James Hilton and Shangri-La

Rasoul Sorkhabi

The Crafting of a Tibetan Utopia

He [Conway] was also interested in the mountain beyond the valley; it was a sensational peak, by any standards, and he was surprised that some traveller had not made much of it in the kind of book that a journey in Tibet invariably elicits. He climbed it in mind as he gazed ... Soon after that the journey to Shangri-La was begun.

James Hilton in Lost Horizon

James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon published in 1933 established Tibet in Utopian literature and introduced a new word to our language - Shangri-La. But who was James Hilton and how did he come to write this novel? Why did Lost Horizon (both the novel and the film) become so popular around the world? And which place(s) inspired Hilton's Shangri-La? Here we explore these questions.

The Writer

James Hilton, the only son of John and Elizabeth Hilton, was born on 9 September, 1900 in Leigh in Lancashire, England (at his grandfather's house). His parents were schoolteachers at Walthamstow, a suburb of London where James grew up and studied in public schools. From 1915 to 1918, he attended the Leys School in Cambridge, where he also became editor of the school magazine. Then he joined the Christ's College, Cambridge University, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History and English in 1921. English literature, history and music (he played the piano very well) were to remain Hilton's main interests for the rest of his life. In 1921, James's parents moved to Woodford Green, Essex. James joined them and lived with his parents for over a decade while working as a journalist for a number of British newspapers. Even before his 1933 Lost Horizon, Hilton had published eight novels (the first being Catherine Herself when he was only twenty) but none drew much attention from the public or critics.

After the immense popularity of Lost Horizon, Hilton moved to California in 1935 to work in Hollywood. Shortly before his departure, he married his English girlfriend Alice Helen Brown. They divorced two years later, and James then married a young actress, Galina Kopineck. However, this also ended in divorce in 1945; later James and Alice were reunited and lived together. Hilton, who became an American citizen in 1948, spent the rest of his life in California, writing a number of novels and screenplays. Many of Hilton's other novels also became hit movies, such as Knight Without Armour, Goodbye Mr. Chips, We Are Not Alone, Rage in Heaven (based on Dawn of Reckonings), Random Harvest, The Story of Dr. Wassell, and So Well Remembered. Hilton led a successful literary career until his unexpected death in Long Beach, California on 20 December, 1954 from liver cancer.

James Hilton, author of Lost Horizon

James Hilton, author of Lost Horizon

Frank Capra director of the film.

Frank Capra director of the film.

The Crafting of a Tibetan Novel

Hilton finished writing Lost Horizon at Woodford Green in April 1933. He had never visited Tibet or the Himalaya but he had apparently read a great deal about the place and its history, religion, customs, and travelogues (in his interview with the New York Times, 26 July, 1936, Hilton said that he 'cribbed" his Tibetan material from the British Museum Library). To understand Lost Horizon (both its content and success), it is important to examine the world conditions in those times.

First, in the early twentieth century, the mysterious and forbidden Tibet had become accessible to foreign visitors, and publications on Tibet and Central Asia such as exploration books by Sir Francis Younghusband (1863-1942), Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943), Sven Hedin (1865-1952), Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), and Alexandra David- Neel (1868-1969) were gradually capturing the western mind.

Second, as a boy, Hilton had witnessed the horrors of World War I, and like his father he had developed anti-war sentiments. But apparently the West had not learned enough from the tragedies of the Great War. The League of Nations (a predecessor of the United Nations) had failed to resolve international conflicts; Adolph Hitler and his highly nationalistic and racist political ideology (Nazism) were rising in Germany; and clouds of war and fear had cast a shadow over the West. In his 1918-22 book, The Decline of the West (Der IJtergang des Abendlandes), the German writer Oswald Spengler even prophesied the eclipse of the western civilisation due to its technological wars and lack of a spiritual lifestyle.

Third, the Great (economic) Depression of the 1930s had created a climate of economic insecurity around the world.

It was under these circumstances that Hilton crafted Lost Horizon mainly as food for thought for westerners who were disillusioned with world events and thirsty for an oriental Utopia. No wonder that during the same period (late 1920s and early 1930s), works like Erich Remarque's All Quite on the Western Front (1929); Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932); H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come (1933); and the fantasy movie She (1935, based on H. Rider Haggard's novel) also became highly popular.

