‘Compartment’-alizing With Trains in Literature

This blog sometimes goes off the rails, but I’d like to stay within them this week by offering a post about…trains.

Yes, trains have been a memorable part of various novels — maybe even more so than planes, buses, and other forms of mass transit (which, for churchgoers, can include any way you travel to Sunday mass).

There’s something sort of romantic about rail travel, even though trains (especially in the underfunded-mass-transit United States) are often rather unromantic. Other potential dramatic elements: the many-hours length of some train rides, strangers sitting near each other, long corridors, dining cars, station stops, sleeping berths, etc. And of course trains take characters to other locales — temporarily or permanently. So, with all the above, there’s plenty of time and places for great, good, bad, and awful things to happen.

Famous novels with a railway milieu? Of course, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, whose title says it all; and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, in which a man suggests to another man that they “trade” murders. Both made into memorable, well-known movies.

Somewhat less known, but perhaps the quintessential railway novel, is The Beast in Man. The train is practically a living character as its engine driver and other characters play out Emile Zola’s riveting tale of romance and violence — including an astonishing depiction of a train “accident” caused by sabotaged tracks. Obviously, 19th-century novels such as Zola’s were written pre-airplane and pre-car (or in the very early years of cars), so trains were a much more prominent travel option — in real life and novels.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake contains a horrific train accident in the father’s past — a significant moment that impacts the novel’s present.

Speaking of the present, I’m currently reading Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, in which we learn a lot about the protagonist in the novel’s first chapter as he rides a train, interacts with passengers and the porter, and uneasily dreams in a sleeping berth.

Then we of course have the Hogwarts Express in J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter books. Harry, Hermione, and Ron first meet on that train, and many other things happen there as well. In the subsequent play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, there’s a pivotal Hogwarts Express scene involving the sons of Harry and Draco Malfoy.

On the subject of plays, the excellent On the Twentieth Century by Betty Comden and others is set on a train. Part musical, part drama, part screwball comedy, part farce.

And speaking of pivotal, there are several important rail scenes in Darryl Brock’s novel If I Never Get Back — including one in which the 20th-century protagonist goes back in time to the 19th century, and another in which that protagonist meets Mark Twain in a train-car corridor.

One obviously can’t forget Holocaust-novel scenes on or near the horrific Nazi death trains, such as a shocking/heart-wrenching moment in the William Styron-authored Sophie’s Choice.

And Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s description of the corpse train of murdered on-strike workers in One Hundred Years of Solitude is shattering.

One of the iconic rail scenes in literature involves the train-related fate of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina character.

Then there are subways. One gripping, suicidal, New York City-set underground event occurs in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novel Gone Tomorrow.

I see I’ve described a lot of bad things happening on trains. But some fictional works do offer positive tales of things like falling in love on the rails.

Novels can “take you places,” and trains help readers do that.

What are some of your favorite fictional works with train elements?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece, which comically previews Election Day, is here.

138 thoughts on “‘Compartment’-alizing With Trains in Literature

  1. Thank you for your posts. Good point on trains… I’ve always loved train scenes within literature.

    Hope you find some time to keep reading my story, too.

    Would you consider recommending my blog to your readers/followers?

    They would have a chance of reading a blog still in the process of being written – and a woman rediscovered.

    Have a great November! X

    Liked by 1 person

      • The music of ‘From Russia With Love’ was fantastic as well, the first completely scored by John Barry (He was musical director for ‘Dr. No’ but the score was by Monty Norman). This was where all that familiar James Bond music originated. From then on, you could ALWAYS recognize a John Barry-composed James Bond score. John Barry, of course, wrote many other notable scores other than the Bond films: ‘Born Free’, ‘The Lion in Winter’, ‘Body Heat’, ‘Somewhere in Time’ and the list goes on.

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          • Much of that comes from the fact that when I was a child my mom started buying movie soundtracks, mostly musicals and epics i.e. ‘West Side Story’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Ben-Hur’, ‘King of Kings’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and so on. My older brother really got the soundtrack bug and when he first saw the James Bond movies, of course he was blown away by the music, as was I. Soundtracks were his major purchases until the Beatles came along and opened the floodgates of rock’n’roll for both of us. He continued to buy movie soundtracks as well and I became pretty knowledgeable about movie scores as he did. To this day, when I watch a movie I will read the credits, look for who wrote it, who directed it, who the director of photography is and who wrote the music.

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    • Here’s a reconstructed comment in case it was lost. If you retrieve the original, then we’ll have two versions of my comment and you can vote on which is the best.

      The first novel that I can recall reading in which a train plays a significant role is Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel ‘From Russia With Love’. Bond and beautiful Russian defector Tatiana Romanova are trying to get across Western Europe on the Orient Express with a decoding machine that Tatiana smuggled out of the Russian embassy. SMERSH (real life Soviet intelligence agency during the Cold War) has discovered the theft and has sent the killer Grant after them to kill them and retrieve the machine. Bond and Tatiana are traveling under false names as husband and wife but Grant, posing as fellow British agent Captain Nash, tracks them down. Once the moment of truth arrives and Bond and Grant know the jig is up a fight ensues. The cramped conditions of the compartment seem to increase the intensity of the violence but Bond kills Grant, of course. This was very memorably depicted in the film version (the best of the Bonds, in my opinion) with Sean Connery fighting Robert Shaw as Grant. The fight was very brutal and intense for the time. Very tame compared with what we see in films and TV every day these days.
      This novel was the first I had ever heard of the Orient Express. I heard the title ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ but knew nothing about Agatha Christie or her work.

