Lost Horizon: Analysis by Ralph K Jones

Dystopian Literature Review

Lost Horizon: Prisoner of Paradise

Lost Horizon: Analysis by Ralph K Jones

Lost Horizon by James Hilton serves as the genesis of the legendary Shangri-La, a beautiful utopian oasis sequestered from the earthly horrors of poverty, war, and dissipation. For those in a war-torn world full of fear and strife, the Shangri-La might seem like an alluring escape and a true paradise. However, would such an oasis really be a utopia, or would it be a prison? The answer to this question lies within the narrative.

The story begins with three friends having dinner in Berlin when one of them happens to mention a Hugh “Glory” Conway, who mysteriously disappeared after fleeing British India. Rutherford, one of the three, reveals that he met Conway in a hospital while travelling to Honolulu, who told him a story about what happened to him after he disappeared. Rutherford then tells the story to the others, including us, the readers.

Lost Horizon in-depth Review

Conway, along with three others: Roberta Brinklow, Captain Charles Mallinson, and Henry D. Barnard, are escaping to Britain on a plane, but it gets hijacked and is flown to Tibet instead. The plane crashes and the pilot dies, who tells them to seek out the lamasery known as Shangri-La to receive aid.

The four of them arrive at Shangri-La and are guided by an elderly man called Chang through the breathtaking sights and sounds of the valley. There is a magnificent library, modern luxuries, and everyone appears to be in utter peace. Conway finds Shangri-La incredibly alluring, but Mallinson finds it appalling and wants to leave immediately. However, they will be unable to do so until porters come in to trade merchandise.

Lo-Tsen

Conway and Mallinson both fall in love with a Chinese woman called Lo-Tsen, who is actually hundreds of years old, although she only looks like she’s in her twenties. Conway is then summoned by the High Lama, who sees promise in him. He reveals to Conway that he founded Shangri-La 250 years ago, and those who remain in the valley age much slower than usual. He has several additional meetings with Conway, and eventually asks him to become the next High Lama after his death.

“Is there not too much tension in the world at present, and might it not be better if more people were slackers?”

― James Hilton , Lost Horizon

Age is just a Number

With this information, Conway tells Mallinson about the history of Shangri-La, but he dismisses it as nonsense. Brinklow and Barnard want to stay in Shangri-La for their own reasons, but Mallinson requests that he and Conway leave with Lo-Tsen, to which he obliges. Rutherford’s narrative then ends, and he adds that someone saw an old Chinese woman, who was presumably Lo-Tsen, bringing Conway to the hospital. He then wonders if the story really was true, and if Conway managed to make it back to his lost paradise.

All four of the passengers were trying to escape from war and violence that was escalating at an alarming rate, and, although it wasn’t what they expected, they were given the perfect escape: Shangri-La. In this mystical valley, they would be able to enjoy all the luxuries of the modern world while staying safe from the impending downfall of society, all in complete tranquillity and with an extended lifespan. The Shangri-La would serve as an oasis for the better parts of humanity and its culture to survive.

Lost Horizon Ralph’s Wrap Up

Although the Shangri-La is undoubtedly beautiful, and holds a number of wonders that could not exist in the real world, it would certainly not be a utopia for everybody. For example, why did Mallinson consider himself to be a prisoner there, while Conway was deeply allured by the valley and eventually sought it out once again? The answer to this question is a complex one that tugs on the very fabric of human nature. The Shangri-La is a fictional place, yet many still seek it out, while others wait contentedly for the world as we know it to end. One of the hardest realities to face is knowing which side of the fence you sit on.

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