Maybe it’s a throwback to my younger days of Jules Verne and other adventure novels, but there’s something a bit boy’s own about this chapter that I loved. Also, despite the fact that film was far from invented then, Tolstoy also has a very visual sense of suspense, which someone like Alfred Hitchcock or Peter Jackson would love.
First, Nikolai is just riding along, and he’s not sure if he can see the French through the mist. It might be a fire, it might not be. And Tolstoy isn’t shifting the camera away from Nikolai’s point of view, so we don’t know what’s out there.
Then, the rather humorous interlude where he’s falling asleep, and then out of the darkness . . . shouts, cheers and small flames. What’s going on?
When Bagration and Dolgurokov appear, that gives us a chance to go adventuring, so Tolstoy’s camera follows Nikolai’s mad horse race to see if there are still French pickets out there in the mist. He gallops down the hill, across the road, not being able to see in front of him . . . and then bullets are fired at him! And he turns and gallops back with shots ringing out after him. If that’s not a classic film suspense/action scene, then I don’t know what is.
You’ve also got to love the similarity between Nikolai and Andrei in the first chapter – there’s a difference in age – but for both of them, there’s this fantasy-world that they’re living in where everyone thinks they’re wonderful because of their heroic actions.
Finally, Tolstoy pulls back out for a big picture historical view, by quoting from an actual letter of Napoleon’s that was read out to the soliders in the battle. It’s going to be a big day tomorrow . . .