The Novel

Lost Horizon opens at Berlin's Tempelhof airport with a conversation among several Oxford alumni attending a dinner party. They chat about an airplane which had been hijacked the previous year. In it were four westerners - Hugh ('Glory') Conway, British consul in Afghanistan; his assistant Captain Charles Mallinson; Miss Roberta Brinklow, an Evangelical missionary; and Henry Bernard, an American engineer (who is later revealed to be a fugitive named Chalmers Bryant). The plane was to transport them from the revolution-ridden Afghan city of Baskul (a fictitious name resembling Baku) to the safety of Peshawar in British India (now in Pakistan). But the plane was hijacked by a

Tibetan pilot (named Talu) and flown to an unspecified valley, Shangri- la, up in the Kunlun mountains in northwest Tibet. Conway is an Oxford alumni too, and one of the participants in the dinner party (a novelist named Rutherford) confesses that he had actually seen Conway recently in China. Conway was hospitalised and had lost his memory, but upon regaining it, had told Rutherford all about Shangri- La. Rutherford had noted it all down. Rutherford also adds that Conway had decided to return to Tibet to find Shangri-La, and that he himself was planning to go there in search of Conway. Rutherford's manuscript of Conway's narrative story thus constitutes the main part of Lost Horizon.

The opening of the novel at an airport and the fact that Conway and his companions were taken to Tibet not on foot (which is how pilgrims and explorers used to go) but on an aircraft are all hallmarks of the early twentieth century developments, that is the invention of airplane (by the Wright brothers in 1903) and the rapid growth of air travel. Indeed, in April 1933 (for the first time) the Houston-Wasteland Expedition (financed by Lady Lucy Houston) flew two airplanes (of the type Wasteland PV3) over Everest and took many aerial photographs. (These planes took off from the Lalbalu airfield near Purnea, India, some 240 kilometres southeast of Everest).

Conway, as we learn early in the novel, is a 37-year old, good- looking, intelligent, open-minded, peace-loving man. This character was probably modelled on a combination of two real personalities:

First Sir Francis Younghusband, a British army officer who invaded and forcefully opened Tibet in 1904, and was later drawn to oriental spirituality. Younghusband was author of such works as The Heart of a Continent (1898) and India and Tibet (1910), and in 1936 he founded the World Congress of Religions in London (which exists to this day) to help bring friendship and dialogue among the world's religion.

Second George Mallory, a young handsome English mountain- climber who died on an early attempt to climb Everest in 1924 (his frozen corpse was discovered in 1999). (Incidentally, Younghusband was the chairman of the Mount Everest Committee in London, which sponsored the mountaineering expeditions in which Mallory participated.)

Only gradually through the novel we learn why the four westerners had been taken to the lamasery in Shangri-La. An elderly Chinese, grey-haired, clean-shaven man named Mr. Chang answers (often in a convincing and yet mysterious manner) the questions raised by his curious guests and makes sure they stay comfortably. Shangri-La, as Chang informs us, is an isolated valley that holds a small community of several thousand people, engaged mainly in agriculture and spiritual practice at their huge lamasery. The inhabitants of the valley live very long and in a peaceful, happy community. Their guiding principle in life is simply 'moderation' in everything including the practice and virtue of moderation (obviously taken from Buddhist teachings).[1] The community does not use money, and yet people possess what they really need. The valley is also rich in gold mines, which they trade with the outside world to import what could not be produced domestically.

The climax comes when Conway is taken to meet the High Lama - a Father Perrault, born in 1681 in Luxembourg. He became a Capuchin friar, and along with three other monks travelled to Tibet seeking traces of Nestorian Christians who once lived in Asia. His companions died on this arduous journey, and in 1753 Father Perrault stumbled into Shangri La. At first he wanted to convert the native people to Christianity, but gradually he learned their language and religion, and came to be known as a lama.' Te Deum Laudamus and Om Mane Padme Om are now heard equally in the temples of the valley.' As the twentieth century began with deadly wars and bloody revolutions, Father Perrault decided to preserve Shangri-La as a treasury and refuge for humanity's literature, arts and wisdom, or in his own words:

It will be such a storm as the world has not seen before. There will be no safety by arms, no help from authority, no answer in science. It will rage till every flower of culture is trampled, and all human things are levelled in a vast chaos ... 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.

