What Is The Theme Of Lost Horizon

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James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon in 1933, and it was an immediate success, selling millions of copies, influencing President Roosevelt to name what's now Camp David Shangri-La, and Frank Capra, a hot director after an Oscar sweep with It Happened One Night in 1934, made a movie of Lost Horizon in 1937. The book also makes a big impression at first reading, especially for younger readers (which is when I first read it, many years ago now), who are captivated by the atmosphere of mystery and mysticism.

The story of Lost Horizon is simple: a group of travellers are stranded in the Himalayas and they encounter a remote monastery named Shangri-La and the wonderful people who live there. Before that point, Hilton includes a prologue and two lengthy
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Mallinson in particular is irritating, never changing, always whining. Miss Brinklow is the token woman at the beginning, and nothing philosophically intriguing ever comes of the collision of her missionary impulses with the beliefs in Shangri-La; she does remain one of the decent characters in the story. Barnard is the only one with a semi-interesting past and the only character who ever changes, but that change is telegraphed from the moment you know how many police officers are chasing him. The character named Chang is forced to lie to our heroes because of his position in Shangri-La, but even that is somehow rendered boring. The High Lama proves to be the mouthpiece of the ideology of Shangri-La, but every conversation with him is a static set-piece. While he has some good ideas about moderation and civility, there is no dramatic tension in those scenes in that he is talking to Conway who is an easy convert. Meanwhile, the book has underlying and ugly thread of misogyny. Lo-Tsen, the object of the "haunting love story" (as the front cover blurb puts it), has not a single line of speech. She stands around looking lovely, or plays piano, or goes with the men and gives them radiant smiles when they decide to…show more content…
He exhibits a lethal (to the reader's interest, that is) mix of indecision and introspection. I quote at length from the section immediately before he decides to leave:

And he knew, too, that his mind dwelt in a world of its own, Shangri-La in microcosm, and that this world also was in peril. For even as he nerved himself, he saw the corridors of his imagination twist and strain under impact; the pavilions were toppling; all was about to be in ruins. He was only partly unhappy, but he was infinitely and rather sadly perplexed. He did not know whether he had been mad and was now sane, or had been sane for a time and was now mad again. (216-7)

Partly unhappy! I've seldom read about the internal life of a character that was so boring in its complexity. Hamlet may have waffled, but at least Shakespeare set that in the context of the revenge tragedy, an eventful genre. Part of my annoyance with Conway was his presence in an adventure story gone awry; Conway is a symbol of the way the two halves of the book don't support each other. Shangri-La is an interesting place to visit, but not with the expectation of an edge-of-the-seat
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