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YMMV / Horatio Hornblower

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The books:

  • Angst Dissonance: Hornblower has a habit of becoming more depressed after successes, taking himself to task for the "foolish" risks he's taken. His awareness of this doesn't actually help. Conversely, he sometimes gets more cheerful when facing difficulties.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Sawyer's fall and later death in Lieutenant Hornblower deliberately invites it. Was it Hornblower or Wellard who pushed him? Was it really a convenient accident? There is also a popular theory (put forward by Parkinson's unofficial biography) that Hornblower killed Sawyer during the prisoner uprising and blamed the Spanish, as it would be strange for a straitjacketed man to be killed in a battle and Hornblower has been known to Shoot the Dog. But then there's also the question of whether Hornblower could do such a thing as a young man, as he's shown to not be completely inured to death and killing yet. Then there's the short story "The Hand of Destiny", in which it is made clear that it was the other man who shot a tyrannical captain and Hornblower let him (albeit after Hornblower pulled him out of the way to be merely shot in the knee instead of killed). All in all, a subject for consideration.
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  • He's Just Hiding!: Captain Bush after the events of Lord Hornblower. Because it's as hard for fans as it is for Hornblower to imagine a world without him in it.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: In Commodore, a general firing howitzers mentions the possibility of timing the fuse so the targets wouldn't have time to extinguish it. In Hotspur, Hornblower does precisely that. The reason it's "Hilarious" is that while Hotspur is the earlier book in sequence, it was written after Commodore.
  • Ho Yay: Between Hornblower and Bush. Bush is never shown to have romantic interest in anybody (male or female), but he's devoted to Hornblower. He could be Asexual and merely devoted to his closest friend, but given the Hide Your Gays period the author was writing in, Bush could be homosexual and supporting his hetero captain's relationships; the text gives no clues.
    • From Flying Colours, while Bush is recovering from his serious injury - they hold hands at least once, such as:
    For a few seconds Bush's hand stroked his feebly, caressing it as though it was a woman's. In all their years of service it was the first sign of affection either had shown the other.
    • Also in Flying Colours but later:
    There had been a ridiculous pleasure about waking up to find Bush snoring beside him with a protective arm across him.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Lieutenant is told from Bush's point of view and the end focuses on Hornblower's life ashore after the Peace of Amiens, but barely touches on Bush's life with his sisters in the country.
  • The Woobie:
    • Hornblower. It's hard sometimes to see him wrestling with his "accursed unhappy temperament", excoriating himself viciously for any tiny mistake, and unable or refusing to recognize that he actually has good qualities and considerable ability. He even turns his good qualities (disdain for brutality, saving a man from an unfair execution) into flaws to beat himself up over. Quite frankly the man could be a case study for Imposter syndrome.
    • Maria's basically a sweet if naive girl, and she adores Hornblower so unreservedly that many of his complaints would probably be solved by simply telling her about it. (e.g. Being called "Horry.") The abandonment and the hollow falseness of the affection she receives from the "hero" is almost heart-breaking at times. Mercifully she never knows nor even suspects he doesn't love her as much as she loves him.
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    • In The Hornblower Addendum, George III. It's 1812 and he's gone completely bonkers, and we are treated to one of his doctors telling Hornblower the king's typical (and utterly horrific) treatment plan. The king himself is completely sweet to Hornblower and fearless in the face of sea action, but cowers badly when faced with his own doctor. It's hard not to want to give him a hug and punch his doctor.
    • Wellard from Lieutenant. Unlike the miniseries where he's at least an adult (if a young one), here he's hardly more than twelve, which makes the way he's singled out for abuse by Sawyer and beaten into unconsciousness even worse. He's also shown to be a clever, likely lad who would be a Plucky Middie if he wasn't on a ship run by a tyrant; once Sawyer is out of command he starts to flourish. And then he drowns in a storm offscreen.
    • And after the fall down the hold, Captain Sawyer himself. The injury and trauma shatters what sanity he had left and reduced him to a straightjacketed, weeping wreck who saw an enemy in every person that came into his cabin. When he's murdered during the prisoner mutiny even Bush, one of his victims, thinks that Hell couldn't be hot enough for the person who did it. Worse if you read the short story "Hornblower and the Widow McCool" in which Sawyer appears as a rational man who actually expresses some sympathy for the unpleasant task he has to assign Hornblower.

