Adventures in Bookland: Lost Horizon by James Hilton
You might think that the book that gave the world ‘Shangri-La’ would be a rather sentimental tale about the recovery of a lost eden – and even if you, dear reader, did not, I certainly did. But it turns out that Lost Horizon is much complex and layered than that, and Shangri-La itself a much more dangerous and doubtful place. First published in 1933, Lost Horizon shares with much of Hilton’s work an examination of the damage done to me who served in the First World War but coupled to that is a prescient, and rather chilling, sense that the world is rushing towards yet another cataclysmic war – a prediction that would prove all too accurate. Lost Horizon is suffused with this sense of the war fought and the war looming, with only the Tibetan monastery that draws – drags rather – its protagonists into its orbit as a potential refuge against the coming storm. Indeed, there is something about the sense of coming threat that suggests a sense, on the part of the author, of the terrible weapons that saw out World War II and that would hang over us all throughout the Cold War. The story is caught between the trenches and the presentiment of nuclear war, a presentiment all the more remarkable given that such weapons were not even on the drawing board at the time of writing.
But, then, what price eden? That is the question the book poses and which Hilton does not definitively answer. As such, Shangri-La can become that which the reader wants, and from that taking the answer to the question. What price eden? Well, what would you pay?