The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear
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|Original title||Die 13½ Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär|
|Cover artist||Walter Moers|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|ISBN||3-8218-2969-9 (first hardcover edition)|
The 13 1⁄2 Lives of Captain Bluebear is a 1999 fantasy novel by German writer and cartoonist Walter Moers which details the numerous lives of a human-sized bear with blue fur. The captain's name is originally a pun in German, based upon the fact that the German words for "bears" (Bären) and "berries" (Beeren) sound very much alike, whereas Blaubeere (lit. "blueberry") is actually the German word for bilberry (a number of other German cartoonists have made similar puns relating to bear names in their stories, including Rötger Feldmann aka Brösel), that a typical sailorish sailor is called an (old) seabear, and that sailors are prejudiced to be quite often blue, i.e. drunk. The novel was originally written in German, an English translation was published in the United Kingdom in 2000 and in the United States in 2005, an Italian translation in 2000, a Chinese translation in 2002, and a French translation in 2005. The novel attained considerable popularity in Germany and the United Kingdom while experiencing relative obscurity in the United States.
The 13 1⁄2 Lives of Captain Bluebear follow the adventures of the character Bluebear in the first half of his 27 lives (the joke being that a bluebear lives three times as long as a cat). The novel intersperses Bluebear’s narrative with excerpts from The Encyclopedia of Marvels, Life Forms and Other Phenomena of Zamonia and its Environs by Professor Abdullah Nightingale, who bacterially transmits it into Bluebear's brain.
The plot is set in the fictional continent of Zamonia (location of several other novels by Walter Moers) on Earth before the "great descent" in which Zamonia and many other continents sink beneath the waves. Many of the creatures encountered by Bluebear in the novel are taken from myths, folktales, prehistory, and Moers' imagination, among them Gryphons, Maenads, Trolls, Yetis, and Pterodactyls. Nearing the end of the novel, the mythical city of Atlantis disappears from Earth, an event witnessed by Bluebear.
The plot is supplemented by Moers' drawings of the characters interspersed throughout the book. These illustrations are done in a cartoonish style: Moers is a noted German cartoonist. While the drawings are colored in the German hardcover version, they remain in black-and-white in most other versions.
In Bluebear's Life 1, where he is a tiny baby, he is floating in a walnut shell in the north Zamonian sea, next to the Malmstrom, a mysterious and giant whirlpool that all the world's sailors take care to avoid. Bluebear is saved by a diminutive crew of Minipirates, who are very mysterious, and who subsequently adopt the bear as their good-luck charm. He grows up on seaweed and water exclusively, and begins to apprentice the nautical way of life from scratch. Aboard their tiny craft he learns much of waves, sailing and knot tying, but before long he has grown too large to remain aboard, and the Minipirates must set him ashore on an island.
In Life 2, Bluebear discovers a group of Hobgoblins on the island, who raise Bluebear to celebrity status due to his fantastic displays of crying. Hobgoblins are, according to Nightingale's encyclopedia, semi-ghost invertebrates who feed on emotions. Every night Bluebear gives his crying performances, and is elevated to stardom. Eventually repulsed by this, Bluebear builds a raft and sets off on his own.
Life 3 finds Bluebear at sea, where he is befriended by a pair of "Babbling Billows", or talking waves, who teach him to speak, and encounters the SS Moloch, the world's largest ship. He makes futile attempts to board the vessel, and in his head hears a voice that whispers repeatedly: "Come! Come aboard the Moloch!". Soon afterwards Bluebear is almost eaten by a Tyrannomobyus Rex, a gargantuan black whale with one eye. Bluebear helps ease the creature's pain by pulling harpoons out of its back (originally intending to construct another raft out of them but, becoming too absorbed in the task, tosses them into the water) and the grateful whale deposits him within swimming distance of another island.
Bluebear's Life 4 is spent on Gourmet Island, a fantastic land filled with delicious foodstuffs that mysteriously grow in place of normal vegetation. The bear, after sampling them all, develops a monstrous appetite and craving for nutrition. He eats the addictive foods so much that he fattens up tremendously. Bluebear's last meal (a man-sized mushroom) is interrupted by the discovery that the island is a giant carnivorous plant that ensnares passers-by, fattens them up and eats them at 300 pounds. Seconds from being devoured, Bluebear is saved by Deus X. "Mac" Machina, a pterodactyl Roving Reptilian Rescuer whose job is saving others at the last moment.
Life 5 details Bluebear's year-long stint as a navigator for the near-sighted Mac, assisting the Reptilian Rescuer in his daring rescues, one of which was saving a farm of Wolperting Whelps from the dreaded Bollogg: a cyclops varying from 50 feet to two miles high that can survive without a head. On flying over the city of Atlantis (Zamonia's capital), Bluebear promises himself that he will visit it someday. Towards the end of his time with Mac, he rescues a human who threw himself of the Demon Range. This human makes a reappearance in life 10. The year ends with Mac entering retirement and depositing Bluebear at the entrance to the Nocturnal Academy, the headmaster of which (Professor Abdullah Nightingale) owes Mac a favor.