      BTW, the fact that I am a resident of the state that produced Roy Moore is the latest reason that I am ashamed to be associated with the state of Alabama in many respects.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That kind of vote is better than some political ones. 🙂

        Excellent summary of “From Russia With Love,” bobess48! If I ever saw that movie, it was LONG ago — I’m not remembering it. Sounds like a GREAT Bond film.

        Well, every state is saddled with embarrassing “leaders.” New Jersey has had Chris Christie and so many other vile and/or corrupt bozos. Alabama is certainly one of the redder of the red states, but I’ve met some very nice/not-ultra-conservative Alabamans (including you 🙂 ) here, on Facebook, and in person at National Society of Newspaper Columnists conferences!

        It’s absolutely shocking (but not shocking) that many national Republicans are still supporting the far-right crazy Moore even after the solid Washington Post report that he was acting inappropriately with teenage girls. Of course, previously known examples of Moore’s awful beliefs and actions should have already disqualified him from support.


  2. ” Make Me “, by Lee Child published a couple of years ago as we know Child publishes A Novel every year in October.
    Here Reacher was riding on a train and saw a town calls ” Mothers Rest”, a spooky name so he needed to disembark there to find out who was the “mother “, the town was names after.
    As Reacher is getting older a tender side is showing and as he partnered with Ms. Cheng why was beautiful but strong . Together they tried to solve the mystery which became very dark..and so on….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In “Demons of the Night”, a short story collection of French 19th century fantastic fiction, there is, at book’s end, a story titled “The Veiled Man”, written in 1891 by Marcel Schwob. A murder takes place in a compartment in which the narrator and two others are the only occupants– then there are only two, one of whom is the narrator, and the other, the corpse of a man murdered by his fellow traveler, who departs the train, but not before smearing blood on the oddly passive narrator, who becomes, despite his declared innocence, the chief suspect in the crime, if there really ever was another passenger besides the corpse…. creepy and strange, this one!

    Last year, I happened on “Thrilling Stories of the Railway”, by Canon VL Whitechurch, published in 1912. Every story is a mystery set in trains or around stations, though the criminality illuminated in the one story I read was almost touchingly petty, given modern appetites: a tobacconist is discovered to have made arrangements with a railway worker to heave off a few untaxed packages of tobacco in a spot convenient to pick-up, and thus was able to sell his wares at a cheaper price than his suspicious local competitor, who sets off the investigation. ‘Thrilling’ was oversell.

    2 movies in which trains figure muchly:The Narrow Margin, and Strangers on a Train, the latter based on a Patricia Highsmith novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great additions to this discussion, jhNY!

      “The Veiled Man” story you vividly described sounds absolutely weird and macabre.

      And I chuckled at your paragraph explaining how not-so-thrilling those “thrilling” railway stories were. Yet it’s a collection right up the alley (track?) of this topic.


  4. Pingback: Trains in fiction always make for wonderful pieces! – L.F. McCabe – Author

  5. Your post reminded me of ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ by Pascal Mercier and I recently watched the movie version, starring Jeremy Irons as the main character. After a chance encounter with a young woman, he takes the night train to Lisbon and brings along a book by a fictional Portuguese doctor, whose writings explore loneliness, friendship, love and death. He becomes obsessed with a desire to understand the mind of the author. Very enjoyable, both book and movie. I particularly liked the film version because it was shot in many of the places I visited while on holiday in Lisbon some years ago, so a lot of reminiscing on my part.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree! It’s a coincidence that you wrote about trains because I wrote a couple scenes last week that took place on a train. And oddly enough, I decided to add a train because I was recently reading Harry Potter and loved the mood and feeling of being on a train with the characters.

    Great post, as always. I strongly appreciate your deep insights! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Thomas, for the excellent comment and kind words! I really enjoy hearing about coincidences like that. 🙂

      The Harry Potter series is inspirational in so many ways. Those books were one of the first I thought of when deciding to write about the evocative topic of trains in literature.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes it is a powerful film giving away so many messages. This Australian adoptive mom said it was not that she could not have children, there are too many of us in the world and that why she adopted two. One is Sharoo, the Lion and the other one is challenged mentally.
        You could relate to that Dave.
        Sharoo fell asleep when little , when awoke could not find his brother and then he hooped on a train.
        True story, the little boy as Sharoo in absolutely adorable.
        Dave you would love the movie.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Dave,

    When I saw the title of this week’s blog, I didn’t think I’d have much to contribute, however as I kept reading, I kept thinking of new novels. Also, as I kept reading, I saw that you mentioned most of them, but I’ll comment on them anyway. Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” immediately came to mind for obvious reasons.

    Not so obvious was Frank Moorhouse’s “Grand Days”. I didn’t love the novel, and thought it could have been a LOT shorter, but I did greatly enjoy the beginning of the story. There’s a very quirky young woman meeting a young man on a train. Being in such a confined space, she finds it hard to hide her quirky, which I loved.

