The book of Lost Horizon has been an enigma that I have wanted to explore for many years. I have memories as a child watching a fascinating, dark and mysterious, black and white movie about a magical world, hidden amongst snowy mountains, where people did not age. You may remember those days when a black and white movie would be on your television at night..or maybe not?
I brought with me two other books for reading on our little holiday break, but as I was down near Port Elliot, South Australia I felt compelled to go to a most wonderful secondhand bookstore. Here is a treasure that not many may appreciate, you may walk in this store and ask the owner if he has a book and he will not only find the book, but he may find it in hard back and paper back and all the other books by that author. He is a font of information, he rescued us from an Anne of Green Gables crisis last year and knowing his accumen I thought that I would find Lost Horizon in his wonderful book haven. Not only did I find it, but I discovered that James Hilton was responsible for writing Goodbye Mr Chips. Now let me describe this shop, it isn’t beautiful, not in a fashionable sense of retail beauty, it has a very old bookshop facade, with a few books featured in the windows; books that are highly sought after in their genre. No this shop’s beauty lies in the quality of literature that lines the shelves, the very old and much loved books that have touching inscriptions from loved ones in their front covers, the complete lack of fuss and ceremony and the knowledge of the friendly and oh so helpful owner.
So I returned back to our holiday home eager to start reading Lost Horizon. First published in 1933 and set in this era, Lost Horizon is a novel that takes you on a fantasy journey into the complex social structures of 1933. It is what I believe an allegory of life between wars, the novel looks at a man Conway, whose soul has been deeply scarred by his experiences of the war and his craving for something pure and safe. The supporting characters appear to me be reflections of other emotions, greed, impatience, righteousness, trust and distrust. Lost Horizon is one of the oldest fantasy books I have read and in some way like Tolkien, Hilton has been influenced by WWI. This brings a rather sad background to the story, you understand that all the participants in the story have been harmed and have suffered through WWI and the decisions that they make can be understood in this context. It also gives meaning to why the Lamasery desired to have a broad representation of people in Shangri-La, as the place was also known. In the wiki on Lost Horizon, I was surprised to see that Camp David was actually originally named ‘Shangri-La’ by Rooseveldt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Horizon, the name of the mountain in the story.
You are left with many questions unanswered at the end of this story, what happened to Mallinson the young impetus man but actually the most level-headed of the lot; did the hero of the story Conway make it all up and what happened to him? After all it is a story being retold by a man in a club named Rutherford, with only a distant connection to Conway. I do think one of the most striking elements in this story is the assertions of another bigger war was going to happen and that in Shangri-La they would be protected from it, Conway not wanting to experience another war was persuaded to stay in a world with peace and harmony. Is this Hilton prophetising, as the Lama’s do in his story, did he have any insights or ideas that 1939 would bring a new challenge to world order? More questions I guess to be answered if at all.
This was a lovely little fantasy story, peppered with some quite striking social commentary at times. You might miss it if you blink, but he has much to say on racism and the treatment of women as objects. I enjoyed being challenged by some of those social mores of 1933. Now I just need to go back to my favourite book store at Port Elliot and see if he has one of Hilton’s other novels, Random Harvest – you may remember another fabulous war movie set in 1930s about a returned soldier with amnesia, the beautiful Greer Garson was the heroine of the story.
Readability 8 out of 10
Cant put down rating 8 out of 10
Recommend to others 8 out of 10
Do I want to read another book by this author – yes – Random Harvest.
Book #5 Eucalyptus – Murray Bail – at last I am reading something more contemporary.