Then the High Lama reveals that he was going to die soon (he was 259 years old when the story took place), and he had brought Conway to become Shangri La's leader: 'You will go through the storm ... You will conserve the fragrance of our history.'

Since the seventeenth century, Jesuit fathers had travelled throughout Asia not only as missionaries but also to look for remains of ancient Christianity; they were especially inspired by the legend of the lost Christian kingdom of Prester John somewhere in Central Asia. One place that was particular interest to them was the tenth-century kingdom of Guge at Tsaparang in western Tibet (now in the Ngri prefecture of Tibet). Father Perrault is obviously modelled on one of these Jesuit fathers, notably Antonio de Andrade (who although could not find any Christian community in Tsaparang, himself founded a small Christian church there in 1625), Ippolito Desidri (who after visiting Tsaparang went to Lhasa in 1716 learned Tibetan and stayed there for a few years), Orazio della Penna di Bill (who lived in the Capuchin mission in Lhasa until they were expelled sometime before 1760), and Abbe Hue (a French Jesuit who visited Tibet in 1845-46 and wrote an influential book about his travels in China and Tibet). Indeed, it was through the accounts of these Jesuit priests that the west first got to know about Tibetan Buddhism (or Lamaism as they first called it).

Lost Horizon: Cover of James Hilton’s novel and poster of the movie.

Lost Horizon: Cover of James Hilton’s novel and poster of the movie.

It is interesting to follow the attitude and behaviour of the four kidnap victims in Shangri-La. Conway, already disillusioned with western civilisation, is happy to stay in Shangri-La. Henry Bernard and Miss Roberta Brinklow, who were initially wary of Shangri-La, postpone their trips back home. The money-minded Henry is attracted to the rich gold deposits of the valley, and the Evangelist Roberta wants to convert the people of Shangri-La to Christianity. She is given full freedom to do so (of course, first she has to learn the native language). A conversation between Mr. Chang and Miss Roberta illustrates two different approaches to religious life:

"What do the lamas do?" she continued.

"They devote themselves, madam, to contemplation and to the pursuit of wisdom."

"But that isn't doing anything."

"Then, madam, they do nothing."

"I thought as much." She found the occasion to sum up. "Well, Mr. Chang, it's a pleasure being shown all these things, I'm sure, but you won't convince me that a place like this does any real good. I prefer something more practical."

"Perhaps you would like to take tea?"

It is only Captain Mallinson who is eager to return to 'civilisation.' He falls in love with Lo-Tsen, a Manchurian princess who in 1884 (when she was eighteen) wandered to Shangri-La by accident as she was travelling to meet her betrothed, a Turkish prince in Kashgar. Mallinson and Lo-Tsen both decide to leave Shangri-La, and it was to accompany them to safety that Conway also left Shangri-La. On their way through the hazardous snowy mountains, Mallinson died, and Lo-Tsen became her real age - a very old Chinese woman who had ended up with Conway in the missionary hospital in the Chinese city of Chung-Kiang (probably Chongqing) and died there (this is the hospital where Rutherford had found Conway).

Shangri-La and Shambhala

Shangri-La has now become a household name for an ideal, peaceful place. Hotels, restaurants, fascinating places, and musical albums have been called Shangri-La. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt named his Maryland presidential retreat 'Shangri-La' (it was renamed Camp David in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower after his grandson). There is a splendid Shangri-La house in Honolulu (in Hawaii) built by Doris Duke (an American billionaire who loved to travel and collect art) in 1937; this house with it beautiful architecture and precious art collection is open to public visits. In Orange, Texas (near the border of Louisiana), sits the 252-acre Shangri-La Botanical Gardens and Nature Preserve, which was created in 1946 by philanthropist Lutcher Stark, and has been recently remodelled (it was destroyed by a snowstorm in 1958) and is open to the public. There is also a chain of five-star Shangri- La Hotels and Resorts in many Asian capitals. All these, however, came after Shangri-La was popularised by Hilton's Lost Horizon. But was there a real place like Shangri-La that inspired Hilton?