    In Ben Elton’s “Time and Time Again” there’s badness on a train. It was a bit of a twist that I didn’t see coming, so I won’t say much about it, but the train was quite important to the story line.

    I haven’t read any Agatha Christie, and don’t think I’ve seen any of the film adaptations. However I’ve seen the trailer for the new “Murder” and I am looking forward to seeing it. Actually, I was going to ask Kat Lib where that particular story rates as a Christie story, but I’m so scared of spoilers! I really can’t wait to see the movie.

    And of course there’s the Hogwarts Express. I love when Harry buys all the sweets for Ron when they first meet on the train. I also like the meeting of Professor Lupin in the third book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG, after reading Michele’s comment about sinister trains, I can’t believe I forgot that there’s a very evil and insane train in Stephen King’s “Dark Tower”. Things aren’t looking good for hour heroes at the end of the third book and I had to wait YEARS for the forth book to be released so I’d know what happened on that train!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s right, Sue! A very important train ride kicked off “Grand Days,” which I read on your recommendation a year or two ago and which I thought was excellent — albeit longer than it had to be, as you mentioned. The protagonist was indeed quirky and interesting, though she perhaps overdid the constant self-analysis.

      My favorite of the five or so Agatha Christie novels I’ve read is “And Then There Were None.” Almost a perfectly written mystery, and I didn’t know “whodunnit” until the startling revelation at the end.

      Yes, Harry Potter was a generous sort with all the money he had inherited — which definitely endeared him to Ron, who of course was from a not-rich family stretched even thinner by all those kids (Ron’s siblings).


      • Dave, I think that Christie’s “And Then There Were None” is the first adult mystery I ever read, which then started me on a lifelong obsession with mysteries. I was at summer school in Austin when I needed a break from studying and picked up a copy at the university bookstore. It’s odd how we remember so many details about when we read a certain book. This was also the same time period I read “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen, another obsession I still have today.

        Sue, I promise not to give you any spoilers about the endings, but I think my Christie favorites include “Murder on the Orient Express,” as well as the aforementioned “And Then There Were None.” Also, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” “Murder at the Vicarage,” after which I’d probably place “Endless Night,” “At Bertram’s Hotel,” “Death on the Nile,” “The ABC Murders,” and “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.” Now if you asked me tomorrow, I might come up with a completely different list! I just have to say that for a mystery writer who could always come up with an ingenious twist or turn, there is nobody quite like her.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Given that the fantastic “And Then There Were None” was the first adult mystery you ever read, Kat Lib, I can see how it could have been one of the reasons you became a lover of that genre!

          You have a great memory — I can’t recall how I learned about/stumbled on that Agatha Christie novel. All I sort of remember is that it was a paperback, maybe with a red cover, and it might have been called by one of its alternate titles — the politically incorrect “Ten Little Indians.” Of course, it originally (?) also had an even more politically incorrect/very racist title which I will not name here. 😦 But an incredible book.

          I’ll await Sue’s response to the rest of your comment. 🙂

          Now I’m off to vote in New Jersey’s elections…


          • Dave, yes, I also wanted to mention the horrible original titles for this book, fortunately when it hit the US it was changed after a time, which is to my mind a much better title anyway. I also plan to hit the polls today, although we don’t have any major races here in PA — mostly judges, which aren’t unimportant — but I know Jersey is one of the biggest as far as governor goes.

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            • I agree, Kat Lib. Even taking racial/ethnic slurs out of consideration (which no tolerant person would do), “And Then There Were None” is the best title.

              Good luck at the polls! Yes, the guv race in NJ, and a couple of important public questions on funding for library improvements (no surprise that I’m very much in favor 🙂 ) and for using environmental settlement money for environmental uses rather than the general fund (also in favor).


              • I just got back from voting. I’m in a very small precinct and no waiting in lines at the church where the polling place is. The worst part is that like many other places in Kennett, there is no handicapped access. Fortunately, everyone working there was super nice and helped me as much as they could. My sister lives only a mile from me, but she’s in a neighboring precinct that she’s worked at for years, and she’s the top one or two people there, but the one who has to certify that the ballot count was correct and delivers same to the Judge of the county we both live in. I can guarantee you that my sister would never allow “illegal immigrants” to vote (though I hate that designation of them), though just add that to one of the many reasons I heartily dislike our current President.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Glad you didn’t have to wait in line, Kat Lib, but sorry about there being no easy access. Very nice that you got some help!

                  I voted this morning at a middle school, and there were quite a few steps there to get to the school gym. Perhaps there’s another entrance with an elevator I’m not aware of — I guess I’ll know more next year when my younger daughter enters 6th grade, probably at that school. (My town has a magnet system in which parents and students can choose between six elementary schools and three middle schools.)

                  As I imagine you also do, I prefer the term “undocumented immigrants” to “illegal immigrants.” Both terms were used during an early-2017 debate in my very diverse town about whether it should become a “sanctuary city.” Many residents in favor, but the Township Council got wimpy (fearing a loss of some federal funding from the despicable Trump administration) and instead voted for the designation of “welcoming community.”


                  • What a coincidence – we’ll be voting for our next state premier later this month. And lucky for us, there is apparently a new ‘drive-thru’ option for people who have trouble getting out of the car easily. I’m contemplating asking if “too lazy to wait in line” is reason enough, but something tells me it’s been designed for people who are actually physically handicapped in some way…

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                    • Good luck with that election, Sue!

