Lost Horizon is a 1933 novel by English writer James Hilton. The book
was turned into a movie, also called Lost Horizon, in 1937 by director
Frank Capra. It is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a
fictional utopian lamasery located high in the mountains of Tibet.
1 Plot summary
2 Cultural significance
3.1 1935 radio
3.4 1981 radio
6 External links
Hugh Conway, a veteran member of the British diplomatic service, finds
inner peace, love and a sense of purpose in Shangri-La, whose
inhabitants enjoy unheard-of longevity.
The prologue and epilogue are narrated by a neurologist. This
neurologist and a novelist friend, Rutherford, are given dinner at
Tempelhof, Berlin, by their old school-friend Wyland, a secretary at
the British embassy. A chance remark by a passing airman brings up the
topic of Hugh Conway, a British consul in Afghanistan, who disappeared
under odd circumstances. Later in the evening, Rutherford reveals to
the neurologist that, after the disappearance, he discovered Conway in
a French mission hospital in Chung-Kiang (probably Chongqing), China,
suffering from amnesia. Conway recovered his memory, told Rutherford
his story (which Rutherford recorded in a manuscript), and then
slipped away again.
Rutherford gives the neurologist his manuscript, which becomes the
heart of the novel.
In May 1931, during the
British Raj in India, the 80 white residents
of Baskul are being evacuated to
Peshawar due to revolution. In the
aeroplane of the Maharajah of
Chandrapore are: Conway, the British
consul, aged 37; Mallinson, his young vice-consul; an American,
Barnard; and a British missionary, Miss Brinklow. The plane is
hijacked and flown instead over the mountains to Tibet. After a crash
landing, the pilot dies - but not before telling the four (in Chinese,
which only Conway speaks) to seek shelter at the nearby lamasery of
Shangri-La. The location is unclear, but Conway believes the plane has
"progressed far beyond the western range of the
Himalayas towards the
less known heights of the Kuen-Lun".
The four are taken there by a party directed by Chang, a postulant at
the lamasery who speaks English. The lamasery has modern conveniences,
like central heating, bathtubs from Akron, Ohio, a large library, a
grand piano, a harpsichord, and food from the fertile valley below.
Towering above is Karakal, literally translated as "Blue Moon," a
mountain more than 28,000 feet high. Mallinson is keen to hire porters
and leave, but Chang politely puts him off. The others eventually
decide they are content to stay: Miss Brinklow because she wants to
teach the people a sense of sin; Barnard because he is really Chalmers
Bryant (wanted by the police for stock fraud) and because he is keen
to develop the gold-mines in the valley; and Conway because the
contemplative scholarly life suits him.
A seemingly young Manchu woman, Lo-Tsen, is another postulant at the
lamasery. She does not speak English but plays the harpsichord.
Mallinson falls in love with her, as does Conway, though more
languidly. Conway is given an audience with the High Lama, an
unheard-of honor. He learns that the lamasery was constructed in its
present form by a Catholic monk named Perrault from Luxembourg, in the
early eighteenth century. The lamasery has since then been joined by
others who have found their way into the valley. Once they have done
so, their aging slows; if they then leave the valley, they age quickly
and die. Conway guesses correctly that the High Lama is Perrault, now
250 years old.
In a later audience, the High Lama reveals that he is finally dying,
and that he wants Conway to lead the lamasery. Mallinson has arranged
to leave the valley with porters and Lo-Tsen. They are waiting for him
5 kilometers outside the valley, but he cannot traverse the dangerous
route by himself, so he convinces Conway to go along and assist him.
This ends Rutherford's manuscript.
The last time Rutherford saw Conway, it appeared he was preparing to
make his way back to Shangri-La. Rutherford completes his account by
telling the neurologist that he attempted to track Conway and verify
some of his claims of Shangri-La. He found the Chung-Kiang doctor who
had treated Conway. The doctor said Conway had been brought in by a
Chinese woman, who was ill and died soon after. She was old, the
doctor had told Rutherford, "Most old of anyone I have ever seen,"
implying that it was Lo-Tsen, aged drastically by her departure from
Promotional postcard for the 1937 film
The book, published in 1933, caught the notice of the public only
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Goodbye, Mr. Chips was published in 1934. Lost Horizon
became a huge popular success and in 1939 was published in paperback
form, as Pocket Book #1. Because of its number-one position in what
became a very long list of pocket editions,
Lost Horizon is often
mistakenly called the first American paperback book, when in fact
paperbacks had been around since the mid-1800s. What made Pocket Book
#1 of revolutionary importance was that it was the first "mass-market"
paperback; mass market paperbacks allowed people of modest means not
only to own books they otherwise could not afford but also to slip the
paperback into their pocket for casual reading on the go, hence the
name "Pocket Book".
By the 1960s,
Pocket Books alone, over the course of more than 40
printings, had sold several million copies of Lost Horizon, helping to
make it one of the most popular novels of the 20th Century. US
President Franklin D. Roosevelt named the Presidential hideaway in
Maryland after Shangri-La. (It has since been renamed Camp David.)
Likewise Roosevelt initially claimed the
Doolittle Raid came from
Shangri-La; this inspired the name of the aircraft carrier USS
A one-hour adaptation by James Hilton and Barbara Burnham was
broadcast on the
BBC National Programme
BBC National Programme at 20:30 on 1 August 1935,
with a cast that included
Esme Percy as the High Lama,
Ben Welden as
Barbara Couper as Miss Brinklow, Jon Swinley as Conway and
Cathleen Cordell as Lo Tsen. It was broadcast again on 2 August
1935, 30 and 31 January 1936, 30 October 1939 and 9 April 1945.
The book has been made into two films:
Lost Horizon (1937), directed by Frank Capra
Lost Horizon (1973), directed by
Charles Jarrott (musical version)
The book also served as the basis for the unsuccessful 1956 Broadway
Hilton's novel was adapted for
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 in three-hour-long episodes
Classic Serial banner:
Broadcast 20 September to 4 October 1981, it was dramatised by Barry
Derek Jacobi as Hugh Conway and
Alan Wheatley as the
High Lama, and re-broadcast 8 to 10 September 2010 on BBC Radio 7, and
again in March 2012, November 2014, and June 2016 on BBC Radio 4
Extra. An earlier recording of the serialised book was transmitted by
BBC Home Service in the early 1960s (featuring Gabriel Woolfe
playing the part of Conway.)
Lost Horizon is currently available in paperback format and is now
published by Summersdale Publishers Ltd ,
ISBN 978-1-84024-353-6 in the UK and by Harper Perennial,
ISBN 978-0-06-059452-7 in the United States.
^ For an example of an early paperback edition, learn more about the
^ "Broadcasting". Arts and Entertainment. The Times (47131). London. 1
August 1935. p. 12.
^ "Broadcast Drama". Reviews. The Times (47132). London. 2 August
1935. p. 10.
Lost Horizon at Project Gutenberg Australia
Review by Steven Silver
Clues to real Shangri