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The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear
Walter Moers
English translation by John Brownjohn of Die 13½ Leben des Käptn Blaubär (1999)
Secker and Warburg, 703 pages

The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear
Walter Moers
Walter Moers was born in 1957. A celebrated illustrator, cartoonist and novelist, he lives in Hamburg. Some of his works include Hey (1986), Huhu (1989), a series of works set around a character named "Asshole" (Arschloch), and two recent German bestsellers, Die 13½ Leben des Käptn Blaubär (1999) and his latest book set in the world of Zamonia Ensel und Krete: Ein Märchen aus Zamonien von Hildegunst von Mythenmetz (2000).

ISFDB Bibliography
Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käptn Blaubär along with about 60 rave reviews (in German)
Ensel und Krete. Ein Märchen aus Zamonien von Hildegunst von Mythenmetz, a new Zamonian novel.
English publisher's promo page - catch the Pterodactyl!

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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Walter Moers' The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is certainly a worthy successor to the tall tales in such works as The Travels of Sir John de Mandeville (c. 1350) and Moers' countryman Rudolph Erich Raspe's Baron Munchausen (c. 1790). It also has certain thematic similarities to the imaginary voyage novels of the 16-18th century (e.g., Gulliver's Travels) in that each life of the bluebear, while couched in broad comedy, presents as an underlying theme one or more foibles of humanity (but don't worry, the serious stuff is well buried in weird and goofy fun and thrills). For me, reading it after an excellent but particularly complex and slow-moving psychological novel of Arthurian times, The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear was a welcome dose of silly but very entertaining escapist literature.

The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is exceedingly popular in Germany, the German amazon.com site (see links) showing over 60 rave reviews for Die 13½ Leben des Käptn Blaubär, and numerous other German sites are devoted to it. It has been followed, in Germany, by further tales of Zamonia in Ensel und Krete: Ein Märchen aus Zamonien von Hildegunst von Mythenmetz (2000, not as yet translated into English), which have received similar accolades.

Comparisons have been made to the fantasy of The Lord of the Rings or Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, but The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, while it may employ much of the standard fantasy characters, locations and plot types, is much more akin to the Nonsense rhymes of Edward Lear than to any Tolkien fantasy. The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is like Robin Williams and Monty Python joining to narrate a Harold Shea adventure (see The Compleat Enchanter by L.Sprague DeCamp and Fletcher Pratt). The book is a sendup, complete with wonderful illustrations by the author, of nearly every fantasy (and some science fiction) cliché under the sun: nutty but brilliant scientists, tie-ins between Atlantis and extra-terrestrials, doomed sea-faring ships, lost cities, and tunnel-riddled mountains, to name but a few.

To attempt to summarize the plot of The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is impossible, even if it only covers 13½ of the bluebear's 27 lives. Let me summarize just one life, that in the City of Atlantis (The City with a Future). The bluebear, who incidentally is simply a bear that is blue, arrives in Atlantis having spent some time in a Bollogg's head as well as travelling through dimensional hiatuses. After a description of the multitudinous lifeforms that inhabit the city, the architectural styles and the transportation systems, we find him fighting off Krackertratts -- mutant pigeon-rat-cockroach hybrids -- along with odor-feeding Olfactils and blood sucking cat-bat vampires. Living in a tower of Babel and working in a pizzeria, bluebear invents the double-tiered pizza, then quits that job and becomes the greatest stand-up liar (congladiator) of the Atlantis stage, defeating the sleazy promoter's heavily betted-upon challenger, but dooming himself to be shanghaied onto a soot-enshrouded slave-ship run by a sentient chemical element, but not before he escapes the clutches of a talking Sewer Dragon, while the entire city of Atlantis flies off into outer space under the control of invisible life forms living in its sewers -- and that's only skimming the surface.

While keeping the laughs and adventure at a fever pitch, Moers still manages to write a book that would appeal to and be appropriate for both children and adults. So if you want to travel through a crystalline sugar desert in search of an unapproachable mirage city, gain genius intelligence by catching a communicable disease, fatten up on the carnivorous Gourmet Island, then pack up your bags, pick up a copy of Dr. Abdullah Nightingale's Encyclopedia of the Marvels, Life Forms and Other Phenomena of Zamonia and its Environs (comes complimentary with The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear) and reserve a berth on the S.S. Moloch -- and watch out for those Minipirates!

Copyright © 2001 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.


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