                      People who use drive-through anything — unless of course they have physical challenges — are indeed puzzling to me. Why miss a chance to stretch one’s legs and get a tiny bit of exercise? Heck, I see people in drive-throughs at highway-stop fast-food places who were probably already sitting in their cars for hours. And those drive-through lines may not even be faster than walking to the eatery.


          • Dave, I was looking for a way to jump-start my reading, and it occurred to me to re-read all of my Agatha Christie novels and stories. So I just went down to my main library, and I pulled out the first one in my alphabetized shelves of Christie novels, so of course the first one I pulled out was “4:50 from Paddington,” which on my shelves I always put numbers before letters. I’m not sure if that’s what libraries do, but anyway, it’s always worked for me. So, I’ll let you know if this works or not; I hope so, because reading books has been the most important part of my life, even if it’s re-reading books for the 2nd or 3rd time.

            Liked by 1 person

            • A very appealing and ambitious plan, Kat Lib! Good luck!

              I think numbers DO come first alphabetically; at least that happens when I’m attaching something to an email and I call up my desktop files. 🙂

              Reading or rereading — both great!


              • Dave, just out of curiosity I had to go downstairs again to count the number of Christie paperbacks I have, and I was astounded that I’ve got 64 of them, not to mention the number of hardcovers of collections of most of her stories, some just included in anthologies of crime stories. Yikes, I may to rethink my plan to read all of her novels in alphabetical order! It sounded like a really good idea at the time, but with trying to fit in piano playing, coloring (which I haven’t done for awhile but am feeling the itch to do so once again), having quite a few doctors and procedures scheduled, getting together with family and friends, keeping up with the news of the day (mostly depressing!), and just taking care of my home and my critters, it all seems rather overwhelming right now, but I suppose in mostly a good way! 🙂 We’ll see, but right now I’m leaning towards getting rid of (or cutting way back on) the news of the day, though I admit to finding it fascinating in a perverse sort of way.

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                • That’s a LOT of Agatha Christie books, Kat Lib! Maybe just rereading a few of them would indeed be enough. 🙂 There are definitely other authors to read, and other things to do, in life. You already have a full schedule of good things (family, friends, piano, coloring, animal companionship, etc.) and not so good things (medical stuff and awful news of the day) that are going on.

                  It’s HARD to cut back on following the news. It’s perversely fascinating, as you say, and it affects everyone’s lives so much. Except maybe for the right-wing ultra-rich. They’re thrilled these days. 😦


                  • “It’s HARD to cut back on following the news. It’s perversely fascinating, as you say, and it affects everyone’s lives so much.”

                    It’s like a spectator sport in which the crowd has every good reason to watch the action on the field, because, unlike, say football, the players might do something that will kill everybody in the stands.

                    Reminds me a little of those Mayan ball games, in which members of the winning team was allowed to go up into the spectators and grab off them whatever finery they could. it was a reward for winning the game! The reward for losing was beheading, though, so most played to win.

                    In our present arena, the rich have private boxes high above the crowd, and have come to believe they cannot come to harm.

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                    • GREAT football/football stadium analogy and contrast, jhNY! Yes, with football, the players are the only ones hurt. When the current crop of Republicans in Washington “perform,” they’re f**king up the lives of all but the ultra-rich. (Excuse the profanity.)

                      Of course, even the ultra-rich, or their children or grandchildren, are going to pay some price, too — for instance, one can only hide so much from the effects of climate change.


                • Kat Lib, I hope you will see this, as it is directed to your attention in particular. We have recently been enjoying MC Beaton’s series of Hamish Macbeth mysteries– there are around three dozen (!), written over the last few decades, and each, so far, is well-crafted and engrossing, in the best traditions of the British mystery fiction, though the action takes place in a small Scottish town, and the detective is a stubborn, somewhat lazy rural cop.

                  I highly recommend the series to you, and I’m nearly certain you’d enjoy every minute spent reading!

                  Liked by 2 people

          • I’m going out of order here with this comment, but I wanted to offer my congratulations to you and all of the people who voted for the Democratic Party candidates in your state, as well as other elections across the country yesterday. I am cautiously optimistic today about the 2018 elections; although I admit that I’m usually the “half-empty glass” to the “half-full glass.” As we live just across the river from your state, we all have had a great interest in what goes on there, especially seeing the end of the Christie/Guadagno era. I was myself gratified by the win in my small Borough of all the Democrat candidates, as well as many other victories across the entire country. Perhaps we Democrats are finally getting to the realization that it’s not enough to win the national elections, but the local ones as well. Btw, she was telling me about how much trouble it caused for the main write-in candidate this year to have his name spelled incorrectly by many people in many different variations, because they have to separate those and tally by each variation, but the most annoying thing is the people who feel compelled to write-in Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, etc., as they still have to be separated out. My question is, if one is taking the time to vote, why can’t one take it seriously?

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            • Thank you, Kat Lib! So glad the results were positive in your borough! Local elections are indeed REALLY important, and the national Democratic Party has not always taken those races seriously enough.

              And, yes, when people write in Mickey Mouse and such, what is the point? It’s not even funny.

