HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Lost Horizon: A Novel
Author: James Hilton
Cover Illustrator: Phillip Mazzone
Publisher: Harper Perennial; reissued 2012
Related website(s): http://www.harpercollins.com
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Hilton, James. Lost Horizon: A Novel (Published in 1933 by William Morrow and Company Inc.; republished in 2004 by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022). In May 1931, during the British rule in India, the 80 white residents of Baskul are being evacuated to Peshawar due to rebellion. In the airplane of the Maharajah of Chandrapore are Hugh Conway, the British consul, aged 37; Captain Charles Mallinson, his young vice-consul; an American, Henry D. Barnard; and a British missionary, Miss Roberta Brinklow. However, the plane is hijacked and flown instead over the mountains to Tibet. After a crash landing beyond the western range of the Himalayas towards the less known heights of the Kuen-Lun, the pilot dies, but not before telling the four to seek shelter at the nearby lamasery of Shangri-La. The passengers are found and taken there by a party directed by Chang, a postulant at the lamasery who speaks English.
The mystic lamasery has modern conveniences, like central heating, bathtubs from Akron, Ohio, a large library, a grand piano, a harpsichord, and food from the fertile valley below, and the inhabitants enjoy unheard-of longevity. Towering above is Karakal, literally translated as “Blue Moon,” a mountain more than 28,000 feet high. Mallinson is keen to hire porters and leave, but the others are content to stay: Miss Brinklow because she wants to teach the people a sense of sin; Barnard because he is really Chalmers Bryant wanted by the police for stock fraud and because he is keen to develop the gold mines in the valley; and Conway because the contemplative scholarly life suits him, and he finds inner peace, love and a sense of purpose. Why were they brought to Shangri-La in the first place? What happens to them while there? And will they ever be able to leave and go home?
The prologue and epilogue of this utopian adventure novel are narrated by a neurologist. This neurologist and a novelist friend, Rutherford, discuss the topic of Hugh Conway, a British consul in Afghanistan, who disappeared under odd circumstances. Rutherford reveals to the neurologist that, after the disappearance, he discovered Conway in a French mission hospital in China. He told Rutherford his story which Rutherford recorded in a manuscript, and then slipped away. Rutherford gives the neurologist his manuscript, which becomes the heart of the novel. In the end, the narrator wonders whether Conway can find his way back to his lost paradise. There is quite a bit of cursing and profanity, along with some references to drinking wine and smoking cigarettes, but it is an interesting story. Frank Capra’s spellbinding 1937 film adaptation also called Lost Horizon catapulted it to the height of cultural significance. It is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La as a term meaning any imaginary, hidden paradise.