The Travels of Charlie Chan

In the Books, Charlie Chan Travels from Hawaii to the Mainland

Early in the Charlie Chan novels Charlie expresses a curiosity, interest, and desire to travel the world.

In The House Without a Key, chapter XX, Chan says to John Quincy Winterslip:

It is my high delight to entertain you thus humbly before you are restored to Boston. Converse at some length of Boston. I feel interested."

"Really?" smiled the boy.

"Undubitably. Gentleman I meet once say Boston are like China. The future of both, he say, lies in graveyards where repose useless bodies of honored guests on high. I am fogged as to meaning."

"He meant both places live in the past," John Quincy explained. "And he was right, in a way. Boston, like China, boasts a glorious history. But that's not saying the Boston of to-day isn't progressive. Why, do you know--"

He talked eloquently of his native city. Chan listened, rapt.

"Always," he sighed, when John Quincy finished, "I have unlimited yearning for travel."

Later, he says, "You will go again to the mainland. . . . the angry ocean rolling between us. Still I shall carry the memory of your friendship like a flower in my heart." John Quincy climbed into the car. "And the parting may not be eternal," Chan added cheerfully. "The joy of travel may yet be mine. I shall look forward to the day when I may call upon you in your home and shake a healthy hand." (The House Without a Key, chapter XXIII.)

In The Chinese Parrot and Behind That Curtain, Charlie has been to San Francisco and Arizona. When he returns to Hawaii, we are told in The Black Camel about Charlie: “Having been to the mainland he regarded himself as a traveled man” (chapter XIV).

In The Chinese Parrot Charlie says, "Pretty quick I go home, lifelong yearning for travel forever quenched” (chapter X).

Charlie speaks to Jaynes — a man who has lived in Hawaii but who wants to return to his home on the mainland — “You can accept, if you will be so kind, renewed apologies for detaining you on this island. Some people pronounce it Paradise, but even Paradise, I can appreciate, looks not so good when one is panting to travel elsewhere. Again my warm regrets. I assure you I apply myself with all possible speed to task of clearing up mystery, so that you may make quick exit” (The Black Camel, chapter XV).

In Charlie Chan Carries On, the following occurs (chapter XVII):

"Whom is it pressing?" asked Chan suavely. "Speaking for myself, I have six days to squander. Mr. Tait, do you cling to legal rights, or will you condescend to tell humble policeman how you spent last evening?"

"Oh, I've no objection," returned Tait, amiable with an effort. "Why should I have? Last night, about eight o'clock, we started a contract bridge game in the lounge. Aside from myself, Mrs. Spicer, Mr. Vivian and Mr. Kennaway took part in it. It's a foursome that has had many similar contests as we went round the world."

"Ah, yes — travel is fine education," nodded Chan. "You played until the boat sailed."

In Keeper of the Keys Charlie gets into a conversation with a young woman (chapter I). He has come to Lake Tahoe and shares his delight at seeing snow for the first time. The exchange continues:

"Some people," said the girl, "find the snow boresome."

"And some, no doubt, consider the stars a blemish on the sky. But you and I, we are not so insensible to the beauties of the world. We delight to travel--to find novelty and change. Is it not so?"

"I certainly do."

"Ah — you should visit my islands. Do not think that in my ecstasy of raving I forget the charm of my own land. I have daughter same age as you -— how happy she would be to act as your guide. She would show you Honolulu, the flowering trees, the--"

"The new police station, perhaps," cried the girl suddenly.

The big man started slightly and stared at her. "I perceive that I am known," he remarked.

Although Charlie Chan has now been to the mainland several times — to San Francisco, Arizona, and Lake Tahoe — this is the extent of his travels as seen in the books. But it is in the movies where Chan becomes a world traveler.

In the Movies, Charlie Chan Becomes an International Traveler

While Earl Derr Biggers was alive he stipulated that all presentations of Chan follow his writing. This applied to the movies, a stage production based on Keeper of the Keys, and on radio dramatizations. Movie studios were not granted permission to created original stories.

After Biggers died of a heart attack after Keeper of the Keys was published, his widow — the former Eleanor Ladd — granted permission for original plots and stories to be used. It is in the movies where Charlie’s desire to travel the world is fulfilled. We have
only to look at titles of some of the movies to see how far he traveled. His reputation traveled with him, as he became an international celebrity according to the films.

Sample movie titles include some of Charlie’s destinations:

Charlie Chan. . .

  • . . . in London
  •  . . . in Paris
  •  . . . in Egypt
  •  . . . in Shanghai
  •  . . . in Rio
  •  . . . in Panama
  •  . . . on Broadway
  •  . . . in Monte Carlo
  •  . . . in Reno
  •  Murder Over New York

Films without a geographical location in their titles also included Chan in global climes: In “Charlie Chan at the Olympics,” Charlie traveled to the Olympics in Munich, Germany; “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island” had Charlie in San Francisco’s Treasure Island at the World’s Fair; and he has returned to the mainland in a number of films.

But he never seemed to make it to Boston to visit his old friend John Quincy Winterslip.

For more information about Charlie Chan, click on the links below to read articles.

The Novels by Earl Derr Biggers:

Charlie Chan Movies

Charlie Chan Pastiches

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