Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Reviews: The 13 and 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear

The 13 and 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear
by Walter Moers
I am almost at a loss to describe this book. I liked it a lot. Truly did. But the combination of not wanting to divulge spoilers and not having a tremendous amount of time to ramble on about the book means that I will have to share the essentials of the book in just a few short sentences. Read this book. It is a wonderful fantastical tale that takes place in an Earth that perhaps never was but certainly should have been. If you are tired of fantasies that are all about grim dark violence interspersed with dark grim bloodshed then you should probably put this book on your list. Give it a shot. Enter its world. I can't guarantee that you would like the story but I can say that it almost completely lacks the utterly dismal outlook which has become popular in many fantasy stories of late. This fantasy is more Moomintroll Valley, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Phantom Tollbooth, or Through the Looking Glass than A Storm of Swords.

Captain Bluebear, the name is evidently some sort of pun in the author's native German, is well, a bluebear who lives in and around the fictional continent of Zamonia. The book's title comes from the fact that bluebears are said to have three times as many lives as cats. So Captain Bluebear describes the first half of his life. He wants some privacy so he's not telling you about the others. In addition to the fantasy stories I already mentioned there is a strong resemblance to some of Charles Dickens' work. I think it's probably deliberate. Captain Bluebear's lives do not terminate in his actual demise. "Lives" here mostly mean a period before he transitions to something else. Occasionally one gets the very strong feeling that the good captain may not be the smartest bear in the woods.

Abandoned and floating in the ocean, Captain Bluebear is saved by minipirates before being abandoned when he grows too large for their ship. Being saddened he spends a lot of time crying, which causes him to be adopted and virtually worshipped by a tribe of hobgoblins. Hobgoblins, as everyone knows, feed on emotions, particularly negative ones so Captain Bluebear's distress is really good for them. Feeling kind of icky about this Captain Bluebear leaves and embarks on many other adventures from rescuing people at the last minute with a pompous and near sighted pterodactyl with a hero complex to learning how to speak from intelligent talking waves.

This is an absurdist book that is chock full of irony and wordplay and even a little blink and you'll miss it social commentary. I'm sure that reading it in the original German would give the reader even more inside jokes. The humor and silliness would translate well in any language. If you liked the Moomintrolls, you'll like Bluebear. There is a very strong sense of joy and love of life which comes through in this book. It's a bit of an investment at 700 pages or so but I found it time well spent.
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