              I have mixed feelings about Democrats like New Jersey Governor-Elect Phil Murphy — 23 years working for the soulless/economy-wrecking Goldman Sachs, and then basically buying the Democratic nomination. But, that said, he’s SO much better than Christie loyalist Kim Guadagno and the repellent Christie himself.

              Depending on how much voter suppression the Republicans pull off, the Democrats might indeed have a chance to make some congressional gains next year. Of course, GOP gerrymandering of House districts doesn’t help… 😦


              • Yes, I live in one of the most gerrymandered districts (7th) in PA. It’s been described as “Goofy kicking Donald Duck,” and if I’m reading the map correctly whatever Goofy is kicking, it’s my small borough. So there you go…

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ha, Kat Lib! Funny description of your district’s particular brand of not-funny gerrymandering.

                  A few years ago, the northern half of my liberal town (the half in which I live) was gerrymandered into the district of Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen — an ultra-wealthy, formerly somewhat-moderate guy who’s now a Trump/Paul Ryan lapdog so he doesn’t lose his post as House Appropriations Committee chair. I definitely feel unrepresented, but many people are working to have a Democrat hopefully defeat Frelinghuysen next year.


        • Kat Lib – thanks so much for this information! I’ve read a few crime / mystery novels, but the genre just isn’t for me. But I’m really looking forward to going to see the movie, especially now that I know you rate it as a favourite. And I will eventually get to “And Then There Were None” which will be my first Agatha Christie novel (I think I’ve read a short story before though).

          I know exactly what you mean about strong memories of certain books. I’ve described before the first time that I read the final volume of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower”. I also clearly recall finishing “Jane Eyre”, and reading the first chapter of Moriarty’s “Three Wishes”. I remember the first time I got to the torture scene of “1984”, and the traumatic death in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”. Though there are many other books that I know I’ve read, but don’t remember a thing about them!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Sue, I remember first reading “Jane Eyre” when it was assigned in high school. I don’t recall what room I was in or anything, but I was totally blown away with how great that novel is.


      • I don’t remember liking “Grand Days” enough to recommend it, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. I can’t even remember the main character’s name! But yes, she was a little too self-analytical. She was also one of those characters who was good at everything and never wrong which I just find boring.

        I’ve added “And Then There Were None” to my list. I was also intrigued enough to google the original title, and Yikes! I’ve never been a fan of Whodunnits, but “perfectly written” is a heck of a recommendation!

        I loved that Harry was able to buy that first experience of friendship with Ron. It was such a good use of Harry’s new wealth. And it obviously meant so much to Ron. What child hasn’t dreamed of being able to buy all the lollies!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t remember that character’s name, either, Sue. 🙂 And you make a GREAT point that too-perfect characters can be rather boring. In that respect, it’s good that there were several quite flawed secondary characters in “Grand Days.”

          Yikes indeed about the “And Then There Were None” novel’s original title. 😦

          And, yes, so nice when people — fictional or real — use their money for good. Trump and other Republican “leaders” in the U.S. could learn a lesson from that. But they don’t want to…


  8. The first book that came to mind was Anna Karenina but since you already included it, I thought of another one. I had a Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine phase in my reading and I’ll never forget the psychological thriller, King Solomon’s Court written under the name Barbara Vine, with memorable characters who inhabit London’s underground, including kids who ride on the tops of the trains. It is a fascinating tale and makes me want to check out her latest work.

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  9. Dave, of course the first thing to come to mind was “Murder on the Orient Express,” especially because as bebe noted there is an upcoming film as same. I keep thinking how they can make another movie out of this novel, which I loved, but how do they make it new and interesting when don’t most people already know who the murderer/s is/are?

    The other novel that I first thought of was “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins, which is a very good, but not great, novel. It did remind me somewhat of “4:50 from Paddington” with the plot about what a passenger sees from the train.

    I’m also very interested in trains, because as you and others on this blog know, I traveled around Europe in 1969 with a Eurail Pass; sometimes I think we spent days sleeping on a train, which were so much nicer than American trains. My friend Bill has had an abiding interest in trains and we’ve got a whole china cabinet devoted to his smaller trains, as well as toy soldiers, even though he has sold or given away most of his collection. The only set I’ve seen I’ve even been remotely interested in is the Hogwarts Express, but I never bought them.

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    • It’s a shame films are remade that don’t really need to be remade. Hard to top the 1970s version of “Murder on the Orient Express.” I guess the moviemakers figure there’s some money to be made, even as they might blather on about remaking Agatha Christie’s novel for a new generation.

      European trains ARE much better than American ones. Like you, I’ve ridden on them and slept on them many times — on or off the Eurail Pass. Even spent a couple of nights in the aisles when there was no room to stretch out in the compartments. I only reserved a berth once.

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      • Yes, on the Eurail Pass we had you could just hop on any train first class, without a reservation. There weren’t many times that I recall when we had to share a compartment with others, but I became quite good at falling asleep sitting up, something I could never do prior to this trip. I must say that I’ve always wanted to go for a trip on the Orient Express, especially as portrayed in the movies about it, even now that it no longer exists. I’ve been mulling the idea of going on the Canadian express as a vacation, since I can’t come up with anywhere in the states I want to go, but after my very long car trip to Durham, and considering that I hate flying, seems like an appealing way to travel. 🙂

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        • Getting on a train without a reservation was definitely a great thing about the Eurail Pass. Plus of course unlimited travel for one price. During my first trip to Europe, I traveled through five countries on that pass. Still have the pass in a photo album from that trip. 🙂

          I never could master the “art” of sleeping sitting up — on a train, plane, or bus. The best I can do is doze for a few minutes here and there.

