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Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
by James Hilton
1934
Hodder & Stoughton
126 pages

Cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Disclaimer: I read this book 10 years ago. Please comment if you spot an error, and I will correct it.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is the story of an elderly British schoolteacher flashing back upon his long career teaching Greek and Latin at a boys’ boarding school.

I first came across unused but somewhat old perma-bound copies of Goodbye, Mr. Chips at a teacher supply store back in 2004. I returned within a couple of months to pick up the remaining copies for gifts, as I was graduating from high school that spring. Since then, I’ve given away all those copies, including the one I first read, and at a used book sale obtained this older edition. It’s one of the most beautiful books I own.

Title Page

Title page. Today’s books do not look as cool as this.

The inside jacket is full of praise for the novel:

Duct Jacket

Dust jacket

 

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Dust jacket 2

Today, when I reread this quote from the dust jacket, I realized that I had lived that out in giving away many copies of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I know only one person to whom I gave the book actually read it, and she cried and enjoyed the 1939 movie just as I did. It’s that rare old book I’ve been able to convince another person to read. I don’t know what it is about my incredible taste that is off-putting, but I’m always impressed when someone around my age will read a Reel Old Book.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is the story of a man’s life in 126 pages. The book is a flashback of an elderly man, Mr. Chipping, who spent his entire career teaching Greek and Latin at Brookfield School and still lives there. Chips goes from the present to the past and back again. Most of the flashbacks are provided in a chronological order, but not all. This gives the novella a dreamlike feeling.

GMC Inside Cover

Inside cover of Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Chips spends his entire teaching career at Brookfield, and that is where most of the action takes place. When he first arrives at the school, he and the students do not connect. Eventually they grow to like him, and even adore him after a pretty, charming young wife loosens him up.

Chips stays at Brookfield past his retirement. Good thing, too, for when the Great War calls many instructors to the battlefront, Chips is called to serve on the schoolfront. As headmaster, one of his duties is reading the names of former students who died in the war. He’s the only person to whom many of those names have any meaning, as he is the only individual still employed by the school after all those years.

I used to be a teacher. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a must-read for educators. There’s a beautiful quote about how teachers can remember all students as they were:

“I remember . . . I remember . . . but chiefly I remember all your faces. I never forget them. I have thousands of faces in my mind–the faces of boys. If you come and see me again in years to come–as I hope you all will–I shall try to remember those older faces of yours, but it’s just possible I shan’t be able to–and then some day you’ll see me somewhere and I shan’t recognize you and you’ll say to yourself, ‘The old boy doesn’t remember me.’ [Laughter] But I do remember you–as you are now. That’s the point. In my mind you never grow up at all. Never. Sometimes, for instance, when people talk to me about our respected Chairman of the Governors, I think to myself, ‘Ah, yes, a jolly little chap with hair that sticks up on top–and absolutely no idea whatever about the difference between a Gerund and a Gerundive.’”

Send me back in a time machine and I’ll know that Chris can’t sit by Tyler because they will interrupt class, and that part of Grace’s home was destroyed by a fire and that she’s not doing well in class because she’s not sleeping well because the snoring of family members is keeping her awake. Teachers don’t forget students. We just don’t always know their adult selves when we meet them later.

Charming illustrations kept me company throughout the novella.

 

Chips and Kathie

Chips and Kathie

The book made me bawl. I don’t know that I have cried harder, before or since, when reading. Yet it’s not a weepy book like Where the Red Fern Grows or Love Story. I read somewhere that it took Hilton four days to write Goodbye Mr. Chips. As a writer, I find that impressive, intimidating, and inspiring! It’s a short book, and Hilton does so much with 126 pages.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is probably the quickest read of any of the books on my grown-up shelf. It can be done in one comfortable sitting. Do not speedread Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Get a large cup of tea and sip it as you read.

 

A special note about the inscription:

I love inscriptions and I try to inscribe all books I give. Books are so personal. It makes me sad that the giver and recipient won’t again see this 1938 Christmas gift.

Inscription 1

Inscription 2

If relatives/friends of either party can recognize this book and want it back, comment at the end of this post and we’ll communicate about it. I’ll note the names as I read them: Aunt Gillian E. Stevens, from Eleanor, Christmas 1938. Otherwise, I’m perfectly content to keep the book with its little treasures.

