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Saturday, 31 July 2010

James Hilton 1900-1956.

A few thoughts on Nothing So Strange 1948. James Hilton is best known for Goodbye Mr Chips, a story drawn from his school experiences, and Far Horizons with his great invention Shangri La. He was a Hollywood screen writer as well as a novelist, who smoked himself to an early death. Nothing So Strange is about the war, set in wartime. Its theme is waste of talent through unreasonable suspicion. A talented physicist for very complex reasons was working for a pro-Nazi boss in Vienna, later in Berlin, just before war was declared. He was therefore ignored both as a scientist and a pilot in the airforce, considered to hot to handle. However his work if recognized in Germany could have produced a nuclear bomb by 1943, and equally could have contributed to the American effort. Instead, he was under psychiatric care, hounded both by psychiatrists and security forces who would have been more fruitfully employed elsewhere. His mentor through this was his student, probably to become his wife/partner. She knows, as we the reader knows, that he had an affair with her mother, but he does not know she knows, but her father does. This all keeps the war reflection steaming hot. He had a guilty secret, that he finally reveals: not murder or adultery, or anything so predictable. But he had falsified his data before leaving Berlin so his discoveries could not be misused. As a scientist,  this compromise whilst necessary was a matter of shame.

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