Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear

One of the places where I am flat out behind the curve is in the area of German literature. And since I try to use challenges to make up for those kinds of inadequacies, I went with one of the German recommendations for Judith of Leeswammes’ Book Bloggers Abroad 2011 Challenge, and ordered a copy of Walter Moers’ The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear.

About 20 pages into the book, I had to admit I wasn’t enjoying it very much, despite the author’s engaging illustrations. About 50 pages into the book, I realized that what was killing the book for me was the publicity I’d read about it in the first place.

So I’m here to disabuse anyone who reads this post of the idea that The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear resembles A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in any but the most superficial of ways. Yes, both Bluebear and Arthur Dent hurtle from adventure to adventure, encountering new (to them) and strange life forms along the way. And both Bluebear and Arthur Dent can call upon the seemingly comprehensive knowledge of an Encyclopedia to explain (after a fashion) said life forms. But that’s pretty much where the comparison ends. The five-book A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (hehehe) is a masterpiece of British humor and biting social commentary, very definitely for adults. And The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is a pleasant-enough children’s fantasy. Yes, there is some social commentary, but it is very subtle and nestled firmly in a hopeful tale of the goodness of almost everything – once you just understand it.

Once I got past the hype, at around page 200 – of a whopping 703 pages – I realized that I’d actually be enjoying the book if I were reading it with my daughter, who’s in 5th grade. Or to a class of children. There really would be a lot to discuss with kids. I would love to get their thoughts on “bacterial intelligence,” for example. And I wondered what children would make of the 1600H character – how can a “bad idea” be good? I can imagine all kinds of exercises that could go along with teaching this book. It would be hilarious to have children write their own congladiator boasts, for example. Or to describe a day on the SS Moloch. With those possibilities in mind, I liked the book way more toward the end than I did at the beginning, even though I found the story was a bit slow a lot of the time.

So in the end, I would recommend The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear -- to children. And to lovers of children’s literature. And to those who enjoy cartoons, as Moers is a talented illustrator. It probably wouldn’t be something I would have picked up on my own, so I’d say it was a good stretch of my boundaries, and that’s always a good thing. So thanks again to Judith at Leeswammes for hosting the Book Bloggers Abroad Challenge. I have the last one for that one read, and a review will be up later this week!


  1. It's funny how perceptions can affect your enjoyment of a book. I do think the length of that one would probably scare off many members of the target audience.

  2. I saw this a while ago & nearly got it on the recommendation of a fellow Blogger, but didn't. My daughter's 10, would you say she would be the Target reader for this?

  3. @Kathy -- It's so true. To some extent, we choose books based on small amounts of information. And if the information doesn't match up once we're reading, I find I'm often disappointed.

    @Parrish -- It is very definitely at the perfect level for a 10-12 year old. But as Kathy says, some kids wouldn't look to kindly on a 700 page book, because it can be pretty intimidating -- even with illustrations. I handed it to my 11 year old, and she is already engaged. I really think it would be a fun one to read together. Like I said, getting a child's perspective would have really increased the fun for me!

  4. Sounds like you were stretched indeed, Col. Good for you for trying, but a pity it wasn't quite for you. If the library had this book in their collection I would have read it already, but since I need to reserve it, I haven't. I still may, though. It sounds like it has some really interesting ideas.

    Thanks for joining the BBA challenge - you did better than me (I read 1 of 10 books, which is atrocious!).

  5. I read this book and have a feeling I felt pretty similar to you on it. It was SO LONG, first of all, and seemed to get fairly repetitive to me. I just pushed my way through it, eventually, but by the end I was not especially impressed or happy with it. I think it would be much better to read with a younger person!


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col