Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fighting Sail and Horatio Hornblower

One of the scenarios in Fighting Sail, a 1981 S&T magazine game, involves the famous epic duel between HMS Lydia and the central American two-decker Natividad 200 years ago this July.
Except, of course, that there was no such fight. But there ought to have been, because Horatio Hornblower, the captain of the Lydia, is at least as vivid a historical figure as any other swashbuckling naval hero from the Age of Sail, even if he's fictional.
I discovered the Hornblower novels in my teens and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. Despite the fact that Forester's creation inspired quite a few imitators, none achieved the status of Hornblower in my book. In large part that's because Hornblower, far more than most heroes of fiction, has the attributes of a real human being. He had colossal flaws, particularly in his personal life, that humbled his heroism in the way that real-life heroes are humbled. So often our fictional heroes never do the wrong thing, are always noble and even saint-like.
Hornblower made mistakes, was sometimes less than noble and was always crushingly self-critical. But he was always dutiful in an age that truly understood what duty meant, as well as being talented as a naval officer.
Because he's a fictional character, however, his exploits do not fall into the public domain like the other famous naval heroes of the era like Pellew, Hull, Jones or Decatur.
While S&T under SPI's guidance was willing to push the envelope a little, and a number of their games included battles taken from literature, that all came to an end when the famously litigious TSR took over. It's just as well, I suppose, as in today's legal environment it's unlikely an unauthorized usage would get by for long without being noticed via the Internet.
So, while we can enjoy the Lydia vs. the Natividad, we're not likely to see the Sutherland, Hotspur or Atropos in wargame form.
Pity that.

1 comment:

  1. If you like Wooden Ships & Iron Men, "The General" had an issue with all the major ship actions in Richard Bolitho's career. Now, strangely, I love WS&IM even though it's clunky plotting works better in a small ship encounter, but its damage model and abstractness works better in a fleet engagement. Ahh, my friend and I in high school once spent the entire weekend fighting Trafalgar

    Fun blog, btw