          If I’m remembering correctly, a friend of mine did a cross-country Canadian train trip a number of years ago and liked it very much.

          Flying these days is so NOT fun. 😦


      • I’d argue that the best version of MOTOE to date is the one made by David Souchet as part of the BBC series of Poirots he has starred in for decades. Like Jeremy Brett will always be the ultimate Sherlock, I think Souchet is the ultimate Poirot–and MOTOE is one of the best in this very fine and long-running series.

        Passenger rail service in the US has been deteriorating, generally speaking, since 1945, Amtrak notwithstanding….

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I recently saw the film “Lion” based on the non-fiction book, ” A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. Trains are extremely important for many reasons, including the little boy who got lost in station and ended up on train, then in another part of India, lost and very afraid. Also thinking of movie “Hugo” based on the book by Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, it is about a boy who lives alone in the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris in the 1930s.

    One of my dad’s favorites is “Polar Express”, the children’s book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg and and the animated film starting Tom Hanks. A young boy embarks on a magical adventure to the North Pole on the Polar Express. During his adventure he learns about friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas.

    “Strangers On A Train” one of my favorite Hitchcock films. Clearly trains speak to transience, coming and going, ebb and flow and have a magical quality, can be sinister, may ways to interpret. It all about a journey in its many forms.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Great comment, Michele — including your last two eloquent/evocative lines!

      Thanks for the mentions of those two books/movies in your first paragraph! Each VERY train-relevant, and well described by you.

      I haven’t read the “Polar Express” book, but I’ve seen parts of the film. Rather weird animation… 🙂 But trains definitely seem to show up in a number of children’s offerings — the Thomas the Tank Engine books and TV episodes of course being one example.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. As soon as I saw your new post Dave, I thought Agatha Christie`s ” Murder on the Orient Express”, what a writer and what a book and as I see you have mentioned the book as well.
    There is a now version of the movie just released, saw the advertisement.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, bebe! I agree — a great writer and great book! Pretty good movie, too, back in the ’70s. I did not know there was a new film version!

      I’m sure there was also train travel in some other Agatha Christie novels, but I can’t think of examples offhand. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can help you out, Dave, because I know offhand about two other Agatha Christie novels, “The Mystery of the Blue Train” (featuring Hercule Poirot) and “4:50 from Paddington” (featuring Miss Marple), also known as “What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw.” Both of these were made into televised movies starring David Suchet as Poirot and Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. Both were done by the BBC or A&E, and those two actors will always be Poirot and Miss Marple in my mind, just as Jeremy Brett will always be Sherlock Holmes.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Kat Lib!!! Two Christie novels I haven’t read. (Unfortunately I’ve only gotten to maybe five of her books.) Certainly a train vibe in the titles alone. Glad the screen versions did those two books justice!


          • Dave, I used to go to Barnes & Noble every Saturday for a while in order to buy a mass market paperbook of an Agatha Christie novel and a classical music CD, when the two of them together cost somewhere around $10.00. I think I now have every single Christie book and many classical CDs, the books I probably had read before. But I’m so thrilled to have these books and CDs, so I don’t consider them as a waste of time or money. Now, they are publishing Christie novels as trade paperbacks that are much more expensive than the paperbacks I bought years ago. I find this true for other mystery novels so I shy away from books that I bought many years ago. Enough’s enough!

            Liked by 1 person

              • Too true, Dave. But I’m very happy to have read them all (sometimes twice). There are many other mystery writers who have published many books (but not so many) as Christie did. For example, Dorothy L. Sanders, who published books about Lord Peter Wimsey, was much more literate than Christie, but I’m still interested in what she has done and others; e.g., Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Ruth Rendell, Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterson; and so many others, such as Americans John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Ross MacDonald, and too many I can even mention in a very short post.

                Liked by 1 person

                • It’s eye-opening how prolific some mystery writers were/are, Kat Lib. I realize mystery novels are often shorter than more “general” novels, and that some mysteries are kind of formulaic, but it still isn’t easy to write something that’s entertaining and doesn’t make the culprit obvious until the end!


  12. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are some of your favorite fictional works with train elements? —

    Because my nonfictional Dad spent more than four decades working on a railroad after migrating to America from Ireland almost a century ago, I have had a lifelong affinity for such fictional works, with my favorites encompassing not only a half dozen of those already mentioned by you but also John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” (1987), starring John Candy and Steve Martin; Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959), starring Cary Grant, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint; Arthur Hiller’s “Silver Streak” (1976), starring Jill Clayburgh, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder; Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” (1974), starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder; and, of course, Watty Piper et al.’s “The Little Engine That Could,” starring The Little Engine That Could.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, J.J.! Did not know your dad was a railroad worker!

      You named some memorable movies with major train elements. I particularly liked the amazing “North by Northwest” — one of Hitchcock’s best (I saw about 30 of his movies at the old Thalia revival theater on the Upper West Side way back when).