The Film Adaptation Captain Hornblower R.N.

  • Ho Yay: Every man in the British navy seems to be in love with Hornblower, with the sole exception of Lady Barbara's husband.

The A&E series:

  • Accidental Innuendo: Mr Bush's mention of the "spanker boom" excited many a fan-girl's imagination, even though it's fairly clear that it's just naval terminology. Yet the connection to Kinky Spanking is irresistible...
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Plenty of speculation regarding Simpson, who is theorised about due to the ominous and vague lines other characters say in regards to him ("You don't know half what he's capable of") and the question of what, exactly, he'd been doing with the other midshipmen prior to Horatio's arrival.
    • In Series Two, the interpretation of how Captain Sawyer fell down the hatchway. The question of whether or not it was an accident leads often enough to the secondary question, whether it was in the nature of any of the characters present to actively push the captain.
    • Captain Pellew is prone to such a treatment. In Series One, he is universally loved, and everybody is impressed and awed by his character and abilities. In Series Two, his reputation suffers a serious blow because of his favouritism and lack of interest in other officers other than Hornblower. Series Three only proves truth and honesty might not be an integral part of his character and his morals are questioned. Some fics try to find deeper meaning in his lack of concern for other sailors, and many Fix Fics in Alternate Universe try to absolve him.
    • Lt. Eccleston from "The Even Chance" who served aboard Justinian and also Indifatigable. He seems nice enough and fairly competent at first glance, but on a second thought, he's not that great and his behaviour is open to interpretation. Eccleston severely punishes Horatio for getting beaten up — and asks who he fought with — just after Simpson came back. He then pairs Simpson and Horatio and sends them on a shore mission. He later does it again when he puts Simpsons in Horatio and Archie's boat for the operation of capturing Papillon. Is he so clueless? Or so monstrously sadistic? Does Eccleston know about Simpson's abuse? If no, he's incompetent and shouldn't be in the Navy, and certainly has no place to serve under the top notch captain like Pellew. If he does know and does nothing to stop it, he's beyong useless and beyond evil and just as sadistic as Simpson. Or could Simpson have power over Eccleston as well, perhaps with a dirty little secret of his own?
  • Awesome Music:
    • Known to fans as the "It's the bloody Indy!" theme.
    • The "Excitement" theme. The bustling music is telling you that the Navy boys are going to have a hell of a fight!
  • Base-Breaking Character: Archie, to an extent, caught between those fans who dislike his addition into the series as he wasn't in the books, and those who think he added a nice element to the narrative and a more accessible side to the title character.
  • Complete Monster:
    • "The Even Chance": Midshipman Jack Simpson ruthlessly torments his fellow midshipmen, both physically and psychologically. He is a sadistic bully who takes great pleasure in his evil games. He claims that he knows the guys' secrets and what gnaws their souls, and uses it as blackmail. He keeps beating them mercilessly. His abuse of Archie Kennedy is the worst as he is the one most terrified of him, and Simpson's mere presence gives him stress-induced Convulsive Seizures. Simpson is able to manipulate the situation and is never held responsible, and the others are punished instead. Later he tries to kill his shipmates in the middle of a raid by setting one adrift in a boat and shooting the other. When challenged to the Duel to the Death, he cheats and claims it was a misfire. Finally, when his life is spared, he's unable to deal with Cruel Mercy and tries to stab his opponent In the Back.
    • "The Frogs and the Lobsters": Colonel Marquis Moncoutant is one of the leaders of French Royalist troops who set on a mission to restore the monarchy in France during the French Revolution with the help of the British Navy. However, he doesn't care much about the cause and not at all about his soldiers. The fate of other aristocrats doesn't concern him either, but he's very proud that he's Blue Blood and he believes that common people are impossible to improve, comparing them to animals. He killed a mayor and nearly shot a child for singing Marseillaise upon his arrival to his village, and later he keeps gleefully killing off villagers with his personal guillotine one after another for no bigger offence than selling old bread. He never shows any remorse for his evil deeds.
