Discussing January’s Poll


More than one hundred people voted in last month’s poll, which asked “Have you read the novel MASH?” The majority of poll takers (67% to be exact) said no. MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, written by Richard Hooker (the pen name of real life surgeon and Korean War veteran H. Richard Hornberger) with collaborator W. C. Heinz, was originally published in 1968. I have read it, once, but remember very little about it. Over the years I have considered rereading it, particularly to see how Larry Gelbart took a minor plot line in the novel involving a raffle to raise money for Ho Jon and turned it into the pilot episode of M*A*S*H (recall that the end credits to “M*A*S*H – The Pilot” state “Based on a Novel by Richard Hooker”). As a huge fan of television tie-in novels, I have always regretted the fact that there were never any original novels based on M*A*S*H the television series featuring the characters as the developed on the small screen.

At one point, more than a decade ago, I toyed with the idea of expanding the scope of this website to focus on the novel and the film in addition to the television series (and the play, too, for good measure). But I thought better of it. M*A*S*H — the television series is distinct from both the novel and the film, both of which are likewise different from one another. In fact, I have read that the original screenplay for MASH was quite a bit different than the final film.

So, for those who have read MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, what are your thoughts? For those who haven’t, why haven’t you? Has anyone read all 15 novels (the bulk of which were written by Richard Hooker and William E. Butterworth; Hooker himself only wrote two additional novels on his own)?

4 Replies to “Discussing January’s Poll”

  1. I haven’t read the novel, mainly because I haven’t been able to come across a copy of it… I THOUGHT I did at one of my local libraries, but it turned out to be the memoirs of a MASH surgeon in Korea, not the novel (it was misleading because this memoir had the same title).

    As for the movie, I still haven’t been able to see the entire thing, but I have seen the bulk of it, and it’s not like the series was, but I have to think on a quote by Colonel Potter when he was compared to Henry Blake, “That didn’t mean I was better, or worse. Just different.” That’s what I have to say about the movie, it’s not better than the series, but it’s not worse either, it’s just different.

    As for the additional novels, they really seemed far-fetched… I mean like M*A*S*H Goes to Maine, M*A*S*H Goes to Las Vegas, M*A*S*H Goes to Camp, M*A*S*H Goes to Jail, M*A*S*H Goes Upstairs, M*A*S*H Goes to the Store, M*A*S*H Goes Next Door, M*A*S*H Goes to Hell, M*A*S*H Goes to Canada… however, I did read that Hooker strongly disliked the series, so I can’t help but wonder if those spin-off novels was his way of trying to ruin the franchise as a whole?

  2. I have read the novel, and I really like it. The story is different from the series, but does match the movie. In fact, most of what happens in the movie does happen in the novel. I own all 15 of the books, but have only read the original. Part of this is because of lack of time, but mostly because the other books take the characters out of Korea and place them in random scenarios. They were written while the series was airing, so those books have always seemed like a way for Richard Hooker to profit.

    I love the movie. When I first saw it, I was not sure what to think because it was not the familiar TV cast. After reading the novel, reading some background on MASH units (I wrote a paper on MASH units as an undergrad), I came to appreciate the movie and series even more.

    If you would like to read some books on MASH units in Korea. I would highly recommend reading W. L. White’s “Back Down the Ridge.” This book, according to Larry Gelbart, was required reading for all writing on the show. Another good book is Dorothy G. Horwitz’s “We Will Not Be Strangers: Korean War Letters between a M.A.S.H Surgeon and His Wife.” This is a great collection of stories from a MASH unit. Also look at Otto Apel’s “MASH: An Army Surgeon in Korea.” I believe he was an advisor to the show and his book offers excellent insight as well. Richard Kirkland’s “Tales of a Helicopter Pilot” is also very good as it compares MASH units in Korea to MASH units in Vietnam.

    I really read alot into the history of MASH units several years ago. It really gives you an appreciation for what these men and women did.

    Also, the real Hawkeye recently died. You can read his obituary here: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120124/NEWS0213/120124001/1007/news02/Vermont-s-Hawkeye-Pierce-Dr-John-H-Davis-dies-87. I am not sure if he actually went by that nickname, but Ricard Kirkland describes a MASH surgeon who actually did.

  3. I read the book about 4 years ago and liked it very much. There are a lot of instances in the book which have been mentioned on the show or the movie but have never been filmed such as Trapper dressing up as Jesus Christ to collect money from the camp members. Its a great book and you can go through it pretty fast.

    I haven’t read any of the other novels though and Im not really inclined to. I love the show but it is unique in that it works because of the time it was set in, in Korea during the war. Since the others weren’t written by Hooker himself, Im not the least bit curious about them. Ive already had one bad experience reading a novel and sequel written by two different authors – Gone with the Wind which was terrific and Scarlett which made me want to gouge out my eyes.

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