Shangri-La means 'the snowy (or secret) mountain-pass ('la' in Tibetan).' Hilton also gave it another name - the Valley of Blue Moon located at the foot of a mountain called Karakal (again a fictitious name) which Hilton translated as 'Blue Moon' and gives its height as 'over twenty-eight thousand feet.' (Hilton had initially entitled his book 'Blue Moon' but later changed it to 'Lost Horizon'). I think Hilton got the idea of the Blue Moon Valley from Nicholas Roerich's paintings of blue mountains in northern Tibet, where he was researching the legend of Shambhala.

When describing the flight route to Shangri-La, Hilton first cites Nanga Parbat: ' [Conway said] I have never been anywhere near here before, but I would not be surprised if that mountain is Nanga Parbat, the one Mummery lost his life on.' This is an obvious reference to Englishman Albert Mummery's ill-fated attempt on the mountain in 1895 (Nanga Parbat was first successfully climbed in 1953 by Hermann Buhl of Austria). Then we come to the Karakoram: 'The icy rampart of the Karakorams was now more striking than ever against the northern sky.' Conway remarked: 'If these are the Karakorams, Tibet lies beyond. One of the crests, by the way, must be K2, which is generally counted the second highest mountain the world ... and from a climber's point of view, much stiffer than Everest. The Duke of Abruzzi gave it up as an absolutely impossible peak.' Again a historical reference: The Italian Prince Luigi Amedeo of Savoy, also called the Duke of Abruzzi, led an unsuccessful expedition to K2 in 1909. (Interestingly, the Duke of Abruzzi died in March 1933 when Hilton was working on

Lost Horizon.) Everest and K2 had to wait until 1953 when both were successfully climbed.

Finally, Hilton situates Shangri-La somewhere in the Kunlun mountains in northwest Tibet, which was very remote and inaccessible to the outside world in those days (and it is still less accessible). He writes:

He [Conway] guessed that the flight had progressed far beyond the western range of the Himalayas towards the less known heights of the Kuen-Lun. In that event they would by now have reached the loftiest and least hospitable part of the earth's surface, the Tibetan Plateau, two miles high even in its lowest valleys, a vast, uninhabited, and largely unexplored region of windswept upland.

This is how Hilton describes Shangri-La and Karakal:

Conway could see the outline of a long valley, with rounded, sad-looking low hills on either side jet-black against the deep electric blue of the night sky. But it was to the head of the valley that his eyes led irresistibly, for there, soaring into the gap, and magnificent in the full shimmer of moonlight, appeared what he took to be the loveliest mountain on earth. It was an almost cone of snow, simple in outline as if a child had drawn it, and impossible to classify as to size, height or nearness. It was so radiant, so serenely poised, that he wondered for a moment if it were real at all. Then, while he gazed, a tiny puff clouded the edge of the pyramid, giving life to the vision before the faint rumble of the avalanche confirmed it.

The British historian and writer Michael Wood believes that the lost kingdom of Guge at Tsaparang was the inspiration for Hilton's Shangri-La. In his 2005 documentary film, Shangri-La (part of the BBC-PBS series 'In Search of Myths and Heroes'), Wood retraced Antonio de Andrade's journey to Tsaparang.

In 2002, two Americans mountaineers and entertainment industry lawyers, Ted Vaill and Peter Kilka, claimed that they had located Hilton's Shangri-La, not in the Kunlun Mountains or western Tibet, but in the Sichuan Province of China in far eastern Tibet (Newsweek, 21 March 2001; Daily Telegraph, 29 July 2002). They had interviewed Jane Wyatt (1912-2006), an actress in Capra's movie, who had met James Hilton during the making of the film and had learned from him that the 1920s National Geographic articles of Joseph Rock (1884- 1962, an Austrian-American botanist) about his travels in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of southwestern China were the main inspiration for Shangri-La. Based on 21 similarities, Vaill and Kilka argue that the ancient kingdom of Muli near the sacred Mount Jambeyang (5958 m, which is a snow-capped, pyramid-shaped mountain like Karakal) is Hilton's Shangri-La. While this may be true, the snow-capped, pyramid-shaped Karakal may also have been modelled on Everest or Kailash.

