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Literature / M*A*S*H

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MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors — the original novel that inspired the film M*A*S*H and TV series M*A*S*H and AfterMASH — was written by H. Richard Hornberger (himself a former military surgeon) under the pen name Richard Hooker, and was about a fictional U.S. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea during The Korean War. It was originally published in 1968. Hooker followed the novel with several sequels, most of them ghostwritten.


In the original book, Captains "Duke" Forrest and "Hawkeye" Pierce, respectively from Georgia and Maine, are assigned to MASH unit 4077, under the command of Colonel Henry Blake. Though their fondness for pranks and lack of military discipline cause friction, they are excellent surgeons, and use this to persuade Blake to request a top class chest surgeon for difficult cases. They are sent Captain John McIntyre, whom Hawkeye eventually recognizes as "Trapper" John, whom he faced on the football field as an undergraduate. The three men are billeted together in a tent they nickname "The Swamp". The rest of the book is a series of episodes in the year that follows.

Duke and Hawkeye's original tentmate, Major Jonathan Hobson, is a preacher-surgeon who annoys everyone with his incessant praying and is eventually transferred back home. The Swampmen also clash with Captain Frank Burns, a rich, arrogant surgeon of dubious qualifications who blames everyone but himself for the deaths of his patients, and when he reduces the shy Private Boone to tears, Duke and then Trapper attack him. The arrival of new Chief Nurse Major Margaret Houlihan calms things down temporarily, but her own devotion to military discipline makes her take Burns' side, so that she shares his anger when Trapper is appointed Chief Surgeon. However, when she spends the night with Burns, she ends up with the derogatory nickname "Hot Lips" and Burns is provoked into attacking Hawkeye and given a psychiatric discharge.


The Swampmen are determined to send their Korean houseboy, Ho-Jon, to Hawkeye's old college after he is drafted into the South Korean Army and then returns to the 4077th as a patient, so Trapper dresses as Jesus and poses for "autographed" photographs to raise Ho-Jon's college tuition money. While he still has his Christlike beard, he is summoned to Tokyo at the request of a Congressman to operate on his son and takes Hawkeye along to assist and to play golf. While there, they run into Hawkeye's childhood friend "Me Lay" Marston, who moonlights at a pediatric hospital and whorehouse.

Upon Hawkeye and Trapper's return from Tokyo, the 4077th is inundated with casualties, wearing down the surgeons' mental health and causing them to take their frustrations out on the nurses, especially Major Houlihan; they are forced to smooth things over when she complains to General Hammond. They later organize a football team to play against a team coached by Hammond and tell Colonel Blake to request neurosurgeon Captain Oliver Wendell "Spearchucker" Jones, a former pro player. As Hammond also has three former professionals, the 4077th are forced to use superior tactics and the phenomenal hearing of company clerk Corporal "Radar" O'Reilly to win the game, 28-24. Eventually, Duke and Hawkeye receive their discharge papers and return home to their families.


As the novel was adapted into other media, first in the 1970 film directed by Robert Altman and then later in the long-running television series, many changes were made to the characters and general tone of the story. For example, Hawkeye went from being a conservative to a liberal, as well as gradually losing his zany sense of humor as played by Alan Alda in the television series. The character was also changed from being married with children to a single mannote . Similarly, characters such as Hot Lips and Radar lost the edge they had in the novel, film and earlier episodes of the television series. Radar, in particular, suffered tremendously from Flanderization, going from a slightly naive, yet worldly character (one who played poker, drank Blake's whisky on the sly and smoked cigars) and into one who was little more than a sympathetic manchild (who blanched at the thought of smoking and drank only Grape Nehi).

Other changes by the time the television series became the most well-known version included writing Duke Forrest out of the story entirely, and replacing such characters as Trapper John and Henry Blake with newly created characters.


Hooker wrote the first sequel, M*A*S*H Goes to Maine, in 1972, covering the lives of the surgeons after they returned home from the war. After the success of the M*A*S*H TV series, further novels appeared, beginning with M*A*S*H Goes to Paris in 1974. Although credited to Hooker and William E. Butterworth, they may have been ghostwritten entirely by Butterworth.

At this point, the novels largely left the original characters behind to focus on extraneous characters, mostly caricatures of public figures from the 1970s, such as Soviet opera singer Boris Korsky-Rimsakov (a spoof of Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti whose name is a Spoonerism of Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) and self-absorbed reporter Don Rhotten (a parody of CBS anchor Dan Rather). The tone also shifted to something much more comical and less realistic.

After the conclusion of the "Butterworth" series with 1977's M*A*S*H Goes to Montreal, Hooker wrote a final "M*A*S*H" novel, M*A*S*H Mania, which jettisoned the plots of the intervening novels and picked up where M*A*S*H Goes to Maine left off.


by Richard Hooker

  1. M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors (1968)
  2. M*A*S*H Goes to Maine (1972)
  3. M*A*S*H Mania (1977)

by Richard Hooker and William E. Butterworth

  1. M*A*S*H Goes to Paris (1974)
  2. M*A*S*H Goes to New Orleans (1975)
  3. M*A*S*H Goes to London (1975)
  4. M*A*S*H Goes to Vienna (1976)
  5. M*A*S*H Goes to San Francisco (1976)
  6. M*A*S*H Goes to Morocco (1976)
  7. M*A*S*H Goes to Miami (1976)
  8. M*A*S*H Goes to Las Vegas (1976)
  9. M*A*S*H Goes to Hollywood (1976)
  10. M*A*S*H Goes to Texas (1977)
  11. M*A*S*H Goes to Moscow (1977)
  12. M*A*S*H Goes to Montreal (1977)