James Hilton's, Lost Horizon, is a captivating tale of adventure and mystery which takes place in the legendary fantasy world of everlasting youth called Shangri-La. This utopian fantasy oversteps the boundarie
s of the reader's common conception of the world. Thus the reader must expand his/her mind and utilize his/her imagination in order to make Hilton's mystifying world believable. This aspect of fantasy has certainly contributed to the novels success. Lo
st Horizon presents its readers with an escape, it forces its reader to stretch the mind beyond the normal bounds of perception into utopian fantasy. In order to understand exactly why this sort of fantasy novel, and in particular this fantasy novel, has
become so popular, it is important to examine many things. One must first study the novel as a literary work, as well as the motivations that prompted the author to write the novel. Then one could look at the way in which the novel was received by the
public and by literary critics. Lastly, one may contrast this novel with other literary works of its time. Only after this extensive analysis is completed can a true understanding of this novel, its effects, and popularity be reached.
Hilton's novel is a story within a story. The Prologue serves as a frame for the main story. Three, old Oxford schoolmates have met for dinner and find themselves discussing the hijacking of a plane that occurred in India several months ago. The four
passengers had never been heard from again. In addition, they reminisce about a fellow named Conway, an old schoolmate and passenger on the plane. It turns out that one of the men (Rutherford) believes that Conway is still alive. Rutherford found Conwa
y suffering from fatigue and amnesia in a mission hospital. Conway related (to Rutherford) the strange and almost unbelievable story concerning his disappearance many months before. Later, Conway regains his memory and narrates his fabulous experiences
at Shangri-La. Hilton creates a sense of reality by introducing his story as being one that has actually happened to someone that three people once knew. After hearing about Conway, we are later surprised to find out that he is still alive. This create
s further interest in learning about the mystery surrounding him and Shangri-La.
Conway is among four kidnap victims, the others being Mallison, his young assistant who is anxious to get back to civilization, Barnard, a brash American, and Miss Brinklow, an evangelist. We learn that the mysterious hijacked plane crashes in the Himal
ayan mountains. However, the quartet is rescued and taken to the hidden lamasery of Shangri-La. One of the basic appeals of the novel is the appeal of being exposed to new, strange, and wondrous lands. Since the discovery of America in the late fifteen
th century, people have delighted in reading about strange lands, and there has also been a proliferation of such books, both real and fantasy, that would satisfy the reader's curiosity. The valley of Shangri-La is a peaceful place, taking from the worl
d around it, but remaining aloof from all the negative actions of that world. The new visitors are surprised to find that the monastery is endowed with central heating and plumbing of a very modern nature, fine food, and an extensive library. In the lib
rary, there are many rare books and a collection of hundreds of maps. Interestingly, Shangri-La is not marked on any of the maps. This fact raises the question if Shangri-La actually exists. Shangri-La is the exotic and mystical East of a Westerner's d
ream. It is a world were the air is pure, the people are happy and wise, and where time stands still. This brings us to the great mystery of Shangri-La. All who live there have the secret of eternal life but the catch is that none may ever leave. Hilt
on is stingy in letting out this secret, which helps build the tension in the novel.
One can wonder what swayed James Hilton to write such a fantasy novel. He was born in England at the turn of the century. He attended Christ's College, Cambridge and graduated with degrees in history and English. Hilton grew up during the Great War (W
orld War I) and did the majority of his writing after the war was over. Lost Horizon was published in 1933. We learn that the main character Conway participated in the Great War and suffered deep psychological traumas from it. The memory of the Great W
ar is an unforgotten shadow in much writing of the 1930's. Novels published during the interwar decades assessed the Great War as a cultural debacle, as the dividing line between an age of stability and reason and one of chaos and irrationality- or worse
, of emptiness. Hilton foresaw another great war and mentions it as a vague prophecy in the book. Hilton speaks to the readers through the dialogue between the High Lama of Shangri-La and Conway. The High Lama believes that Man seems determined to de
stroy the world, and with it, destroy everything that is beautiful. In his vision, the High Lama foresees "a time when men, exultant in the technique of homicide, would rage so hotly over the world that every precious thing would be in danger, every book
and picture and harmony, every treasure garnered through two millenniums, the small, the delicate, the defenseless-all would be lost." The aim of Hilton's Shangri-La is to preserve the best that has been thought and composed in the world and to provide
a sanctuary for the loveliest of the creations of man and to also gather proper people as guardians over it all. "Here we shall stay with our books and our music and our meditations, conserving the frail elegancies of a dying age, and seeking such wisdom
as men will need when their passions are all spent." One can safely concluded that the Great War and the interwar decades had an influence on Hilton's writing of this novel.
Lost Horizon was a great success in the 1930's and became Hilton's all-time best seller. The novel won the Hawthornden Prize in England, which is roughly equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize in America. It also was made into a successful movie several year
s after its release. One of the main factors in Lost Horizon's popularity is the time period in which it was released. The 1930's were arguably, a pervasively escapist age. Exotic travel and the books about exotic places were simply extensions of peopl
e's general wish to shut their eyes to social and political realities. Who could blame these people? The 1930's not only represent the interwar decade but they were the primary time of The Great Depression. The Great Depression was an economic slump
that hit North America, Europe, and other industrialized areas of the world. Mass unemployment and economic stagnation persisted until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. During such a time of hard luck, poverty, and hopelessness it is no wonder that
a utopian fantasy tale captivated that hearts of millions.
