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Posts Tagged ‘james hilton’

Lost Horizon‘s only contribution to literature was make Shangri-La synonymous with paradise on earth, thereby providing a name for raunchy bars.

James Hilton’s novel is just plain stupid.


Lost Horizon by James Hilton

William Morrow, 1934. 277 pages. 1935 bestseller # 8. My grade C-.


Cover of Lost Horizon shows Shangri La clinging to mountainsidesHilton presents Lost Horizon as a second-hand tale, a device that’s supposed to relieve the teller of responsibility for veracity. However, the story is so ridiculous, the characters so implausible, that it could be plausible only to British school chums who topped off an old school dinner with plenty of brandy.

The novel is about four people whose plane goes down in the Himalayas: Conway, a British consul; Mallison, his youthful vice-consul; Roberta Brinkow, a missionary; and Henry Barnard, an American fugitive.

Monks take them into Shangri-La, a Tibetan valley where people life very long lives.

The monks pick Conway to become High Llama when the current leader snuffs it. All but Mallison would be content to stay put.

Mallison scorns Conway’s story that Lo-Tsen, the girl he’s fallen for in Shangri-La,  is really an old woman.

Love and duty demand he get back to England.

Conway leads the pair get out.

Does Lo-Tsen really age overnight?

Does Mallison see his folly?

Can Conway ever get back to Shangri-La?

Does anyone outside a raunchy bar know — or care?

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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My nominees for the three best of the best-selling 1945 novels are So Well Remembered by James Hilton, A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley, and Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham.

If nobody’s counting, I’ll add James Ramsey Ullman’s The White Tower to the list, not because it’s such a great book, but because it’s such an interesting one.

Each of my picks has something to do with politics.

So Well Remembered

Movie poster for film version of So Well Remembered shows mug shots of 4 of 5 principal actorsSo Well Remembered is a poignant story of an elected official who is a genuine public servant.

George Boswell is hard-working, scrupulously honest, totally dedicated to doing the right thing for his town, even if the right thing is not what the town wants.

We don’t often see people like that in government.

Although in this novel, as in most of his novels, Hilton overindulges in sentiment, I nevertheless find Boswell quietly heroic. I’ve met a few George Boswells in my years as a reporter, which perhaps biases my outlook.

A Lion Is in the Streets

A Lion Is in the Streets is decidedly a political novel, but its leading man is neither quiet nor heroic.

lion appears to be scowling at the camersThe story is loosely based on Huey P. Long,  who rode a tide of populism to the Louisiana governor’s mansion and then to a U. S. Senate seat before he was assassinated at age 42.

Unlike All the King’s Men, a more well-known fictional rendering of the machinations of the political wizard, A Lion Is in the Streets relates events from the perspective of a politician’s wife.

Verity Martin is passionately in love with her husband, but passion doesn’t blind her to his faults. I can’t help thinking of her as a 1940s Hillary Clinton.

Whereas So Well Remembered is easy reading, A Lion is in the Streets requires the same kind of serious concentration required in reading a play. The reader who doesn’t mentally envision the scene and hear the sound of the lines in his inner ear will miss much of this marvelous novel.

Earth and High Heaven

cover of paperback edition of Earth and High HeavenIn terms of reading difficulty, Earth and High Heaven is roughly half way between the Hilton and the Langley novels. Graham writes in a way that encourages, rather than requires, slow reading.

Earth and High Heaven explores the mindset of people who will quite willing to fight, even die on European soil for Jewish lives but totally unwilling to have a Jew in their Montreal living room.

They are also not willing to have a daughter enjoy the company of a man who is Jewish, even if he is in other respects an acceptable suitor.

That strange distinction between principles one is willing to die for and principles one refuses to live with strike me as a vital political issue. We see it today in people ready to lend a hand to save the migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean but unwilling to give them a place to live once they have been rescued.

The White Tower

Plane flies by snow-covered mountainWhile it’s obviously a mountain-climbing adventure, Ullman’s The White Tower has the Second World War as its political background:  What is war by politics taken to the extreme?

