Horatio Hornblower - In Which Order Should You Read the Novels?

A Choice of Chronology or Creation

Hornblower: The TV Show
Hornblower: The TV Show. (Promotional Still)

Set primarily during the Napoleonic Wars, C. S. Forester's Hornblower books chronicle the adventures of a British naval officer as he battles the enemy, struggles with life, and rises through the ranks. While newer competitors, particularly Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey and Maturin, have reduced Horatio Hornblower's dominance of the naval genre, he remains the favorite of many, and a well-regarded television series attracted an even wider audience who were now able to visualize naval warfare with greater clarity.

Unless you're unlucky enough to be trapped somewhere with just one book, newcomers to Hornblower are faced with a key decision: to read the books in the order Forester wrote them, or in the order of their internal chronology. For instance, The Happy Return introduced the world to Hornblower, but the series has five other books with events predating those of The Happy Return.

There's no right answer here. Read the books in chronological order and you follow Hornblower through his career and across the development of the Napoleonic Wars. In contrast, reading the books in the order of Forester's creation allows for a much easier introduction (The Happy Return is deliberately welcoming to new readers) and a chance to miss contradictions, as Forester sometimes changed his mind or made errors and assumptions which are much more obvious in a chronological reading. The decision will differ depending on each reader

Both orders are as follows (titles in brackets are U.S. titles):

Order of Creation (The Original and Easiest Way to Read)

The Happy Return (Beat to Quarters)
A Ship of the Line (Ship of the Line)
Flying Colours
The Commodore (Commodore Hornblower)
Lord Hornblower
Mr Midshipman Hornblower
Lieutenant Hornblower
Hornblower and the Atropos
Hornblower in the West Indies (Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies)
Hornblower and the Hotspur
Hornblower and the Crisis - unfinished* (Hornblower in the Crisis)

Chronological Order (The 'Historical' but Harder Way)

Mr Midshipman Hornblower
Lieutenant Hornblower
Hornblower and the Hotspur
Hornblower and the Crisis - unfinished* (Hornblower During the Crisis)
Hornblower and the Atropos
The Happy Return (Beat to Quarters)
A Ship of the Line (Ship of the Line)
Flying Colours
The Commodore (Commodore Hornblower)
Lord Hornblower
Hornblower in the West Indies (Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies)

* Many editions of this unfinished novel include two short stories, one set when the hero is a Midshipman and to be read after 'Mr Midshipman Hornblower, while the second is set in 1848 and should be read last.

TV Show

You could, of course, stream the television series and watch that in the order they were produced but they only cover events from three of the books, plus they make changes (not to everyone's taste).

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Wilde, Robert. "Horatio Hornblower - In Which Order Should You Read the Novels?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/horatio-hornblower-novels-1221111. Wilde, Robert. (2017, June 19). Horatio Hornblower - In Which Order Should You Read the Novels? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/horatio-hornblower-novels-1221111 Wilde, Robert. "Horatio Hornblower - In Which Order Should You Read the Novels?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/horatio-hornblower-novels-1221111 (accessed May 25, 2018).