      The Little Engine That Could reminds me a bit of Thomas the Tank Engine… 🙂

      And thanks for the video clip!


      • — Did not know your dad was a railroad worker! —

        Many of my earliest memories — and prememories, meaning those I have appropriated based on the tales my Mom would tell about my adventures during those shadowy years before I got my first eyeglasses — are associated with either being on or walking to and from the trains my Dad and I would take to various locales in New Jersey and New York, free of charge. Best. Fringe. Benefit. Ever.

        — I particularly liked the amazing “North by Northwest” — one of Hitchcock’s best (I saw about 30 of his movies at the old Thalia revival theater on the Upper West Side way back when).

        It is a good one! (Even though the plane had a juicier role than did the train therein.)

        — The Little Engine That Could reminds me a bit of Thomas the Tank Engine… —

        Alas, Thomas blew past my stop.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I also love the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which used to be my Thanksgiving tradition to watch every year, as well as listening to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”!

            Liked by 3 people

          • Howdy, Kat Lib!

            — I love Arlo Guthrie and this song! —

            Me, too. (Of course, I had hoped to locate an acceptable video of a Steve Goodman version of this number on YouTube, but my hopes went off the rails somewhere between Greenwood and Yazoo City.)

            — I also love the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which used to be my Thanksgiving tradition to watch every year, as well as listening to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”! —

            Candy on Thanksgiving! That’s my kind of tradition.


            Liked by 3 people

            • OK, J.J. you definitely posted the funniest movie clip, thanks so much! There are so many funny scenes that it’s difficult to name the best one, between Steve Martin and John Candy, although at the very end, it becomes a very sappy movie — not that I’m sorry for that, but very interesting to say the least!

              Liked by 2 people

        • “Alas, Thomas blew past my stop” — ha ha, J.J.!

          Yes, it sounds like having a railroad-working parent had its perks — including free train rides. Nice!

          And that crop-duster-plane scene in “North by Northwest” WAS pretty amazing. Cary Grant certainly faced his share of trials and tribulations in the movie. But when things got a bit crazy on Mount Rushmore, at least Trump wasn’t one of the four men sculpted there…

          Liked by 1 person

            • What a movie “North by Northwest” is, Pat! Unfortunately, “Shadow of a Doubt” is one of the few Hitchcock films I’ve never seen. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but I think there’s also a train ride in “The 39 Steps.”

              Liked by 1 person

              • I’ve yet to see “The 39 Steps”. I need to do something about that :-). Dave, I highly recommend “Shadow of a Doubt”. Hitchcock took everything we hold dear — certainly everything held dear at the time the movie was made, the late 40s — the simple comforts of home, and the warmth and security of close-knit relationships, and he plops pure evil right in the middle of it. The evil is not from the outside, but from one of the most beloved of that inner circle. Seriously, it’s kind of awesome! 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                • Wow, Pat — that’s a marvelous movie description that makes a person want to see the movie! Thanks!

                  “The 39 Steps” is incredibly clever and compelling, with all kinds of twists. One of Hitchcock’s early masterpieces.


                • Pat, “The 39 Steps” was my father’s favorite movie of all time. I can still recall buying him a VHS tape of the movie one year for Christmas, and I’m not even sure my parents had a VHS player at that time. They were pretty new at the time.

                  Liked by 2 people

            • Howdy, PatD!

              — “North by Northwest” is my favorite Hitchcock film, along with “Shadow of a Doubt” (which also featured a memorable train scene). —

              A dynamic duo! Meanwhile, “Shadow of a Doubt” is one of a handful of reasons Joseph Cotten is among my favorite actors of the 1940s, with the four others being “Citizen Kane,” “Gaslight,” “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “The Third Man.”


              Liked by 2 people

              • Hi J.J. — “The Third Man” is one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve seen all the movies you mentioned, except “The Magnificent Ambersons” — I’m not sure why I’ve never seen that one. If Joseph Cotton ever turned in a bad performance, I never saw it. He was so naturally good that I think that might have worked against him, as he never even received a major nomination. Another performance of his which has remained indelibly etched in my memory is the episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” where he was paralyzed, but fully conscious, in a wrecked car.

                Liked by 1 person

                  • Dave, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Booth Tarkington. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll put this on my “Someday” reading list (that thing is getting pretty long!) 🙂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Pat, I’ve only read his “The Magnificent Ambersons,” and am glad I did. I wouldn’t mind eventually getting to “Alice Adams” — the other of his novels to become a famous movie. And, yes, those dauntingly long reading lists… 😦

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Tarkington’s Penrod books were favorites of mine as a boy– my mother read them aloud to my sister and I, and all of us were occasionally too doubled over with laughter to continue reading or listening.

                      I confess to utter unfamiliarity with his work for adult readers…except Welles’ film of The Magnificent Ambersons, a troubled product of too many hands, finished up while the director was filming Carnival in Brazil.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Thanks, jhNY! Tarkington definitely seemed to have some range as a writer (and, if I’m recalling, also served a term in the Indiana legislature as a Republican). “The Magnificent Ambersons” is not a great novel, but its a very good one — and was obviously not messed with like the movie.


