Recently I checked out A&E's Horatio Hornblower TV series (adapted from the popular CS Forester novels) to keep me entertained on the treadmill. Great choice, by the way. Interesting enough to keep me engaged and help the time pass quickly, but not so intense that I couldn't shut it off when my workout was over. But apparently A&E decided not to finish the series, so after 8 episodes I was left hanging with most of the story left untold.
I hate leaving a story unfinished, so at my next visit to the library I checked out a few of CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels to see if I could figure out where the TV version left off and take it from there. (Call me lazy, but I wasn't about to tackle the whole saga from the beginning!) Forester was very prolific with Hornblower's adventures and wrote a total of 11 novels (one of which he didn't finish before his death), though he apparently didn't write them chronologically. They take place during the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century, tracking Horatio Hornblower's career in the Royal British Navy. Hornblower demonstrates courage, brilliance, loyalty, and integrity in the face of countless struggles; staying the course just as you would expect from any true hero.
I've only read one novel all the way through -- Hornblower and the "Atropos" -- while skimming earlier ones that covered the period portrayed in the A&E series. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. Typically I find a screen adaptation lacking in some ways from the novel. But this time, I think it's the original work that's lacking. Here's why:
The hero: The A&E Hornblower (portrayed by Ioan Gruffudd) was clearly a good guy trying to do his very best. I was sympathic and wanted him to succeed. He was flawed and struggled with difficult decisions, but his goodness and integrity won my admiration. Forester's version, however, was so full of depression and cranky with everyone around him that I got really irritated with him really fast. I couldn't even recognize him as the same person. Maybe if I continued with the series I would get a different impression, but I'm not interested in following such a Debbie Downer for six more novels!
The action: The books are full of action, but also so full of unfamiliar technical seafaring talk that it sometimes took a while to figure out what was going on. Forester's interesting conflicts were so much more dynamic when portrayed visually in the A&E version that even a land lubber like myself could appreciate them. Some of the special effects were a little weak, but many were completely stunning. And those tall ships! Absolutely breathtaking!
The drama: Adapting a novel to the screen always requires some adjustment to the story, and I thought A&E's changes were an improvement on the original. They took liberties with some of the secondary characters, bringing them back in additional episodes instead of introducing us to new and forgettable ones every time. They also manipulated some details of the plot to increase the human dramatic element. It may not have been as realistic as Forester's original, but it definitely made the story a lot more enjoyable.
So now I have a dilemma. Once again, I'm left with a cliffhanger and an unfinished story. Do I continue the series and risk getting more and more irritated with the hero? Or do I squelch my curiosity and hope for the best? Curses on A&E for putting me in this position in the first place!