A utopia can be defined as an ideal world in which one lives. Sir Thomas More's Utopia was familiar to Hilton and probably had an influence on his writing of Lost Horizon. Shangri-La is Hilton's utopia. At Shangri-La social or status distinctions can
not be made based on the type of housing or clothing of the people. There is no sense of personal wealth. The extension of the life span allows the various members of Shangri-La to pursue any subject that he/she so desires. The philosophy in Shangri-La
is that no religion is all right and that no religion is all wrong. Every religion is moderately true. In Shangri-La equality is attempted through the communal sharing of property and the elimination of money. Shangri-La can be considered equivalent w
ith a paradise on earth. Throughout the novel, the High Lama outlines the type of life that Conway will have at Shangri-La. Through this Hilton is able to touch the basic desires of many people of the world who have tired with the tedious ways of modern
living and the struggles of modern life. By prolonging the aging process at Shangri-La, Conway will have time to enjoy new friends, to follow the pursuits of the mind, time to study, read books, listen to music, and have time to enjoy solitude and conte
mplation. Everything that is normally done in a hurry in the Western world can be done at Shangri-La at a snails pace. A victim of The Depression could not enjoy these types of activities but he/she could read Lost Horizon and escape to a world where th
ey could. The population of the 1930's probably longed for the peace and quiet Shangri-La had to offer in order to pursue real interests. Furthermore, the most basic and the most appealing aspect of Shangri-La is its prolongation of the prime of one's l
ife. This aspect of the novel has charmed generations upon generations of readers. To be at your prime, vivacious and strong, for an extended amount of time is tantalizing to all; the period in which one has lived is irrelevant.
All the aspects of Lost Horizon have contributed to it's profound appeal to it's audience. It has been reviewed in the following ways: "The enjoyment of fantasy is not a matter of belief but of acquiescence, and it is all to Mr. Hilton's credit that we
are quite willing to acquiesce..." "Mr. Hilton always writes well and with imagination; his characters are clearly drawn and revealed in constant dramatic movement; his dialogue is excellent." Lost Horizon's attraction can be seen in it's commercia
l success. It became the first novel to be published on paperback by Ian Ballantine. In was made into a motion picture in 1937 directed by the famous director Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, 1934; It's a Wonderful Life, 1946). It was also made int
o a musical in 1973 directed by Charles Jarrot. Lost Horizon has been translated into many languages including Spanish, Korean, and Italian. It has been published by several other renowned publishing companies including Amereon, Buccaneer, and Pendulum
Press, Inc. It has been formatted into an illustrated children's version and has been made into a book on tape. As of 1975, Lost Horizon had sold close to ten million copies and it was still in print as of 1993. The achievements of Lost Horizon and Hil
ton's subsequent novel, Good Bye Mr. Chips (also made into a popular motion picture), helped to further Hilton's career. In 1935 he was invited to Hollywood to participate in the filming of these enormously successful books and remained there for the res
t of his life writing for the film industry. He received an Academy Award in 1942 for his work on the film Mrs. Miniver. A number of his subsequent novels were adapted for the cinema.
What is fascinating is the fact that many of the best-selling novels of the 1930's did not follow the same fantasy format as Hilton's Lost Horizon. Several of these novels portrayed candid realism of the life of and society surrounding their characters.
Such novels include The Good Earth ( Pearl Buck), Of Time and The River (Thomas Wolfe), and The Grapes of Wrath ( John Steinbeck). The Good Earth describes the cycle of birth, marriage, and death in a Chinese peasant family. The book is written realis
tically without any over attempts to awaken sympathy for any of the characters. Of Time and The River is Wolfe's second novel that describes the sights, smells, fears, and hope of the American people. He writes of life, of the pains, hungers, sorrows,
of the common people. The Grapes of Wrath is a powerful indictment of America's capitalistic economy and sharp criticism of the southwestern farmer for his imprudence in the care of his land. It is an occasionally sentimentalized description of the Ame
rican farmers of the Dust Bowl in the mid-thirties of the twentieth century. One can assume that the people enjoy escaping from the harsh realities of life by reading fantasy novels. However, it is possible that one finds comfort in being able to iden
tify with realistic plots and characters provided by novels of genre other than fantasy.
The story of Shangri-La is a fairy tale. Hilton introduces the reader to a world where life moves slowly and is carefree. It is probable that the Great War and Hilton's fear of a second war had an influence on his writing of Lost Horizon. The novels su
ccess can be attributed to it's ability to transport it's readers to an ideal and happy world; qualities most likely sought after by people during the Great Depression. Hilton's achievement is demonstrated by his implantation of the catch-phrase, "Shang
ri-La", into the English language. Generations will associate Shangri-La with an imaginary place in which all the passion and yearnings of the world are quieted. In a decade where authors brought us stories of genuine people living in real life situatio
ns, Lost Horizon gave individuals an escape from reality where all worries could be cast aside. This type of genre has appealed to readers throughout time and continues to draw readers to the world of Shangri-La.
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