GMC Spine

 

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
1939
MGM

Directed by Sam Wood
Starring Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn and Paul Henreid
Nominated for 7 Academy Awards
Won Oscar for Best Actor – Robert Donat

I love this movie! It’s faithful to the book in spirit and story. There’s a little from the book that isn’t in the film, there’s a little in the film that isn’t in the book, but overall, it’s the same thing. If there were a test on the book and you just saw the movie, you’d get, at the lowest, a B+, but probably an A. The flashbacks in the film are linear, which is a more traditional way to tell the story than the book’s following the elderly Chips’ memories as they come and go. What was for me the most memorable part of the book was included in the 1939 film – the heart-wrenching April Fools’ Day scene.

Robert Donat, as Mr. Chips, won the only Oscar for the film. He beat out Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind), Laurence Olivier (Wuthering Heights), Mickey Rooney (Babes in Arms) and James Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). I believe those four films are more widely shown, so I imagine that in the minds of audiences today, Donat is overshadowed by all the others. His is not a household name. In case you’re entirely new to movies, or you’ve a movie lover who’s somehow missed this fact, the biggest year in the history of film is generally agreed to be 1939 (Memorize this; it may help you in trivia one day). So many great movies came out that year. With Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz coming out that year, plus a bunch of others, 1939 marks a year when it was indeed an honor to be even nominated.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips was Greer Garson’s film debut. She and Chips meet in the mountains. With mist covering her face, she is ethereal. Audiences must have loved her at first sight.

Garson received the first of seven Oscar nominations, losing to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. No matter—Greer would win a few years later for Mrs. Miniver, a wartime homefront tearjerker that I hope will be a future Reel Old Reads post.

Child actor Terry Kilburn, who portrayed Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol (1938), plays four generations of boys from the same family, which was a great touch. Mr. Kilburn has been involved with theatre for decades; you can read a delightful interview with him in a recent issue of Lavender Magazine.

I fully recommend the book and 1939 film Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I have not seen the Peter O’Toole musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips from 1969, but I will post an update when I do. Is it worth a watch? Let me know. Your comments and questions are appreciated!

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I’m Back!

It’s been about a year since my last post. I’ve been busy graduating, starting a good job, getting into writing fiction again and doing the various other things that distracted me from postpone-able activities such as blogging. Yet I missed Reel Old Reads and felt the pull to come back, so here I am.

I blogged here for myself, in order to improve my writing by doing it regularly and to better know the films and novels upon which they are based. I am glad to get the occasional follower or like, though. 🙂

I realized that my format felt forced. From now on, I intend to have a more relaxed manner by departing from the previous format and . I will not include as many or perhaps any images on future posts, for while I feel images enhance each post, the time I spend gathering them is better spent doing something else, and those who really want to see images from these films may find them elsewhere on the internet.

There it is. I’m going to shoot for one post every other month, but we’ll see what happens.


The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Thin Man
By Dashiell Hammett
Published in 1934 by Alfred A. Knopf
208 pages

One-Sentence Summary: Ex-detective Nick Charles and his socialite wife Nora find their Christmas holiday interrupted when Nick is pulled into the investigation of a former acquaintance’s disappearance. 

How I Found It: I was inspired to read the book after catching a marathon of The Thin Man film series a few months ago.   

The Setting: Manhattan, early 1930s. 

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The Narrative: ­­First person limited.  Very limited- Nick does not tell us everything he’s thinking. 

The Style:  The novel is hard-boiled detective fiction.  Hammett doesn’t give a word more than necessary.  I tweak wordiness in most novels I read, but I found The Thin Man to be pleasantly unalterable.

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The Title: The title refers to the missing inventor Clyde Wynant, who is said to be tall and thin. 

The Characters: Perceptive, middle-aged, retired detective Nick; his fun-loving younger wife, Nora; the wacky and deceptive Wynant family.  Despite the Prohibition, these characters drink or talk about drinking as much as characters on Bewitched.

Themes: Assumed identities, lies, doubles

The Best: The best thing about The Thin Man is that the dialogue is so rich. I also enjoyed that the chapters were typically only 2-6 pages long: I appreciate frequent stopping points as they encourage me to read “just one more chapter.”

The Worst: The worst thing about the novel, for me, is that I am not a great fan of detective fiction. The Thin Man is the first classic detective novel I have ever read, and while I enjoyed it, that was largely due to the humor. 