                • — “The Third Man” is one of my all-time favorite movies. —

                  Ditto! It has everything: a great director in Carol Reed, a great writer in Graham Greene, a great cinematographer in Robert Krasker, a great composer in Anton Karas and great actors in Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles, among others.

                  — I’ve seen all the movies you mentioned, except “The Magnificent Ambersons” —

                  You aren’t the only one! “The Magnificent Ambersons” had a very troubled production history, as the final cut of the film belonged not to Welles (as the director) but to RKO Radio Pictures (as the studio), which hacked it to pieces. However, the original movie’s bloody remnants — encompassing most of Cotten’s typically wonderful performance — were so good, it still was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture.

                  — If Joseph Cotton ever turned in a bad performance, I never saw it. —

                  Me neither.

                  — Joseph Cotton should have been nominated for an Oscar, in my opinion, for that one scene in “Shadow of a Doubt” . . . He was perfection in that movie. —

                  I agree. Of course, I also would have nominated him for “Citizen Kane,” “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “The Third Man.” Probably for “Gaslight,” too. Sic transit gloria mundi.

                  Liked by 2 people

                    • Pat, one of those names easy to misspell given that we think of the fiber cotton!

                      Kind of/sort of on that topic, “Cotton-Eyed Joe” was played at my older daughter’s recent wedding, and now my younger daughter is constantly singing it or listening to it on YouTube. So, to deal with all that, I’ve taken to calling the song “Cosmetic-Puff-Eyed Joe.” 🙂

                      Liked by 1 person

                  • “Sic transit gloria mundi.” I had to look that one up, J.J. Yay, I learned something!! … not sure when I’ll get to use it. 😉 Thanks for expanding a couple of my remaining brain cells, J.J. — although, Dave’s blog probably does that for all of us on a regular basis. 🙂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • — “Sic transit gloria mundi.” . . . Thanks for expanding a couple of my remaining brain cells, J.J. — although, Dave’s blog probably does that for all of us on a regular basis. —

                      One of our gracious host’s many virtues!

                      Liked by 2 people

              • P.S. … Joseph Cotton should have been nominated for an Oscar, in my opinion, for that one scene in “Shadow of a Doubt” — was it at the dinner table? — where he suddenly very calmly and articulately begins talking about all the silly greedy women who smell like money and are so proud of their jewelry, and then he compares them to animals that have outlived their usefulness … that is a chilling scene. He was perfection in that movie.

                Liked by 1 person

                • I’m going to drop this comment here, because I have such a hard time reading comments with one word or less going down rather than across (even on my laptop). Even if it’s not anything close to dyslexia, which I do have a problem with while typing, I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who do have to deal with that, especially for kids.

                  Anyway, the question I have is whether I’m the only person in the world who didn’t like Citizen Kane at all? I do recognize that I bought it years ago on a very poorly restored VHS tape, but shouldn’t I have thought better of it, if it was really the masterpiece everyone said it was? Sorry, Dave, but I’ve always wanted to ask people that, and this seemed like a good opportunity to do so! 🙂

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • I hear you, Kat Lib — reading those narrowing threads are not easy!

                    A fair question — even the most acclaimed movies are not loved by everybody. I happened to be very impressed with “Citizen Kane” the one time I saw it many years ago, but that’s just me! The story was compelling to me, as were the film techniques. Of course, it might not have hurt that I could personally relate to the journalism aspects of the movie, having been in that field myself.


                  • — I have such a hard time reading comments with one word or less going down rather than across —

                    Personally, I avoid this issue by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/2zvtSM1.

                    — [T]he question I have is whether I’m the only person in the world who didn’t like Citizen Kane at all? —

                    Yes. (Of course, I may be exaggerating just a wee bit.)

                    — [S]houldn’t I have thought better of it, if it was really the masterpiece everyone said it was? —

                    No. (In matters of artistic taste, we each have a basic human right to stand as a majority of one.)

                    Liked by 1 person

  13. Glad to see Anna Karenina made the list! This isn’t a book but it’s a movie based off a story: in Aleksey Uchitel’s “Break Loose” (Восьмёрка in the original), the movie based off of Zakhar Prilepin’s story, the protagonist hears train noises whenever he’s with the woman he loves, and the violent denouement features a train.

    Getting back to the printed page, there are some wrenching scenes in Vasily Grossman’s WWII epic “Life and Fate” in which one of the protagonists sees first cows being loaded up on train cars to be taken away for slaughter, and then Jews being loaded up to be taken away to the camps.

    And I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but in Arkady Babchenko’s “One Soldier’s War” he describes being jammed in with all the other raw conscripts on a train down to Chechnya. The boys don’t really understand what’s happening, but whenever they stop at a station the people who see the train cry and cross themselves.

    On a slightly lighter note, one of Dick Francis’s zanier productions, “The Edge,” is about an undercover investigator pretending to be an actor on a mystery racing train traveling across Canada,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great, wide-ranging comment on this topic, Elena! Thank you!

      That situation in “Break Loose” sounds very haunting and intriguing. The symbolism in “Life and Fate” seems unmistakable, and heart-wrenching. Your take on “One Soldier’s War” reminds us once again that war is total hell; any writer who romanticizes it is on shaky ground. And great to end on a lighter note (not much lightness in my post 🙂 ) by summarizing “The Edge,” which sounds really good!


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