  • Crossover Ship: The fandom has taken to pairing Major Edrington with Richard Sharpe despite or perhaps because he's exactly the kind of officer Sharpe would despise if he was incompetent. Major Edrington isn't, so he's precisely the officer Sharpe wishes he was.
  • Die for Our Ship: Mariette in the fourth episode gets a bit of this from Horatio/Archie shippers, although she isn't a very popular character anyway.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Major Edrington in "The Wrong War"/"The Frogs and the Lobsters". Only appears in one instalment, but he's very popular among the fans.
    • Everybody's favourite Duchess is quite delightful. A sexy older woman befriending the hero, who's an inexperienced youth. Both have brains and enjoy each other and have great chemistry? What's not to love?
  • Estrogen Brigade: Why, you thought swashbuckling adventures, officers of the Royal Navy, wooden ships, gory scenes with blood spattering around, wars and fights would appeal mainly to guys? There is this one thing that ladies can't have enough of. Hot men in uniforms? Yes please. Hot men out of their uniforms? YES PLEASE. Hot men being shirtless and wet? YEEES! PLEASE MORE. Mr Bush and Archie Kennedy seem to attract special attention, and they appear to be winning over the main man Hornblower, but he shouldn't worry too much. Female fans are known to like and write their fics slashed, and Hornblower/Bush or Horatio/Archie are the most popular ships. Pellew is a great favourite as well, as are other characters like Mr Wellard, Major Edrington, Mr Orrock and Major Côtard. So much eye candy! And they have deep and interesting personalities as well.
  • Fanon: In the series, not much is known about Archie Kennedy's background, but some facts are intriguing and fans elaborated on them. Lots of the fan fic stories focus on Archie's days spent at theatre, because he said that he once knew Drury Lane as if it was his home. He also seems to love William Shakespeare since he quoted or paraphrased him several times. In fan fics, he's a total Bookworm who knows his Shakespeare really well. Jamie Bamber, his actor, said in interviews that he thought that Archie was the third son of a Scottish lord, and fans have embraced this idea. Needless to say, his family tends to be pretty screwed up. Most fics also take for granted that Simpson's abuse of Archie was sexual.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: Whether anything after "Retribution" — or namely Kennedy's death, happened. Fandom actually uses the terms 'LKU' and 'DKU' to differentiate whether this fic has Archie as alive or dead. It stands for 'Live Kennedy Universe' and 'Dead Kennedy Universe'.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The line "You were born to hang, Mr Hornblower" becomes horrifying in the context of what nearly happened in "Retribution".
  • He's Just Hiding!: Lots of fanfic stories are tagged 'Live Kennedy Universe'. Fans like to dream that he in fact did not die. You can't prove it didn't happen as anything is possible in fiction.
  • Ho Yay: The show is considered kind of... slashy. Even people who do not interpret the events that way like to joke about it.
    • It's noticeable especially between Hornblower and Archie Kennedy. Archie was caressing Horatio's shirt and chest at one point! Also, Archie totally checks Horatio out when he gets his new lieutenant uniform. Or that grin when Hornblower has that naked shower scene. And they are so incredibly close...
    • Series 3 has Ho Yay between Hornblower and Bush. Lt. Bush was shown to be a great admirer of the captain.
    • Some people ship Pellew/Hornblower. Considering that Captain Pellew regards Hornblower as his son, it is a little... disturbing.
    • There are fics with Pellew/Archie having sex and engaging in Snark-to-Snark Combat.
    • Young Jack Hammond seems to have a crush on Captain Hornblower. He's beyond excited when he's to serve aboard his ship, and then beyond disappointed when he finds out that he's not allowed to interact with the captain as often as he would like.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • After many, many Kick the Dog moments, Colonel Moncoutant from "The Frogs and the Lobsters" crosses this when he orders half his village beheaded. Gleefully.
    • Jack Simpson from "The Even Chance" may have crossed this before even appearing on-screen, considering the fact that his mere presence gives Woobie Archie Kennedy seizures, but he absolutely crosses it by the end of the boarding of the Papillon, when he attempts to murder both Kennedy and Hornblower.
  • Narm:
