I just finished my first acquaintance with C. S. Forester in his short novel The Gun. The story centers around and 18 pound siege gun in the Napolenic Wars in Spain, which several thousand Spanish guerrillas use to win a few victories against Napoleon’s army of occupation. Overall, this novel tends toward precise realism and contains many exciting battles. It’s only downside consists in it being devoid of interesting characters. The figures peopling the novel tend more toward being types than unique persons. As one person wrote, the cannon itself is the main hero of the story, and I, unlike Sir Walter Scott, have some difficulty in getting into inanimate objects. (Though, as I write this, I remember thinking to myself as I read the manga Tactics Ogre today: “Wow! These broadswords look awesome! I’ve never seen a mangaka draw a Western sword so well! I can’t wait to read more if only I can admire the weapons!”)
Anyway, C. S. Forester’s extreme realism is impressive. His descriptions of the armies arrayed in battle and precise knowledge of the various kinds of soldiers involved is absolutely impressive. (E. g. voltiguers: “light infantry trained to be elite skirmishers.” Never saw that term before!) The uniforms themselves are given more physical description than the characters. All the aspects of battle from troop movements, to wounds, to the kinds of shot used in the cannon are detailed by the hand of an avid military enthusiast.
If any moral to be derived from this story, it lies in power corrupting and pride leading to falls. In particular, el Bilbanito, the first guerrilla to possess the gun, gains a big head over having not any old piece of artillery, but a siege gun! He later instigates a duel which he loses, having expected fully to win it. What could be more prideful than to start a duel expecting to win it? Especially when the opponent also has some courage and skill and God controls the outcome of such battles?
Other falls from power follow in this story as power leads to insufferable acts of tyranny. Forester describes a tyrant with great finesse. It is interesting to see how Forester describes the various kinds of command and how they bring victory or defeat. Most of the battles end with neither mercy nor quarter given. Amusingly, there is even a Franciscan priest who dispatches French soldiers after performing last rights! (Though, Forester does not appear to be completely anti-clergy. Another cleric, a village priest, gains a rather warm description, despite his vanity of trying to seem smarter than he is. I identified pretty well with that character!) I believe that the 18 year old General Jorge and a certain Dutch officer give the best examples of heroism in this work.
Overall, this is perhaps the best introduction to C. S. Forester, especially considering its short length. The only shortcoming, the lack of characterization, is probably not as bad in his other novels. After all, they concentrate on British officers, with whom the author must identify better–especially since he was able to make the British naval officers, in the mere 8 pages they appeared, more interesting than any of the other characters in the work. Now, the next step for me seems to be the Horatio Hornblower novels.