In view of Joseph Bank's publications and international fame of Hilton's Shangri-La, and given its tourist attraction and revenue, various places in Yunnan and Sichuan nowadays claim to be Shangri- La. For instance the Zhongdian County (in northwest corner of the Yunnan Province) was officially re-named the Shangri-La County in 2001 (it even has an airport!). All these places are culturally and racially Tibetan. The local Chinese governments in Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan are promoting international tourism, and there are many group tours to these Shangri-Las run by travel agencies - something which Hilton probably could not imagine.

Some scholars, including Peter Bishop in The Myth of Shangri- La (1989) and Martin Brauen in Dreamland Tibet: Western Illusions (2004), have criticised Lost Horizon as a typical example 'Orientalist' literature creating a fanciful image of exotic Tibet for westerners while ignoring Tibet's actual historical-cultural context (including the sad or ugly social problems). These criticisms are valid, and we thus need more literature about Tibet for a balanced perspective. Nonetheless, not all works of fiction can be expected to be realistic. Lost Horizon should be read in the same genre as Sir Thomas Moore's Utopia (published in 1516) about an ideal society on a British island. (Interestingly, the Greek word Utopia, meaning 'no-place', was introduced into English by Moore's work just as Hilton's novel invented the word Shangri-La.) Moreover, the role of Lost Horizon in popularising the religious culture of Tibet should not be underestimated; after all we are living in an Age of Image.

The original idea of Shangri-La comes from the Tibetan Buddhist concept of Shambhala (Sanskrit: 'Place of Peace' or 'Source of Happiness'; Tibetan: De-yung). A similar mythological place called Olmo-lungring is also found in the (pre-Buddhist) Bon religion of Tibet. According to Tibetan Buddhist texts, Shambhala lie north of the river Sita (probably the river Tarim or Amu Darya). It is a hidden kingdom surrounded by a circle of high snowy mountains. Tibetan mandala paintings depict the land of Shambhala divided into eight mountainous regions like petals of a lotus. At the centre lies Mount Kailash or Mount Meru (the axis mundi linking Heaven and Earth), on top of which is located the capital Kapala ruled by the Kulika or Kalki (Tibetan: Rigden) kings. It is also believed that there are 21 'hidden lands' (Tibetan: Beyul) or valleys and mountain passes in Tibet and the Himalaya which lead the enlightened to Shambhala at times of world crisis. Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Kalachakra Tantra at the request of Suchandra (Tibetan: Dawa Sangpo), the first king of Shambhala, who wrote the teachings down. True wisdom for life is preserved in Shambhala, and as the world suffers from violence and greed, a future king of Shambhala will come out to vanquish the Dark Forces and bring about a Golden Age on Earth. All this mythological knowledge was available to Hilton (for example through Nicholas Roerich's Shambhala, 1930) when he was writing Lost Horizon.

The Tsangpo (Brahmaptura) gorge around Namcha Barwa at the eastern corner of the Himalaya is believed to be a beyul. The English botanist and explorer Frank Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958) explored this region in 1924-25 and documented his observations in The Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges (1924). Michael McRae in The Siege of Shangri- La: The Quest for Tibet's Legendary Hidden Paradise (2001, reviewed in HJ 2004) and Ian Baker in The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place (2004, (reviewed in HJ, 2007) describe their fascinating journeys to the bottom of Tsangpo (the world's deepest gorge) to unravel the legends of Shambhala and Shangri-La.

In Shambhala: The Sacred Path to the Warrior, the Tibetan scholar Chogyam Trungpa (1939-1987) discusses Shambhala, not as a geographic place, but as a vision - a symbol for Buddhist ideals, human hope, and fearless struggle to create an enlightened society through wisdom and compassion. Perhaps Lost Horizon should also be read in this vein.

