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[73] Lost Horizon – James Hilton

[Legend has it that in the geographically hostile, sparsely inhabited land of the Himalayas, amidst the corrugated mountain ridges, tugged in the valley chiseled by glaciers from the beginning of time, there is a place called Shangri-La, where people don’t grow old.]

shangrila.jpgIn 1930, in British-colonized India where revolts and seditions were rampant, a plane with four expatriates, including one Hugh Conway, was kidnapped in what was believed to be an exploit of madness. Originally en route to Peshawar, the plane was off its path and disappeared. Lost Horizon is an account of what happened after the plane made its final descent into Shangri-La, where an envoy from a nearby lamasery (monastery where lamas reside) greeted the four passengers. While the fate of his fellow exiles were unknown, Conway, afflicted by partial amnesia, revealed the story to a writer friend.

The book is not exactly what I expected it to be with its provocative ideas and appealing fantasy and the glimpse of the official secrecy which concealed the missing plane. But after reading the prologue it is difficult to stop continuing to pursue the story. While the whole situation, no doubt, was as appalling to the expatriates as it was suspenseful to the readers, no sooner had they settled down at the monastery did Conway embrace it with captivating interest, one that was free of any misgiving, Partly out of his complacency and partly out of tiredness that even peril failed to stave off, he quickly acclimatized and dismissed any contingent danger. The slight tightening of apprehension eventually merged in the deeper sensation, half mystical, half visual, of having reached at last some place that was an end.

My mind lingers on the question whether Conway had really experienced what he described as many mysteries remain resolved and many threads left untied. Amidst the lurking tension at the lamasery, Conway was physically happy, emotionally satisfied and mentally at ease, but in his intellect (reason), which, obviously is not quite the same as his mind, there was a little stir. One part of him insisted that there was something queer and shady about the place, its mysterious authority, the lack of feeling of its people, and the ambiguity of time and age. But he rather liked being at Shangri-La. Its atmosphere soothed (almost like paradise after he was pelted by war) while its mystery stimulated. His sense of physical and mental settlement inevitably accommodated him to a double life (schizophrenia?) he was compelled to live. With his fellow exiles, he lived in a world conditioned by the arrivals of porters and the return to India. This question of reality pricked his mind as the single idea of Shangri-La and its secret to eternal life intrigued him.

Conway’s fate is left at the mercy of reader’s imagination but one thing for sure is that Shangri-La is depicted as a remote and beautiful place where life approaches perfection, owing to its physical isolation. Echoing Brave New World and 1984, Hilton probably had in mind the forseeing future of wars that will lead to destruction, he created Shangri-La as a haven from war, place which could survive, capturing the transience of the loveliest things, when the rest of civilization might be destroyed by the terrible implements of future wars. The hope is that Shangri-La, might escape the world holocaust and survive to become the nucleus of a new civilization, of which the key to eternity is moderation.

8 Responses

  1. One of my favorite books; being perpetually time-crunched feeds the desire to be in an isolated ordered environment where contemplation is encouraged.

  2. It’s my kind of book really, with a touch of suspense and literary flair. You should also check out the movie–it’s black and white.

  3. I have one of Hilton’s other novels, but have never picked this one up. It sounds quite interesting. I wonder if the isolation would drive me mad, though.

  4. I like this review. Will add Hilton to my next shopping list.. I’ll link you to my blog page so that I can keep track!

  5. Congratulations on the caliber of writing in this review. I think it’s one of the best you’ve written so far, both in terms of the clarity of your well chosen language and its technical correctness, as well. You are developing a very nice style.

  6. […] the event be? I would love to take a trip to the mountainous terrains of the Himalayas with Conway (The Lost Horizon, James Hilton), Margarita (The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov), and Ennis del Mar […]

  7. […] and validity. That is the reason for digging books that set in Tibet (Seven Years in Tibet and Lost Horizon), Egypt (The Egyptian), and off-the-beaten-path places like the Sahara. These foreign terrains and […]

  8. […] snow-covered, secluded Shangri-la where four passengers on a plane landed in James Hilton’s The Lost Horiazon is supposed to be the region between Tibet and the Chinese southwestern province of Yunnan. Whether […]

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