Book Group, Books

Book 88: Lost Horizon – James Hilton

I read this book for our library book group, Books into Films. I just finished watching the film and as usual, the book was much better. I think you could say the film is ‘loosely’ – if even that – based on the book. There were so many additions that I was rather confused throughout.

The novel, however, was well written and interesting enough if you can get past the first somewhat rather dull ‘old boys club’ sitting around a table rehashing their youth bit. If you make it past this bit, you see experience the (after the publication of this novel) legendary Shangri-La.

As I read the novel I wondered where the legend of Shangri-La originated and according to Encyclopedia Britannica the meaning of it as a “remote, utopian land” derives from this novel. However, the novel isn’t really about Shangri-La, it’s about the search for greater truth, the search for what was lost. The four main characters are kidnapped and taken to Shangri-La, located in the valley of the Blue Moon, under mysterious circumstances, and each has their own ah-ha moment.

Hilton’s characters were rather flat, but innovative for the time. From Conway, the true protagonist, to his assistant Mallinson, the missionary Brinklow and the questionable Barnard/Bryant, each of the characters reacts differently after finding they’ve been kidnapped and even after they’ve reached Shangri-La. It is these reactions which make me believe that Hilton wrote more about the finding and loss of an ideal than the ideal itself. I won’t go anymore in-depth into the novel as it would give it away, but suffice to say the majority of the legends and beliefs about Shangri-La come from this novel.

My only comment about the movie is that I didn’t appreciate how far it moved away from the novel. I can see why they did it, but I was not impressed. It was cool that I watched a remastered version and they found some of the missing footage and what they couldn’t find they put in place holder pictures to the recorded dialogue. The main thing that irked me was that the major roles were all played by white men/women, including the Chinese and other Asian characters.

What I took away from Lost Horizon was that everyone at some point finds a perfect moment, person or place, and either you choose to stay with it or you don’t and you spend the rest of your life trying to find it or them.

Recommendation: Pass. It wasn’t that great of a read. There are better utopian fiction books out there and although this novel has a unique perspective — especially when you take into account it’s publication date and world events (1933, Great Depression, eve of WWII).

Opening Line: “Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who have met again as men and found themselves with less in common than they had believed they had.”

Closing Line: “We sat for a long time in silence, and then talked again of Conway as I remembered him, boyish and gifted and full of charm, and of the war that had altered him, and of so many mysteries of time and age and of the mind, and of the little Manchu who had been ‘most old,’ and of the strange ultimate dream of Blue Moon. ‘Do you think he will ever find it?’ I asked.” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from Lost Horizon
“There was something raw and monstrous about those uncompromising ice cliffs, and a certain sublime impertinence in approaching them thus.” (35)

“Conway lifted the bowl to his lips and tasted. The savor was slender, elusive, and recondite, a ghostly bouquet that haunted rather than lived on the tongue.” (109)

“The first quarter-century of your life was doubtless lived under the cloud of being too young for things, while the last quarter-century would normally be shadowed by the still darker cloud of being too old for them; and between those two clouds, what small and narrow sunlight illumines a human lifetime!” (124)

“For those Dark Ages were not really so very dark—they were full of flickering lanterns, and even if the light had gone out of Europe altogether, there were other rays, literally from China to Peru, at which it could have been rekindled. But the Dark Ages that are to come will cover the whole world in a single pall; there will be neither escape nor sanctuary, save such as are too secret to be found or too humble to be noticed. And Shangri-La may hope to be both of these.” (158)


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