Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Two James Hilton Gems

Among the best fiction I’ve read all year have been James Hilton’s Random Harvest and his captivating novella, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I had enjoyed Hilton’s Lost Horizon earlier but found in Random Harvest and Goodbye, Mr. Chips characters that were even more appealing. Also, the simple story lines (though they were both certainly engaging enough) beautifully presented the human dramas of love, loss, courage, friendship, duty and idealism.

Both books are set (primarily) in the years following World War I. They follow, respectively, the lives of a shell-shocked veteran whose loss of memory creates a mysterious gap of three years in his life and a humble, modestly skilled schoolmaster whose long career in the same boy’s school brings him many small triumphs. Both fellows I think you’ll find endearing and the lessons they have to teach you’ll find practical, winsome and memorable.

And the surprise ending of RH will knock you out.

Both Random Harvest and Goodbye, Mr. Chips easily rate my 5-star recommendation.

And one more thing -- There are movies based on these two books that are really quite good. Random Harvest stars Ronald Colman and Greer Garson and my favorite version of the two Goodbye, Mr. Chips that were made stars Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark.

By all means, if you like old movies, please consider these as excellent choices. However, do not expect the movies to follow the plots of the novels!

Read the books first. Let them settle into your psyche. And then, after two or three months maybe, go watch the films. Like bourbon and egg nog, each may be superb on its own but combining them is a disaster that ruins both.