The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear
by Walter Moers
What I really want to do is spin a yarn worthy of this book. Something about how I found it rattling around inside a mandolin that was given to me by a Chupacabra who had disguised himself as a mariachi in order to hide from his family, who didn’t understand his determination to give up sucking the blood of goats and stick entirely to turnip juice, which he found much less phlegmy.
But that’s not my task. My task here is simply to tell people about this book, and how it was to read it; I have to tell you about Walter Moers’s imagination.
So here it is: this is an amazing book. Simply amazing. The cover says that it is “equal parts Douglas Adams, J.K. Rowling, and Shel Silverstein.” That’s essentially right, though it is honestly not quite as funny and improbably absurd as Douglas Adams’s books (But then, what is?). But it does have the same sort of basically shy, unobtrusive main character swept up in events larger than he, though Bluebear does come into his own more than Arthur Dent ever did, and it does have the same no-holds-barred universe, where literally anything is possible: where a character can transform into a fish in midair to save themselves from a fatal plummet off a cliff; where one can walk into the brain of a giant and have adventures accompanied by a thought; where an entire city can exist inside a tornado, and another can launch itself as a giant spaceship. Most importantly for the Adams connection, this book has an explanatory device that functions like the Hitchhiker’s Guide: Professor Nightingale’s Dictionary, which Bluebear has inside his head, after studying with the Professor himself for a time, and to which he refers whenever he is mystified by his surroundings – which is frequently. Those are some mystifying surroundings.
They are magical, too, which is how like this book is like Rowling’s work; the depth and breadth of the world is much like the magical realm of Harry Potter; and this one, too, exists within – or perhaps parallel to – our own world; I wish I could walk into Zamonia just like I wish I could visit Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.
And what’s more, this book is illustrated by the author, whose style is much like Silverstein’s. As if the wonderful story wasn’t enough, he adds these adorable cartoony drawings, just to bring it that much more to life.
There are a few other books and authors that this novel reminds me of: Alice in Wonderland springs to mind, of course, as does Winnie the Pooh, whose sweet innocence and serenity are echoed in Bluebear (Who is also, of course, a bear: one with blue fur, as the name implies). China Mieville’s UnLunDun is the most recent book I’ve read that has the same magical realm close to our world in it, which also brings me to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, though that book is darker than this one. My own childhood mythology included the Moomintrolls of Tove Jansson (Also European, also translated, also illustrated by the author, as is Bluebear), and in the epic and episodic nature of this adventure, I can see just a little of Don Quixote and my favorite fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time.
It’s got a bit of everything, and so I would recommend it to – well, everyone. Quite highly.