The crash that lands Martin Ordway’s plane in the Swiss Alps occurs as Ordway is on a bombing mission into Germany.

Switzerland, being neutral, offers escape from the war to combatants from both sides. Thus, it’s perfectly plausible that the party Ordway gathers to climb the White Tower includes a German soldier, the estranged wife of a Nazi, a Brit, a Frenchman, and an Alpine native.

The climbers seek not only the adventure of the climb, but glory for their respective nations.

Mountain climbing becomes a political act.

The White Tower is not a great book, but it is an exciting one.

That’s my list of the best of the 1945 bestsellers.

Next time here, I’ll preview the 1935 bestseller list for you

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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I don’t often find a book that I want to buy for my own collection, but I found one in So Well Remembered.

It’s a novel that bears re-reading.


So Well Remembered by James Hilton

Little, Brown 1945. 328 pages. 1945 bestseller # 7. My Grade: A.


On Sept. 1, 1921 as the Great War ends, Browdley Mayor George Boswell sees the foundation stone laid for the slum-clearance project so dear to his heart.

That evening George learns his wife wants to marry a budding young diplomat she met in Austria.

George gives Livia a divorce and throws himself into local politics with renewed vigor.

Twenty years later, George meets Livia’s son, Charles, a badly wounded flyer. George and Charles become close friends, forcing George to face his past — and Livia — again.

Livia is either criminally selfish or certifiably insane. Given her history, both are equally possible.

Incorruptible and totally without rancor, George will work as long as it takes to provide decent housing, good schools and medical care in Browdley — even if the town doesn’t want those things.

In So Well Remembered, James Hilton produced a gem whose plot, characters, insight, optimism, and humor more than atone for the sentimental drivel of his more famous novels.

I hope you’ll like So Well Remembered as much as I do.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Good fathers are too dull for novels. At least that’s the impression the scarcity of exemplary fathers in bestselling fiction gives. I turned up just three interesting men in the bestselling pre-1970 fiction who have a demonstrable, positive impact on their own children.

Atticus Finch

To Kill a Mockingbird book jacketOf the three, lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is the most famous. Atticus has achieved the status of an American icon. You can buy mugs and T-shirts asking, “What would Atticus do?”

Atticus doesn’t do much of what passes these days for fathering. He doesn’t coach Jem’s little league team. He doesn’t organize Scout’s birthday parties. He doesn’t help his kids with their homework.

Instead, he gives them a lap when they’re hurting, answers their questions, and makes sure they know right from wrong. And he lives his convictions so unwaveringly that people stand to their feet when he passes.

Charles “Stuffy” Anderson

dust jacket of Time and Time AgainA less well-known father is Charles “Stuffy” Anderson in James Hilton’s 1953 bestseller, Time and Time Again. Charles is both proud and embarrassed that his colleagues call him “Stuffy.” He knows he’s a stuffed shirt, but he tries to always be a man of integrity.

Charles sent his son to America when Gerald’s mother was killed in the London blitz. He’s hoping Gerald’s joining him in Paris to celebrate his seventeenth birthday will establish their relationship on a more adult level.

Charles regrets that having to care for his father, who was descending into dementia, kept him from seeing more of Gerald during his teen years, but Charles believed his first duty was to his father.

When he and Gerald are reunited, it’s clear that Gerald loves and respects his father and follows his moral example.

John Graham

gp_cover1John Graham is the last of the three exemplary fathers. Graham made a fortune in the pork packing industry, which allowed him to send his son Pierrepont to be expensively educated at Harvard. The fictional executive pens Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son to give Pierrepont advice not available in those hallowed halls. (The actual author of the 1903 bestseller is George Horace Lorimer.)

The senior Graham writes conversationally, commenting on what his son writes to him and on what he reads between the lines of the son’s letters, and illustrating his points with humorous stories from his own experiences.

When his son does something of which he disapproves, his father tells him. When he does something of which his father approves, he tells him that, too. But Graham assumes his son will do the right thing as soon as he knows what that the right thing to do is.

