The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is written by German author, cartoonist, sculptor, and painter Walter Moers. I stumbled across this gem accidentally while looking for German literature. What a great find it was!
The story begins when our unnamed protagonist is found by miniature pirates who rescue him from a malstrom far out in the ocean. From there on, every chapter gets more interesting and fun.
At first glance, this book seems a bit silly. But shortly after diving in, it reveals a wide range of cleverness and creative appeal. Take a wild idea such as tiny pirates roaming the oceans, mixed with a tiny lost bluebear and you begin a wonderful, exciting journey across all sorts of interesting lands.
As the story progresses, Captain Bluebear tells his story which consists of an ongoing series of fantastical adventures. He encounters a gigantic forest spider, a hungry island that offers delicious meals, and is educated by the smartest being in Zamonia, Professor Abdullah Nightingale. This nocturnal mega-genius has seven brains.
While roaming the desert in search of Atlantis (after living inside a mirage), Bluebear reaches a tornado stop and soon rides an eternal tornado.
Part of the beauty of this story is the inclusion of many pages of Professor Nightingale’s “Encyclopedia of Marvels, Life Forms and Other Phenomena of Zamonia and its Environs”. This textbook explains many of the phenomena that Bluebear encounters.
This story has a really creative plot, but the huge number of odd characters really make the book stand out. Zamonia is full of nonhuman creatures with a handful of humans that Bluebear encounters. Atlantis in particular is overloaded with an incredible diverse array of creatures. There is a Shark Grub, Yetis, Mountain Dwarfs, Tobacco Elves, Wormlets, Twerpps, Cucumbrians, and a lengthy list of many more.
In fact, the one thing that I found a bit overdone in this otherwise fantastic book was the lists. Several times we are inundated with lengthy paragraphs filled with lists. These include creatures, colors, foodstuff, etc. Much of these don’t really add anything to the story.
Perhaps my favorite character, although it is hard to choose, is a pterodactyl named Deus X. Machina. He is part of the Reptilian Rescuers, a group that rescues people at the last possible moment. This character makes several appearances and really cares about Captain Bluebear.
As we progress through each of Bluebear’s lives, the reader is rewarded with increasingly bizarre situations. From a spiderwitch to a thinking element, an impossibly large ship and a troglotroll who can not be trusted, Bluebear’s adventures are always exciting.
The overall story is a coming of age story of Bluebear. It is a story of friendships and dealing with betrayal. Even more so, it is a story of perseverance and taking ownership for your own destiny. Bluebear faces an incredible range of dangers. He never gives up and is willing to put in hard work to achieve greatness. And he is humble and gracious enough to accept help along the way.
The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is a real page turner and full of such creativity I can’t wait to read more of Walter Moers novels set in Zamonia.