Looking for two movies, I found two good books I might have otherwise never read.
The movies, made from the books “Oil for the Lamps of China” and “The Riddle of the Sands,” have eluded me, but the books, same titles as the movies, are ones you might want to tuck into a knapsack as you head for the beach.
Years ago, “The Riddle of the Sands” was one of the first movies I popped into our then-new VHS player.
The movie’s still around on VHS if you can find a VHS movie source and your player works. There is a DVD version of “The Riddle of the Sands” but not in U.S. format.
The movie is one I associate with a certain time in my life. Not long after we got our first home movie player, the aforementioned VHS machine, I was laid low by the flu.
Friends brought me movies, leaving the large VHS cassettes leaning against the front door before knocking and hurrying away.
I watched Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (Julie Christie, Warren Beatty, Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine, 1971), with a high fever. I need to watch this movie again to see how much the film’s gritty, dreamy quality was Altman and how much the flu.
“The Riddle of the Sands,” a 1903 novel by Erskine Childers, has been called the first modern thriller and a spy story that influenced Ian Fleming, John le Carré and Ken Follett. I found Erskine’s novel at the parish library.
Written before World War I, Childers imagined a German invasion of England across the English Channel from the Frisian Islands.
C.S. Forester would visit the idea in his Hornblower books, this time Napoleon hatching the idea of an invasion of troop ships across the channel from the French coast.
The channel varies in width from 150 miles to 21 miles at the Strait of Dover.
A friend suggested the movie “Oil for the Lamps of China” released in 1935. I couldn’t find the movie, but I did find the book in the parish library.
Alice Tisdale Hobart’s novel was published three years before the movie. Married to an oil man sent to help open the China market, Hobart fictionalized an early freebie marketing strategy in which millions of small lamps were given to rural Chinese people.
Millions of cans of oil were moved inland to meet the demand created by the giveaway lamps.
What makes Hobart’s novel worth reading is its look at China as imperialism and warlords yielded to nationalism and the rise of Communism in China. The novel’s young American hero must deal with these changes and what it means to be a corporate man.
Hobart’s writing is direct and clear. Erskine’s a little stiff but viewed as the precursor to spy thrillers is worth your time.
If neither appeals to you as beach reading, there’s always Robert Crais. A slow reader, I managed to read two of Crais’ detective books in five days at the beach.