Literature / Lost Horizon

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The novel Lost Horizon was written in 1933 by British author James Hilton (of Goodbye, Mr. Chips fame).

Passengers aboard a small airplane discover that they have been kidnapped by someone posing as their assigned pilot. The plane crashes in the Himalayan mountain range, along the border of China. The dying pilot's last words indicate there is a lamasery nearby at Shangri-La and they will find help there. The passengers go to the lamasery and are offered shelter there. Then mysteries start to unfold: the passengers want to leave but but are unable to, and it becomes clear that time passes differently here.

It was filmed by Frank Capra in 1937, and again in 1973 as a spectacular star-studded musical flop.

Not to be confused with the power metal band with the same name.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: The book's Hugh Conway became Robert Conway in the 1937 film and Richard Conway in the 1973 film.
  • Aesop: The novel warns of an impending World War note .
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Shangri-La" means "Shang Mountain Pass" in Tibetan.
  • The Chosen One: Conway was specially selected to go to Shangri-La, and the other passengers were considered wonderful, accidental additions to the lamasery who all (excepting Mallinson) found reasons to be happy there.
  • Framing Device: The main story is being told among two former schoolmates of Conway, one of whom got his story from Conway himself.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Shangri-La is a deliberately inaccessible place where carefully selected candidates are expected to isolate themselves from a world without hope.
  • Hurting Hero: Conway, the protagonist, saw very disturbing stuff during his service in World War I, and he never got quite over it.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: According to the High Lama, the lamasery was originally Buddhist, then Father Perrault converted it to Christianity, but in his later years he embraced not only Buddhism but some elements of Hinduism as well.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The book is written by someone who heard the story from Conrad.
  • MacGuffin Location: Shangri-La
  • May–December Romance: Mallinson and Lo-Tsen... if Perrault is telling the truth of course.
  • Mighty Whitey: Featuring a modern Mighty Whitey in the 1930s, when the old-fashioned version was still in vogue. The mostly Chinese and Tibetan monks there prove themselves to be wise, intelligent, competent, and well-rounded characters. However, the white Conway turns out to be better at being a monk than the best of the Tibetans, and it turns out that the founder and leader of the monastery is a European who arrived in the 15th century.
  • No Immortal Inertia: It is heavily implied that Lo-Tsen lost her youth almost as soon as she left Shangri-La.
  • Organization with Unlimited Funding: The monastery.
  • Rapid Aging: This may be Lo-Tsen's fate as explained in No Immortal Inertia.
  • Secret Identity: Barnard is really Chalmers Bryant and the High Lama might really be Father Perrault.
  • The Shangri-La: The novel is the trope namer, due to Conway's efforts to get back at any price.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Mallinson points out to Conway (and the reader) that the High Lama might be just lying.

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