It took me ten years to read this book. I first started reading it when I was in highschool. I used to carpool with some of our neighbours and one of their sons who was a bit younger than me loved reading just as much as I did. He lent me his copy of “The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear” by Walter Moers and I had gotten maybe halfway through it before we had a fight. I can’t remember the details, but I imagine it had a lot to do with the fact that I was a hormonal, self-righteous and insensitive teenager who had done something mean and was too proud to admit it. Whatever I did upset my friend so much that he asked me to give me back his book. We have long since made up, but I have never had the chance to finish the book. When I came across a secondhand copy of it recently, I knew it was time to finally read the rest of this unique novel.
Originally published in German, “The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear” is probably one of the most creative pieces of fantasy around. However, this by no means guarantees that it is the best. Moers creates a world called Zamonia and takes the reader on a journey through its wonderful, magical and downright bizarre features through the eyes of his protagonist Bluebear, who is, as his name suggests, a blue bear. The only member of his species and somewhat of a genius, Bluebear gains access to all kinds of crazy lifestyles including living inside a tornado, going to school in a mountain with other one-of-a-kind creatures, living on an edible island and growing up on a ship with minipirates. There is no doubt that Moers has a rich imagination and some of the creatures that he concocts are just astounding in their originality.
However, describing your ideas is no substitute for plot and Moers really does get carried away by his own imagination. At one point, Moers dedicates over 30 pages simply describing creatures that he invented and listing their characteristics. In this way, “The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear” reminds me a lot of other adventure novels like Gulliver’s Travels and 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The story is very much where Bluebear went and what he saw there. I honestly think that he could have gotten away with The 3 3/8 Lives of Captain Bluebear. After just a short while it becomes clear that this book is very formulaic which each chapter consisting of:
– Bluebear finds himself trapped somewhere
– Bluebear learns everything about this place
– Bluebear escapes using a combination of friendship and ingenuity
I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to finish this book, and it was extremely refreshing to read something in the fantasy genre that wasn’t a regurgitation of Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”. However, what this book had in originality it lacked in plot and it was ultimately a bit of a struggle to finish.