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!