David Weber is author of the New York Times best-selling Honor Harrington novels, as well as a mind-boggling array of other books. On top of that, he’s a really nice guy who took the time to share a glimpse into his universe.
SciFiBookshelf.com: Honor Harrington is arguably one of the most recognizable characters in science fiction today. She’s smart, driven, an exceptional naval officer and just gosh-darn likable. But like any good hero, she’s not without her flaws. Was there any particular inspiration that led you to create her the way she is?
David Weber: I don’t know about any particular inspiration in my creating Honor the way she came out. By that I mean that there were so many factors involved in creating this character that I can’t isolate one particular one as having been more important than the others. Her personality represents personal values on my part — the fact that she’s a responsibility taker, the fact that she has a fierce protective streak, the fact that she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and the fact that she is fiercely loyal both to her principles and to her friends — very much encapsulate traits I find admirable in a human being. Historically, although many people persist in thinking of Horatio Hornblower as her primary template, I really don’t. I think there’s probably more of Thomas Cochrane in her, so she’s probably more of a cousin of Hornblower’s than a descendent, since it’s pretty obvious from reading C. S. Forester that Cochrane was Hornblower’s literary “father.” Neither Hornblower nor Cochrane, however, ever rose to the heights within their own Navy that Honor has within hours, although you could probably make a case (now that I think about it) for her Grayson experience equating, in some wise, to Cochrane’s experiences in the revolutionary Chilean, Peruvian, and Greek navies. That particular resonance wasn’t planned on my part, however. A much better historical equivalent for her would, of course, be Horatio Nelson, and I’ve taken some pains to emphasize that relationship, as people familiar with Nelson’s life will probably realize. At the same time, she most definitely is not Horatio Nelson, second iteration. I think this can be most clearly seen in her approach to her relationship with Hamish Alexander, contrasted to Nelson’s relationship with Emma Hamilton, but she would also have been extremely unlikely to duplicate Nelson’s actions following the Battle of the Nile when he was so focused on the Kingdom of Sicily.
I definitely did not set out to create a female character for the purposes of having a female character. That just worked out that way, just as I’ve produced quite a few strong female protagonists in other books. I will admit that I take a certain pleasure in setting female characters in traditionally male roles, which is probably part of why I did it, but that wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. One thing that I did determine early on was that Honor would rise in rank rather than being caught in the “Jim Kirk” syndrome — in that respect, she was definitely following more in the Nelson mode than in the Cochrane mode. The exact way in which the character evolved into who she is today, however, really wasn’t planned out by me. I very seldom build a character by saying “I need this character to be such-and-so, so I’m going to give him/her this or that characteristic.” I usually start with a very general feel for who and what this person is going to be, and then the character builds naturally in my mind as I began confronting that character with problems that need to be solved. The one thing that I had decided was going to be a part of Honor’s character from the very beginning was the contrast between her total confidence in her professional capabilities and total lack of confidence in certain aspects of her personal life. And I decided from the very beginning to give her Nimitz, although the treecats themselves sort of surprised me by the way they ended up evolving. I had their social structure largely nailed down before I began writing, but their personalities and . . . psychology evolved as I watched Nimitz and Honor interacting.
One thing about Honor and her flaws is that she is a smart, capable person, which means that she makes smart, capable mistakes. Another aspect of her and her flaws is the most of her flaws are the vices of her virtues. I don’t think anyone could ever accuse Honor Harrington of having a mean bone in her body, but her temper’s gotten her into trouble more than once, and several of the decisions she’s made have been questionable at best, even though readers for some reason almost invariably give her the benefit of the doubt. For example, in Honor of the Queen, she sets out to shoot a prisoner without trial. In fact, she does shoot him; she simply misses, because someone shoves her hand aside at the last moment. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t think that was a “mistake” on her part! I think that’s because readers hated her intended victim so much and because they so thoroughly understood (and sympathized with) Honor’s motivation. There are other examples, though, including the one that I actually have Michelle Henke point out about Honor’s almost insanely risky strategy at the end of Echoes of Honor. I had Mike make that point because so many readers seem totally oblivious to it!
David Weber’s web site:
Stay tuned for more insights from the astonishing David Weber!