James Hilton

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James Hilton
Born 9 September 1900(1900-09-09)
Leigh, Lancashire, England
Died 20 December 1954(1954-12-20) (aged 54)
Long Beach, California, United States
Occupation Novelist
Genres Fantasy, adventure novel, mainstream fiction

James Hilton (9 September 1900 – 20 December 1954) was an English writer. He wrote several best-selling novels including Lost Horizon and Goodbye Mr. Chips. Lost Horizon introduced an imaginary place called Shangri-La and made it popular.

Biography[change | change source]

James Hilton was born in Leigh. His father, John Hilton, was the headmaster of Chapel End School in Walthamstow. James Hilton partially based the character Mr. Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips on his father.

Hilton wrote his two most famous books while living in an ordinary semi-detached house on Oak Hill Gardens, Woodford Green. The house is still there, and a small, blue sign says it was Hilton's home.

He was married twice, first to Alice Brown and later to Galina Kopineck. Both marriages ended in divorce. He died in Long Beach, California from liver cancer.

Novels[change | change source]

Hilton became a success writer when he was still young. He published his first novel, Catherine Herself, when he was 20 years old. Several of his books were international bestsellers. Some successful films were made based on his novels. Three of the best known movies are: Lost Horizon (1933), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934), and Random Harvest (1941). Many copies of Lost Horizon were sold in the 1930s as one of the first Pocket Books. The serial number was "1". Some people call it the novel that began the popularity of paperback books.

Lost Horizon[change | change source]

Lost Horizon is supposedly set in Tibet, and especially in a secret, imaginary valley called Shangri-La.[1] Shangri-La now means any perfect, pleasurable place or utopia.

It is unsure exactly where and how Hilton got his ideas about Tibet. He may have been inspired to write Lost Horizon and to invent Shangri-La" by reading the National Geographic Magazine by Joseph Rock. Rock was an Austrian-American botanist and ethnologist who explored southwestern China and areas near Tibet. Hilton have also read articles by early travelers in Tibet that he found in the British Library for more ideas[2] Christian Zeeman may also have been the model for the hero of the story. He disappeared while living in Japan and there were rumors that he was living secretly in a Zen Buddhist monastery. Some say that the isolated valley town of Weaverville, California, in far northern Trinity County, was Shangri-La. However, this is a misunderstanding of a comment by Hilton in a 1941 interview. In that interview, Hilton said that Weaverville reminded him of Shangri-La. Coincidentally, Junction City (about 8 miles from Weaverville) now has a Tibetan Buddhist centre with the occasional Tibetan monks in saffron robes.

After the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the press that the airplanes had taken off from Shangri-La. This was a kind of joke to hide the secret that they had taken off from aircraft carriers. Later, the US Navy gave that name to an aircraft carrier, and Roosevelt named his Maryland presidential retreat "Shangri-La". (That retreat is now called Camp David since President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed it after his grandson.) Zhongdian is a mountain region of Southwest China that has now been renamed Shangri-La (Xianggelila) because it may have inspired Hilton's book [3]

Work in Hollywood[change | change source]

Hilton lived and worked in Hollywood beginning in the mid-1930s. He won an Academy Award in 1942 for his work on the screenplay of Mrs. Miniver. That film was based on the novel by Jan Struther. Hilton was the host of The Hallmark Playhouse (1948–1953) for CBS Radio. One of his later novels, Morning Journey, was about the movie business.

Hilton's books[change | change source]

  • Catherine Herself, 1920
  • Storm Passage, 1922
  • The Passionate Year, 1924
  • Dawn Of Reckoning (Rage In Heaven), 1925
  • Meadows Of The Moon, 1926
  • Terry, 1927
  • The Silver Flame (Three Loves Had Margaret), 1928
  • Murder at School (U.S. title: Was It Murder?), published under the pen-name Glen Trevor, 1931
  • And Now Goodbye, 1931
  • Contango (Ill Wind), 1932
  • Knight Without Armour (Without Armor), 1933
  • Lost Horizon, 1933
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips, 1934
  • We Are Not Alone, 1937
  • To You, Mr Chips, 1938
  • Random Harvest, 1941
  • The Story Of Dr. Wassell, 1944
  • So Well Remembered, 1945
  • Nothing So Strange, 1947
  • Twilight Of The Wise, 1949
  • Morning Journey, 1951
  • Time And Time Again, 1953

Other versions of his works[change | change source]

Some of Hilton's novels became films:

Hilton co-wrote the book and lyrics for Shangri-La, an unsuccessful 1956 Broadway musical adaptation of Lost Horizon.

References[change | change source]

  1. However there is speculation that the site of Hilton's imagined 'Shangri La' might have been one of 3-4 locales in Tibet, Central Asia or Northern India (including areas such as Hunza now in Pakistan), or a mixture of various places and ideas
  2. Michael Buckley Shangri-La: A Travel Guide to the Himalayan Dream, Brandt Travel Guides, Chalfont St. Peter 2008, p37
  3. Chapter 4 "Shangri-La: A Travel Guide to the Himalayan Dream". Michael Buckley, Brandt Travel Guides, Chalfont St. Peter 2008

Other websites[change | change source]