To put Lost Horizon on a map, my research indicates that Hilton crafted his Shangri-La from two separate geographies: (1) The first geography, which concerns the location of Shangri-La, comes from the concept of Shambhala which Tibetans believe to lie in the northwestern horizons of the Tibetan Plateau; (2) the second geography, which describes Shangri-La's landscape and Conway's stay in China, comes from Joseph Rock's travel accounts in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of far eastern Tibet. That is why the location of Chung-Kiang (probably Chongqing, which until recently was part of the Sichuan province in western China) does not logically fit with the location of Shangri-La in the western Kunlun mountains for Conway and Lo-Tsen had to walk the whole expanse of the Tibetan Plateau (from west to east) and cross the mountains of far eastern Tibet to reach Chung-Kiang while they could have encountered many settlements in Tibet itself.

Sir Francis Younghusband

Sir Francis Younghusband

George Mallory

George Mallory

Ronald Coleman acting as ‘Robert Conway’ in the film.

Ronald Coleman acting as ‘Robert Conway’ in the film.

Lost Horizon: Multimedia and Sequels

Lost Horizon was published in September 1933 by Macmillan in London and by William Morrow in New York. In 1934, it won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize (the British equivalent of the US Pulitzer Prize). In the same year, James Hilton published another bestseller, Good-bye, Mr. Chips\ These events drew public attention to Lost Horizon. In 1937, the story was made into a hugely popular movie (Columbia Pictures Productions), directed by Frank Capra (1897-1991) and starring Ronald Coleman (1891-1958) as Conway. The script was written by Robert Riskin, not Hilton. Capra's black-and-white film was 132-minutes long; later versions were reduced to 107 minutes (1942) and to 90 minutes (1952). But thanks to the efforts of the film historian

Robert Gitt of the American Film Institute, who researched the missing portions of the film, the most recent version of Lost Horizon (Columbia Classic, 1986) has been restored to the original 132 minutes (with insertion of still scenes to the dialogues). Capra's movie won two 1937 Oscars: Best Interior Decoration for Stephen Goosson, and Best Film Editing for Gene Havlick and Gene Milford. (Capra did not win an Oscar for the Best Director for Lost Horizon but he was awarded three Oscars for his other movies in 1934, 1936, and 1938.)

The 1937 movie faithfully follows Hilton's novel but also makes certain changes in the characters. Hugh 'Glory' Conway is renamed Robert 'Bobby' Conway; Charles Mallinson has become George Conway, Robert's younger brother. Lo-Tsen is split into two characters: Maria (George's lover), who finally leaves Shangri-La with him, and Sondra Bizet (Robert's lover), who had read Conway's books and it was her suggestion to bring him to Shangri-La (Sondra is played by Jane Wyatt). Miss Roberta Brinklow is recast as Gloria Stone, not a missionary but an ill woman with only a few months to live (who recovers in Shangri-La). And a new character, Alexander P. Lovett, is included in the group of Westerners; he is a professor of palaeontology in England and was travelling Asia to find fossils (before the plane is hijacked), and finally decides to stay at Shangri-La and teach geology to children. Moreover, the film story begins in 1935 (not in 1930) in Baskul, a Chinese town (not in Afghanistan), and the hijacked plane was bound for Shanghai (not Peshawar).

In 1942, two stage-play writers Ann C. Martens and Christopher Sergei published a dramatised version of James Hilton's Lost Horizon (published by the Dramatic Publishing Co., Chicago), which also introduced some new characters to the play (totalling seven men and seven women). In 1954 Hilton together with Jerome Lawrence (lyrics), Robert Lee (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music) worked on a musical version of Lost Horizon for the theatre. It was played on Broadway for three weeks in 1956, and was then adapted for television in 1960 (as part of NBC's 'Hallmark Hall of Fame' series).

In 1973 a musical colour movie of Lost Horizon came out (produced by Columbia Pictures, 143 minutes, directed by Charles Jarrott, screen play written by Larry Kramer, music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, and starring Peter Finch as 'Richard Conway'); a CD of its songs is also available separately.

Lost Horizon has also been adapted into radio plays several times, including the 1941 Columbia Broadcasting System's play running 46 minutes and featuring Ronald Colman as Conway, and the 1981 four- episode play on BBC Radio 4. The novel has been translated into major languages of the world, and numerous pocket editions of the novel (published by Pocket Books in the USA and Pan Books in the UK) have sold in millions of copies.