In Life 6, Bluebear is taught all the knowledge in the universe with the aid of the seven-brained Nocturnomath Professor Abdullah Nightingale and his intelligence bacteria. This bacteria is literally infectious knowledge. The closer one is to a Nocturnomath, and the more they absorb, the more intelligent they become. Here Bluebear meets Qwerty Uiop (a gelatine prince from the 2364th Dimension who accidentally fell into this world through a Dimensional Hiatus) and Fredda the Alpine Imp (a hairy creature with a crush on Bluebear), when they graduate their successors are: crude Knio the Barbaric Hog and annoying Weeny the Gnomelet. Upon leaving the Academy, Bluebear is infected with intelligence bacteria, and Nightingale transmits an encyclopedia into his head. He meets Qwerty again, who has found a Dimensional Hiatus, which are recognisable due to their unpleasant smell, which Qwerty defines as "Genff", and debating whether to jump in. Bluebear, acting on an impulse, pushes him in the hope that he will land in the right dimension. He is then led astray in a cavern labyrinth by a tricky Troglotroll (the most reviled and sneaky creature in Zamonia). With the help of a Mountain Maggot (an annelid made, curiously, of gleaming steel) Bluebear makes his way out of the caves and into the neighboring Great Forest.
In Life 7, Bluebear finds a blue she-bear in the strangely silent Great Forest and falls in love with her. However, Bluebear quickly realizes that she was merely an illusion spun by the Spiderwitch, a giant spider, to trap him. The bear discovers he is caught in an intricate web in place of where he thought the she-bear's house was. Bluebear eventually frees himself and flees from the spider moments before it would have dissolved and eaten him. He proceeds to run for five hours or so to escape the spider, who is in hot pursuit. He begins to hallucinate that he is the fastest and most agile creature on the face of the planet; however this is because of the conditions of oxygen in the Great Forest. When he comes to his body feels too heavy to run. Just as his strength gives out, Bluebear stumbles upon and leaps through a fortuitous Dimensional Hiatus, the same sort of portal through which Qwerty entered Bluebear's universe.
In Life 8, the Dimensional Hiatus deposits Bluebear into the past in the 2364th Dimension, where he sets off a chain of events that lead to Qwerty falling into the a Dimensional Hiatus and into our world in the first place. Bluebear jumps into the portal after his friend and comes back out in his own world, with the Spiderwitch nowhere to be seen.
Life 9 details Bluebear's treks across the Demara Desert in the company of nomadic Muggs searching for the legendary mirage city Anagrom Ataf. Bluebear helps the Muggs trap the city with sugar flux, but upon finding it already populated with the transparent ghost-like Fatoms. He sets the Muggs roaming again, this time in search of a non-existent city called Esidarap S'loof. Leaving their company, Bluebear spies a Tornado Stop and decides to wait there to catch a ride to Atlantis on the other side of the desert. A tornado arrives, but Bluebear is sucked into its center and is aged nearly eighty years upon entering.
In Life 10, Bluebear and the other elderly denizens of Tornado City search for a way to escape the whirlwind. Bluebear is reunited with a man he and Mac once saved, and discovers Phonzotar Huxo, the madman in the tornado who is responsible for the strange laws of the Muggs and their search for Anagrom Ataf. Bluebear is told by the encyclopedia that the tornado stops for one minute once a year, so he and the other old men count backwards for a year in anticipation of the next stop. During that stop, they dig through the tornado wall, aging in reverse as they make their escape.
In Life 11, Bluebear travels through the discarded head of a Megabollogg giant on his way to Atlantis and meets a bad idea named 1600H (named after the time he came into being) who saves him from falling into a pool of earwax and drowning. 1600H suggests Bluebear becomes a dream composer. The head, being constantly asleep, must always be dreaming, otherwise it will wake up and throw the brain into confusion; as there is no body for it to be attached to . The job of a dream composer is to "play" the head's "dream organ" in order to purchase a map of the head's interior so that he may find his way out. Insanity (a plan of whose was thwarted previously by Bluebear) steals the map, but right before Bluebear is pushed into the Lake of Oblivion, a pool of liquid forgetfulness that totally annihilates anything thrown in, 1600H pushes Insanity into the lake himself. Bluebear escapes the head and enters Atlantis just as the roaming cyclops returns to put his head back on his shoulders and approaches the city.
In Life 12, Bluebear meets a Brazilian tobacco dwarf named Chemluth Havanna who becomes his new best friend. He works his way up the Atlantean professions tree, starting as a sweeper in a spitting tavern all the way up to the coveted King of Lies in the Megathon's Congladiator tournaments. The King of Lies and the challenger must exchange fictitious stories and the audience decides who wins each round. Bluebear defends his throne for over a year, eventually battling against everyone's Congladiating idol and a former champion, an individual named Nussram Fakhir, in an epic 99-round Duel of Lies. Bluebear's boss, Volzotan Smyke asked him to lose this last fight and, when the bear refuses and wins it, Smyke attempts to sell him onto the giant ship, the SS Moloch; which is revealed to be a slave ship. However, Bluebear's escort, one of the Wolperting Whelps saved by Bluebear and Mac, named Rumo, takes the bear below Atlantis, where Bluebear is reunited with Fredda the Alpine Imp and the Troglotroll. Fredda and the Invisibles (creatures from another planet who really are invisible) plan to pilot the city of Atlantis into outer space to their planet; before the continent of Zamonia sinks beneath the waves. Chemluth, who is an inveterate womanizer, becomes smitten with Fredda and decides to stay with her and the Invisibles, but Bluebear elects to remain behind with the Troglotroll as he has no desire to leave Earth. As Atlantis flies away, the Troglotroll betrays Bluebear again and deposits him into the hands of the Moloch's slave crew.
