THE 13 1/2 LIVES OF CAPTAIN BLUEBEAR by Walter Moers
Updated: Jun 9
As I said in my "About Me" section, this is one of my favorite books. This was the first book I read by Walter Moers, but as soon as I read it I purchased the next books in the Zamonia series and have read 2 of the 4 other books in the series (the ones that have been published in English that is).
I have said that this is an adult book, but I want to say that this book is a book for adults that are childlike at heart. This book is wild, zany, crazy, unpredictable, weird, and any other words you can think of to describe a book that keeps you on your toes the entire time. This is not to say that it is a fast read - this 700-page book can be slow going. But I loved basically every page of this hidden gem.
Usually, I would try to start with the "Plot" section, but I think Captain Bluebear requires a short intro into how the book is laid out.
The format of this book is the usual narrative, but instead of chapters, the book is divided into Bluebear's different lives. That means that one section could be 20 pages while the next could be 100+ pages. It's an interesting set-up, but not one that's good for people who read until the next chapter. If you read this book, you need to be aware that some "chapters" of Bluebear's life go on for quite a while and you'll need to stop eventually if you want to get some sleep. Especially if you're in the section where Bluebear is in Atlantis. That section is probably the longest.
Another rather strange little layout quirk is that there are little subheadings scattered throughout the book. Reading it, you may miss them, as they're very small and off to the side of the pages, but if you're listening to it the narrator reads these out. Some people might get annoyed with these little interruptions, but I personally liked them. They helped me find my place in the book and gave me the little places to stop that the "Life" sections did not.
Moving forward to the actual plot of Captain Bluebear, I will separate it based on the lives that we read - all 13 1/2 of them. These will be little snippets of what went on in those lives. I wouldn't want to spoil too much, after all.
Life #1 (Minipirates): We learn about the Minipirates, how to tie knots, and the meaning of abject failure.
Life #2 (Hobgoblins): We learn what fear is, how to cry, how to be a star, and (closely related to stardom) how to be a prima donna.
Life #3 (On the Run): We learn how to speak. That's basically it, to be completely honest.
Life #4 (Gourmet Island): We learn the meaning of fantastical foods and gluttonous hunger.
Life #5 (Reptilian Rescuer): We learn about deus ex machinas and last minute, daring rescues.
Life #6 (Nocturnal Academy): We learn a whole bunch of things! It is Bluebear's school-life, after all.
Life #7 (Great Forest): We learn about true love, heartbreak, and marathon running.
Life #8 (Dimensional Hiatus): We learn about Dimensional Hiatuses (duh) and carefree catalepsy.
Life #9 (Demerara Desert): We learn about the Muggs, muggrooms, Anagrom Ataf, fatoms, and sugar fluxes.
Life #10 (Tornado City): We learn about old age, greed, desperation, and counting. A lot of counting.
Life #11 (Bollog's Head): We learn about the inside of an ear, ideas, Insanity, and dreams.
Life #12 (Atlantis): We learn about big cities, diversity, the Duel of Lies, and the Invisibles.
Life #13 (S.S. Moloch): We learn about the Zamonium.
Life #13 1/2 (After): We learn about real true love and endings in the middle.
Bluebear: Bluebear is the main character and the only truly stable character throughout the entire book. And I don't mean stable as in mentally stable, I mean the only character that is there the entire time. There are some recurring characters, but most of them are confined to only one of Bluebear's lives. Bluebear is a kind of unreliable narrator. It's hard to tell if the entire thing is made up, or if he is telling the truth. The only clue that Bluebear may not be the most reliable narrator is that he is pretty egotistical. Most of the time, he seems perfectly reliable and informative. So, is this a tall-tale all made up by Bluebear or is it really his lives' stories? You decide.
Bluebear is the only one I will list, as most characters only appeared during one life, but I could list them out. You could yell at me, after all. You could say, "But Sarah, what about Mac? What about Professor Abdullah Nightengale, Fredda, and Qwerty Uiop? What about Knio, Weeny, Flowergrazer, and Odod? What about...
Etcetera and etcetera.
There is no way to say this nicely: this book is loooooooooong. That is the main complaint that many of the reviewers of Captain Bluebear point out.
This is not a short book - 700 pages is quite a hefty page count. That being said, if you can get past the multitude of lists and encyclopedia entries, this book is amazing. But, if you prefer fast-paced novels, this won't be the book for you. It's a slow, whimsical romp through Zamonia that takes its time.
This is not a book for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed it!
Never trust a Troglotroll!