Lost Horizon is a utopian fantasy novel, and so the reader must use his/her imagination to help make this unusual world (Shangri-La) believable. It is more cerebral than that According to Steven Silver Reviews on the novel, the monks at Shangri-La believe in a philosophy which is a mix of Christianity and is brought to the valley by the 18th French priest Perrault which is also the name of the French fabulist and the Buddhism which existed before Perrault’s arrival. The motto of these monks could best be summed up as “Everything in moderation, even moderation”, same as what Aristotle believed in his idealism.
The novel opens in a gentleman’s club in Berlin where four Englishmen have met for the evening. Talk turns to a plane hi-jacking which had occurred in Baskul, India the previous year. When the men realize they all knew one of the kidnap victims, Hugh Conway, the conversation briefly touches on his probable fate. After the group breaks up, one of their number, the author Rutherford, confides to another that he has seen Conway since the kidnapping and goes on to provide a manuscript accounting for Conway’s experiences.
Conway is among four kidnap victims, the others being Mallinson, his young assistant who is anxious to get back to civilization, Barnard, a brash American, and Miss Brinklow, an evangelist. Conway himself rounds out the group as an established diplomat and stoic. When the plane crashes in the Kuen-Lun Mountains, the quartet is rescued and taken to the hidden lamasery of Shangri-La. Conway is the most adaptable and open-minded character in the book and takes what people say at face value as truth.
Conway, Malinson, Barnard, and Ms. Brinklow are four passengers catching a flight out of Baskul as the political and military situation there deteriorates. The plane is being flown by a pilot who appears to be in a trance and taking them drastically off course. A forced landing on a Himilayan mountain top kills the pilot and ruins the plane. The four survivors are rescued and brought to a strange, almost magical, mountain monastery and village. The setting is lush and green despite the altitude.
The people placid and friendly, but mysteriously quiet about the prospects for returning to civilization, so remote is the village. Despite his knowledge Conway leaves with Malinson in an attempt to reach India on foot. They are deceived and the journey is a tragic one. Conway managed to reach civilization and then is desperate to leave to make his return back to Shangri-La, to accept his position as successor to the deceased High Lama.
Basically, the story is a spiritual journey for those who see what it is they have stumbled upon, Shangri-La: paradise on Earth. Conway is given an audience with the High Lama but remains quiet as to what is going on. People age years instead of decades, there is no crime or war or hunger.
The novel teaches us that desire itself corrupts mankind. Buddhism teaches that nirvana is the end of desire for anything at all, even life itself. Hilton takes this idea and uses it to create his utopia. In Shangri-La, no one wants anything because everyone has everything they need. Children are indoctrinated in courtesy and etiquette even when they are still very young. They are taught to share and love. If two men desire the same woman, one is willing to let go. Passion and ambition are not good.
The basis of all human emotion is desire, and when all desire is eliminated, you achieve a utopia. People in Shangri-La do not “do” anything because they do not want anything. They read, listen to music, have discussions and share nature walks, but they do not compete with each other or perform work. Hilton’s utopians live abnormally long lives because they do not experience any tension or yearnings.
Hilton, James (1988). Lost Horizon. Mass Market Paperback. ISBN: 0671664271