In Life 13, Bluebear discovers that the captain of the Moloch is the renegade Zamonium, the only thinking element, he learned about at the Nocturnal Academy. Professor Nightingale reappears piloting a cloud of darkness and reveals reluctantly that, contrary to the meaning of the word "element", he created the Zamonium himself. He does battle with the Zamonium in a war of thoughts. Unnoticed during the battle, Bluebear manages to throw the Zamonium into Nightingale's cloud of domesticated darkness and frees the crew. The Moloch soon becomes trapped by the Malmstrom, where the Minipirates once saved Bluebear in his first life, but the crew, minus Bluebear, is saved by the fortuitous arrival of an army of Reptilian Rescuers. Bluebear is reunited with Mac, who now has a large pair of glasses, but as soon as he tries to save Bluebear, the Troglotroll jumps onto his back and Mac flies off. The unfortunate bear is the only person left on the ship. Bluebear almost falls into the Malmstrom, which turns out to be a Dimensional Hiatus, and he is saved by the arrival of his old friend Qwerty Uiop on a flying carpet, who is soaring up from the whirlpool. Upon rejoining the rescued crew, Bluebear discovers that many of them are Chromobears, members of his own species. Every Chromobear has different coloured fur, but the soot on the Moloch made their fur appear to be black until it was washed off in a flooded lagoon in the spot where Atlantis used to be. Bluebear learns that the Chromobears once lived in the Great Forest, but they were forced to leave for the coasts when the Spiderwitch invaded the forest, and were later found by the Zamonium, which enslaved them on the Moloch. He later finds that a bluebear couple (an ultramarine male and an indigo female) were slaves on the Moloch who threw their newbown off the ship to avoid a life of slavery, and that they were likely his parents. The Chromobears then decide to reainhabit the Great Forest.
At the end of the book, in Bluebear's final "half-life", he meets a real-life she-bear identical to the one he hallucinated in Life 7. He begins a new life with her, but hints that further adventures await them in the future.
The novel has similarities with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the frequent occurrence of excerpts from Professor Abdullah Nightingale's The Encyclopedia of Marvels, Life Forms and Other Phenomena of Zamonia and its Environs within the narrative. There are also similarities in the ironic sense of humor found in both works. It also has similarities to both The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Phantom Tollbooth in its description of fantastical adventures and travels.
In order of appearance.
- The Minipirates
- The Hobgoblins
- The Babbling Billows
- Deus X. Machina (Mac)
- Professor Abdullah Nightingale
- Qwerty Uiop, the Gelatine Prince from the 2364th Dimension
- Fredda, the Alpine Imp
- Flowergrazer (Unicorns in general)
- Knio, the Barbaric Hog
- Weeny, the Gnomelet
- The Troglotroll
- The bear illusion
- The Spiderwitch
- The Muggs
- Baldwyn Baobab
- 1600H, a bad idea
- Chemluth Havanna, the Tobacco Elf
- Volzotan Smyke, the Shark Grub
- Rumo, the Wolperting
- THE Zamonium!
Film, TV and theatrical adaptations
Moers' Captain Bluebear character originally appeared in short segments of the Sendung mit der Maus (Programme with the Mouse), a half-hour German children's television show. During these sequences, a puppet Bluebear would spin ridiculous pirate yarns, all of which he claimed were true. Käpt'n Blaubär – Der Film (Captain Bluebear – The Movie), a traditionally animated movie based on the TV show, was released in German theaters in 1999, coinciding with the novel's original release.
- Die 13½ Leben des Käpt'n Blaubär, Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt a.M. 1999. ISBN 3-8218-2969-9 (Hardcover)
- The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, Secker & Warburg, UK, 5 October 2000. ISBN 0-436-27500-7 (Hardcover)
- Die 13½ Leben des Käpt'n Blaubär, Goldmann Verlag, München 2001. ISBN 3-442-41656-6 (Paperback)
- Die 13½ Leben des Käpt'n Blaubär, Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt a.M. 2002. ISBN 3-8218-5159-7 (Audiobook)
- The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, Overlook Hardcover, USA, 20 October 2005. ISBN 1-58567-724-8 (Hardcover)
- The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, Overlook Trade paperback, USA, 29 August 2006. ISBN 1-58567-844-9 (Trade paperback)
- 13 1/2 življenj kapitana Sinjedlakca, Cankarjeva založba, SI, 2000. ISBN 961-231-204-4 (Hardcover)
- 13 a 1/2 života Kapitána Modrého Medvěda, Albatros, Česká republika- Czech Republic