So far three sequels for Lost Horizon have been published:

(1) Return to Shangri-La by Leslie Halliwell (Grafton, London, 1987).

This novel tells the story of Nicholas Brent, a film producer and Hilton fan, who sets out to find Shangri-La and discovers it somewhere in southern Tibet close to the border with Burma (Myanmar). Brent finally meets Conway and his companions in a lamasery, and Conway narrates the events of Shangri-La during the 1930s.

(2) Messenger by Frank De Marco (Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Virginia, 1994).

In 1962 a US military plane crashes near Shangri-La and its pilot George Chirai survives and goes on to live in Shangri-La. In 1979 another plane crashes, and its sole survivor, an American named Dennis Corbin, becomes a guest of Shangri-La. Conway notes that with the Chinese occupation of Tibet it may no longer be possible for Shangri- La to be hidden from the outside world; therefore, he sends Chiari to spread the wisdom and peaceful lifestyle of Shangri-La to the western world.

(3) Shangri-La by Eleanor Cooney and Daniel Altieri (William Morrow, New York, 1996).

In 1966 General Zhang of the Chinese Red Army sets out to find Shangri-La and plunder its treasures, but his evil attempt is foiled by Conway's ingenuity. The novel also includes Conway's account of how he returned to Shangri-La in the 1930s.

Each of these novels is entertaining in its own right, but none has overshadowed Hilton's novel after 75 years. Lost Horizon will remain a Tibet classic.

Bibliographic Notes

There are numerous prints of Lost Horizon, both hardcover and paperback (note that in 1936, Hilton added a preface to the American edition of his novel). I have read the novel and watched Capra's movie a few times over the years. For this article, I used the Reader's Digest (The World's Best Reading) print of Lost Horizon (1990). There are two tape-recordings of Lost Horizon: The first is read by Richard Green (seven hours on seven cassettes) and produced by Books on Tape, USA (1978); the second is read by Christopher Kay (seven and half hours on five cassettes) and produced by Soundings, UK (1995).

There is no definite book on James Hilton's biography (Timothy Carroll, a journalist for the British Daily Telegraph, was reported in 2002 to be working on such a volume, but it has not been published yet). Some information can be obtained from the website of James Hilton Society (www.jameshiltonsociety.co.uk) in London, which was founded by John Hammond and Laurence Price in 2000 to promote Hilton's literary works (the Society publishes a newsletter). Also visit the website www.losthorizon.org for information about the novel and its movies.

Critiques and analyses of Lost Horizon include Study Master: A Critical Commentary on James Hilton's Lost Horizon by Linda Wolf (American RDM Corp., 1964), James Hilton's Lost Horizon by William Kenney (Monarch, New York, 1966), Cliffs Notes on Hilton's Lost Horizon by Dale Garfan Hayes (Cliffs, Lincoln, New Jersey, 1980), Lost Horizon Companion by JohnR. Hammond (McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2008). Michael Wood has also written a commentary on Lost Horizon for BBC which is available online:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/cultures/shangri_la_ Ol.shtml

For the legend of Shangri-La and Shambhala, I have consulted the following: Shambhala by Nihcolas Roerich (Frederick A. Stokes, New York, 1930), The Way to Shambhala by Edwin Bernbaum (Anchor Books, New York, 1980), The Myth of Shangri-la by Peter Bishop (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989), Shambhala by Victoria LePage (Quest Books, 1996), and The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History by Charles Allen (Little, Brown and

Co., London, 1999). Also note the documentary film, The Search for Shangri-La (50 minutes, A&E Television Networks, 1995).


An analysis of James Hilton's Lost Horizon as a Tibetan Utopia novel (published 75 years ago) focussing on historical, geographic and mythological elements. The author, Rasoul Sorkhabi, is a Himalayan geologist, author, traveller, and currently a professor of geology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, USA.

[1] 'We believe in virtue of moderation. And if you pardon the paradox, moderation of virtue itself, states Mr Chang as the central philosophy of the Shangri-La.