four.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:53 AM on February 14, 2015

I read these books pretty much as I found then, and the one I found first was the first of the series, a compilation of Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours. Those three I would highly recommend reading first just because they were published first and Forester really defines Hornblower and what he's all about as a character. And personally, I like adventure stories set in the location where Hornblower goes in Beat to Quarters, so that really grabbed me.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:53 PM on February 14, 2015

I recently read them for the first time, in fictional-chronological order. I found some of the books that one would encounter first if reading in publication order to have bits of off-putting casual racism/sexism. I've idly wondered if I would have continued reading the series, had those been my first experiences of Hornblower. So maybe that's a vote against publication order?

I agree with others above that the fictional chronology lends a nice continuity to the story arc.
posted by richyoung at 3:14 PM on February 16, 2015

« Older Help me get my family on board - moving Florida to...   |   How best to tell (not my) kids about separation? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.