Of Note: Dashiell Hammett was a World War I veteran and a Pinkerton investigator before he became a writer.  He also wrote the novels Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and The Glass Key before his career as a screenwriter.  He is said to have based the characters of Nick and Nora on himself and his longtime partner Lillian Hellman, herself the author of screenplays and plays, including The Children’s Hour

Availability: In print and on Amazon Kindle. 

 

The Thin Man
Released May 23, 1934
93 minutes
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke
Produced by MGM
Black-and-White

Review: I love The Thin Man movie for two reasons: the lead actors and the writing.  William Powell and Myrna Loy are at their funniest together, and this particular movie shows why.  The writing speaks for itself:

“Say listen, is he working on a case?”
“Yes, he is.”
“What case?”
“A case of scotch. Pitch in and help him.”

“What’s that man doing in my drawers?”

“Waiter, will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts?”

Some of the funniest scenes from the series are on Youtube:

Differences: Asta the dog is changed from a female schnauzer to a male Wire Fox Terrier, and the age gap between Nick and Nora is smaller. There aren’t many variances in plot between the book and the movie.  Dorothy Wynant is close to her father in the movie while in the book she hadn’t seen him in years.  Clyde Wynant is told of Dorothy’s engagement in the opening scene of the film, and it is his absence that prompts the investigation. 

Cast Includes: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Cesar Romero, and Skippy the dog as Asta. 

Awards: The Thin Man was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, but It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert took the statuette home.  Both of the films feature witty dialogue and lead performers who have chemistry and comedic timing.  The Thin Man was also nominated for Oscars for Best Actor (William Powell, who lost to Clark Gable for It Happened One Night), Best Director (W. S. Van Dyke, who lost to Frank Capra for It Happened One Night), and Best Writing-Adaptation (Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who lost to Robert Riskin for… you’ll never guess… It Happened One Night). 

Of Note: The subsequent films in the series all feature variations of this title, and they sometimes refer to William Powell, who was 6’ and thin.

Availability: The entire collection of Thin Man movies is available on DVD, or the first movie can be purchased separately.  I have seen all but the last one, and the least of the Thin Man movies is still better than the average movie from the 30s/40s- or today. 

Leonard Maltin Rating: 4/4 stars

Remake:  A new adaptation of The Thin Man is being planned and will star Johnny Depp.   

Recommendations

Book: Yes.
Movie: Yes.

Next on Reel Old Reads:  Stars in My Crown by Joe David Brown.


The Purpose of This Blog

In this blog, I will review old books.   But not just any old books.  Books that are not bona fide classics but were popular when they were first published AND have been adapted for film.

1. Why these books?  For as many times as someone’s told me, “You’ll love this popular book/author/series,” I’ve wondered why I would want to read something that everyone else is reading.  I’m not saying that popular books are bad because they’ve been lauded by critics or the masses.  I’m not even saying that I wouldn’t enjoy them.

It’s just that there’s nothing like a $1 library book fair find that’s missing its jacket, smells funny, and has someone else’s Ex Libris stamp on the inside cover.  It’s a much better deal than a $25 new release from Barnes and Noble.  Plus the stories are set in a different time and place– and, more importantly, they were written in one.

2. Why the movie tie-in?  The books I will be reviewing on this blog were former bestsellers that were adapted for films, or they were written by authors with whom I have become familiar because other works of theirs were written.  I love old movies as much as I love old books.  There are a lot of bestsellers adapted for film in the 30s and 40s (no different from today), and I like to celebrate the connection.

If you are tired of what’s all the rage now, if you are interested in what entertained, shocked, and inspired a few past generations, if you just saw a movie and want to find out if the book is worth a read, if you are going through some books and are tempted to try them out before donating them to a thrift store, good for you!  I hope you find this blog helpful.

Note:  At this point, I do not intend to review the most popular classics.  They’ve been covered by many, many others.  For example, despite my love for my favorite book, Little Women, I will probably not be reviewing it. But if you haven’t read Little Women, suspend all other activities until you’ve done so. 🙂

I’ve read quite a few books and I have many more that I want to read.  I’ve decided to be choosy and go my own way in terms of what books I select.  Maybe you’re going your own way too.  Maybe we’ll meet and discuss a mutually-appreciated book that no one else we know has read, or even heard of.