Shared expectations

Although these fathers are very different men, they give the impression that they would find their children interesting and enjoyable to have around, even if those children belonged to someone else. These three fathers also share some common expectations:

  • They expect their children to be children.
  • They expect their children to be obedient.
  • They expect their children to do what they have been taught is right .
  • They expect their children to outgrow childishness as they grow up.
  • They expect their children to become good companions when they become adults.

With fathers like those, how far wrong could the children go?

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Good-Bye, Mr. Chips is an an eccentric schoolmaster’s sentimental look back over his lifetime in a British boarding school for boys.

schoolboys sitting on benchMr. Chipping came to Brookfield to teach classics. He wasn’t much of a scholar or teacher, but he did his job. So he stayed.

In 1896, at age 48, he fell in love with a beautiful young woman half his age. She mellowed and sharpened Chips, making him a revered figure on campus. When she dies in childbirth, he hangs on, buoyed by the boys he loves.

He retired at 65 and moved across the road from the school, renting rooms from another former school employee.

When World War I depleted the pool of teachers, Chips was called back to act as headmaster until the war ended.

Then he went back into retirement, but he kept close ties to Brookfield to the day of his death.

In Good-Bye, Mr. Chips, James Hilton pays tribute to teachers who care more about their pupils than about their subject. There’s no plot to speak of, no real characterization. The novel is just an excuse to indulge in a few minutes of tearful nostalgia.

Make a cup of tea, butter a muffin, and enjoy this harmless indulgence.

Good-Bye, Mr. Chips
By James Hilton
Little, Brown, 1934
126 pages
1934 bestseller # 4
My Grade: B

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Beyond This Place Whopping big books with important messages dominate the 1953 bestseller list. Not one of those hefty novels is one  I’d dig out to read a second time.

The novels with the most entertainment per pound are among the thinnest of the 1953 novels: Beyond This Place by A. J. Cronin and Time and Time Again by James Hilton.

Cronin and Hilton were prolific writers who knew how to write novels that translated well into films. Hilton even worked as a Hollywood screenwriter. Their names were, if not household words, instantly recognizable to the reading public on both sides of the Atlantic for a large portion of the twentieth century.

dust jacket of Time and Time AgainIn their 1953 bestsellers, Cronin and Hilton tell stories of men remarkable for their ordinariness. Cronin’s protagonist is career foreign service officer nearing retirement age; Hilton’s is a young collegian planning a teaching career.

Each of these unlikely heroes would laugh at the idea of doing anything heroic. They go on playing the bit role life assigned them until they each tumble into a situation they cannot in good conscience ignore.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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dustjacket of Time and TIme Again

Time and Time Again is primarily character study, but a superbly plotted one, and James Hilton’s totally unpredictable ending is entirely plausible.

Charles Anderson, 52, is a British career diplomat. To date, his public life has been respectably dull aside intermittent painful episodes resulting from his father’s descent into dementia.

Charles bears the knowledge that his friends call him “Stuffy” with a mingled pride and humility. In his affectionate tolerance of his father, he demonstrates the integrity that inspires the respect of both friend and foe.

Charles is assisting in some tricky negotiations with the Russians at a Paris conference when, to celebrate Gerald’s 17th birthday, he asks his son to join him. Since Gerald was sent to America after his mother was killed in the blitz, Charles has seen little of his son. Charles hopes the dinner will begin a relationship that will flourish when he retires.

When Gerald hurries away from the dinner, Charles follows. He walks in on the boy with a woman in an American-style soda fountain.

While he’s trying to cover his embarrassment occasioned as much by the American cuisine as the assignation, Charles is further embarrassed by the appearance of his adversary from the conference, the Russian negotiator Palan.

This is an unexpectedly good novel that can be read time and time again.

Time and Time Again
By James Hilton
Little, Brown, 1953
306 pages
1953 bestseller #8
My grade B+

© 2013 Linda Gortaon Aragoni

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