Oh Captain, my Captain

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When I first watched Star Trek: The Next Generation there came a point (somewhere in Season 3, I think) when I turned around to my boyfriend and said: “You know, Captain Picard does remind me of Horatio Hornblower… strange!” And he burst out laughing, telling me that in fact Horatio Hornblower was Gene Rodenberry’s role model for Captain Picard.

Much later I learned that this is common Star Trek knowledge. I was curious to know how other people viewed that very topic and found that the “common knowledge” meant an entry on Wikipedia. There are quite a few pages touching on the topic of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan actually mimicking the 1951 movie about C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower and a few lines on Jean-Luc Picard being an introvert like said Horatio, but not much else.

Who is this Horatio Hornblower you might ask. Now, there is a really interesting series of books about him, written by C. S. Forester. The first book (The Happy Return) was published in 1937, the last (Hornblower and the Crisis) in 1967. The stories are set in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Horatio is a British marine hero, loosely based on the historic figure of Lord Horatio Nelson. Hornblower is a loner, a hero without thinking he is one. In fact, he constantly doubts his abilities. He is full of doubt, of fears, even self-loathing, which is exactly what makes him a hero. He goes into battle even though he fears for his life. And to prove that he isn’t a coward he fights harder than everybody else, all the while hating himself for feeling that fear. Hornblower is always very controlled. He hates being drunk; he hates eating too much; he exercises because he fears getting fat; he is very disciplined. On the one hand he is an extreme introvert. He is alone, even though he is constantly in the company of others, in the very confined space of a British ship. Horatio Hornblower constantly wonders if anybody likes him – he doesn’t like himself, so how could anybody admire him? The time in which the novel is set is one involving a lot of pride of place, and Horatio constantly battles with that. Remember, he is very lonely and he desperately wishes not to be so. So he wants to socialise with his inferiors on the ship, but fears not being respected any longer if he is too sociable. On one command he doesn’t talk to anybody despite the necessary commands he has to give and is angry about himself remarking: “Beautiful day!” to his First Lieutenant William Bush, for those two words were conversational, therefore not necessary.

His relationship to Mr Bush is important for the character as well. Once Hornblower has learned to trust his First Lieutenant, they become friends. Our Captain is utterly loyal. He always tries to help those he calls friends and cares for Bush both in his private life as well as in duty by getting him promoted to higher ranks. Of course there’s romance in the novels too. Unfortunately Hornblower isn’t very skilled with women. His first wife, Maria, fell in love with him and he gave into her courting even though he didn’t reciprocate the feeling. Being absolutely loyal, he stays with her, even though she is far below his status and he is often ashamed of her in noble company. The Hornblowers are poor, something he wants to hide as he’s a very proud man. After Maria’s death he is courted by Lady Barbara, who is as much higher in status than him. While he truly loves her, this relationship is as complicated as the one to his first wife. Marrying her makes him gain status and wealth – which doesn’t wipe out any of his doubts and fears.

The novels around Hornblower portray the rise of a quiet hero from midshipman to admiral, a man trying to follow orders to the letter, but not being afraid to make his own decisions when necessary. He manages to capture the hearts of everybody around him; his men admire and love him, following his leadership without any doubt; even his superiors cannot help but appreciate his skills and abilities.

Yes, I do love those novels around the grumpy, shy, introverted sea hero. Let’s have a look at the Star Trek Captains in comparison now.

KirkCaptain Kirk’s first command was on the USS Lydia Sutherland – the keen Hornblower’s fan of course realises that the Lydia was the first frigate under Hornblower’s command as a Captain, the Sutherland the first battleship. The fighting scenes in Wrath of Khan are closely resembling the fighting scenes in the 1951 movie Horatio Hornblower and Captain Kirk is even resembling the movie actor a little (at least that is what critics say, but since I never watched the movie I can’t tell for sure). For me, Kirk and Hornblower are completely different characters. Kirk is an extrovert, Hornblower is not. Kirk is always first in line for a good fist fight, seducing women across the planets. Hornblower is constantly hating himself for not having found a better solution than the fight, for having serious romance problems, and for not being able to handle a wild affair.

Jean-Luc_Picard_2Captain Picard is the man making the link obvious for me. He is the quiet Captain. The introvert. His men love and admire him. While he knows how to be social, he always seems more comfortable when alone. He loves classical literature – as does Hornblower. He isn’t lucky with women – just like the literary role model. He and his First Lieutenant are close – Picard is always trying to foster Riker’s career. And Riker in turn – just like Mr Bush from the novels – feels better at his Captain’s side than on his own command. Picard is a very disciplined character too, always trying to do the right thing even if that means risking his own life, but he wouldn’t risk his own career needlessly. In contrast to Kirk, who constantly going against the First Directive, Picard really tries to stick to it, deviating from the rules only if there is no other choice. His ‘women situation’ sometimes is really funny and I did fear that Lwaxana Troy would seduce him sooner or later and that he would stick with her because he is just as loyal as Hornblower. More than a copy of Horatio Hornblower, Picard is more of a modern interpretation of the stereotypical kind of hero Hornblower is. The resemblance is gorgeous and Patrick Stewart did the most amazing job giving life to Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Yes. He definitely is my favourite Captain.

Now the other Captains – Sisko and Janeway – have their own bit of Hornblower incorporated, but the links to C. S. Forester’s hero are much smaller. Sisko’s wife died leaving him in care of his son. Hornblower’s first wife Maria died, leaving him in care of his son. Sisko’s feeling uncomfortable with being in a religious position resembles Hornblower not liking having to hold the service for his crew every Sunday. And in the first Season of Voyager, Captain Janeway has extreme problems finding the right way to interact with her crew – closely resembling the issues with status Hornblower has. Captain Archer in contrast has nothing that uniquely resembles Hornblower. At least nothing I could find. So if you do, let us know.

Horatio Hornblower is a common thread among the characters of the Star Trek Captains. A thread, that categorises the type of hero they are. Heroes with feelings, fears and doubts. Heroes with edges and a mind of their own. I really like that about Star Trek, and I can’t wait for the new Star Trek: Renegade‘s Captain to add her own flavour into the mix.