James Hilton

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James Hilton (9 September 1900 – 20 December 1954) was an English novelist, and author of several best-sellers including Lost Horizon (which popularised the mythical Shangri-La) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.



Born in Leigh, James Hilton was the son of John Hilton, the headmaster of Chapel End School in Walthamstow. His father was one of the inspirations for the character of Mr. Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. (Hilton was born in Wilkinson Street, Leigh — there is a teacher in Goodbye, Mr. Chips called Mr Wilkinson.) The setting for Goodbye, Mr. Chips is believed to have been based on the Leys School, Cambridge, where James Hilton was a pupil. Chipping is also likely to have been based on W. H. Balgarnie, one of the masters of the school who was in charge of the Leys Fortnightly, where Hilton's first short stories and essays were published.

Hilton wrote his two most remembered books, Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips while living in a rather ordinary semi-detached house on Oak Hill Gardens, Woodford Green. The house still stands, with a blue plaque marking Hilton's residence.

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.


Hilton found literary success at an early age. His first novel, Catherine Herself, was published in 1920, when he was 20. Several of his books were international bestsellers and inspired successful film adaptations, notably Lost Horizon (1933), which won a Hawthornden Prize; Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934); and Random Harvest (1941). Lost Horizon, which sold briskly in the 1930s as one of the first Pocket Books (it in fact bore the serial number "1"), is sometimes referred to as the book that began the paperback revolution.

Hilton is said to have been inspired to write Lost Horizon, and to invent "Shangri-La" by reading the National Geographic Magazine articles of Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American botanist and ethnologist exploring the southwestern Chinese provinces and Tibetan borderlands. Still living in Britain at the time, he was perhaps influenced by the Tibetan travel articles of early travellers in Tibet whose writings were found in the British Library.[1] The Danish father of the mathematician Sir Christopher Zeeman, Christian Zeeman, has also been claimed to be the model for the hero of the story. He disappeared while living in Japan (where Christopher Zeeman was born in 1925), and was reputed to be living incognito in a Zen Buddhist monastery.[citation needed]

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