    • "I was just thinking of the distances we travel... yet how far we still have to sail as men." Possibly the most mocked line in the series. Plus Horatio is hugging a rope while saying that.
    • The slow-motion Say My Name "BUUUNTIIING!!!" that Horatio yells out while chasing the surly seaman of the week through the woods.
  • No Yay: In the first installment, if you're prone to noticing subtext, the Inquisition scene is full of this. Simpson leaning in way too close to Hornblower and suggesting he fancies other boys? Add to that the popular Rape as Backstory interpretation of Simpson's interactions with Kennedy, and it gets really suspicious.
  • One True Threesome: Hornblower/Kennedy/Bush during the second series is a fairly popular ship.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Jonathan Aris appears in "The Examination for Lieutenant" as one of the midshipmen at the titular exam.
  • Romantic Plot Tumor: In "The Frogs and The Lobsters", Horatio gets into a brief romantic subplot with Mariette, a local peasant girl, during a mission in France. The story was already dealing with three separate plot threads and the romance could have been taken out without changing any major events, and since Mariette's never mentioned after the conclusion of her little story arc, its usefulness as character development for Horatio is questionable. She mostly seems to be there to provide female eye candy, and eventually to get killed in the final act so Hornblower could have some angst. note 
  • The Scrappy: If there ever was a universally disliked character in the TV 'verse of Hornblower, it would have to be Mariette, Horatio's shallow Satellite Love Interest from "The Frogs and the Lobsters" (aka "The Wrong War"). The blame is cast on both the writers who didn't bother to make her interesting enough, and her actress's poor and unconvincing performance. The nicest thing fans would say about her is that she was really pretty and rare female eye candy. At best she's ignored, and there are some fics that make fun of her rather endearingly, but that's about it.
  • Seasonal Rot: The third series loses its previous excellent production values, going for half-measures and Conspicuous CG instead. The characterization is also sloppy—Pellew, as noted above, goes from being an excellent captain to almost a parody of an admiral, and Styles becomes completely unlikable. Rather than combining Adaptation Distillation with Adaptation Expansion as they had previously, the story only loosely resembles the events of Hotspur and turns minor mentions of Irish unrest into the whole plot; there are some frankly absurd moments with the deep-cover Irish agents (both in terms of narrative plausibility and their ability to survive explosions without a scratch). That said, unimpressive Hornblower still makes for pretty impressive television and the acting doesn't suffer.
  • Special Effect Failure: In the first episode's scenes in the longboat, Hornblower translates the French complaints that they're not yet in sight of the coast. The coast, however, is easily visible over his shoulder. (Doubtless it wouldn't have been safe to stick the boat entirely out to sea for filming, though filming in the opposite direction would have solved this problem.)
  • Stoic Woobie: Horatio. While he may rise in rank and become quite successful in his career, he has been through a lot of misery (including losing several friends, a love interest, and being tormented in the early days by a sadistic midshipman to the point of seriously contemplate suicide, and later on by a crazy captain) and by the third series, is living in poverty and evident loneliness, even telling Maria that he thought for a long time she was his only friend in the world. That combined with his constant self-doubt makes him incredibly sympathetic, but he never complains outright.
  • The Woobie:
    • Archie Kennedy. Whenever he's not suffering horribly, he's a high-spirited person who makes it a point to keep Horatio from getting too serious. However, when he's tormented by Simpson, tortured in Spanish jail or troubled by being over-shadowed by Horatio, you just want to hug him, take him home, wrap him up in fluffy blanket and feed him with cookies, telling him that he's a fine young man and that everything is going to turn all right.
    • In "Mutiny", Wellard becomes The Woobie and Kennedy helps him cope. Captain Sawyer be damned for having him beaten up. He was just doing his duty, for mercy's sake! And he's such a cutie-pie.
    • Clayton in "The Even Chance". Tormented by the sadistic Jack Simpson as any of them, shamed by younger Horatio who stands up to the sadist instead of him, and dies way too young. Sob-sob.


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