Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933) 281 p.

Lost Horizon is mostly famous for inventing the mythical Shangri-La, a fictional Tibetan monastery that has entered popular parlance as a term for paradise. Around 2000, the Chinese town of Zhongdian saw the towns to the south (Lijiang and Dali) raking in the tourist dollars, and in an effort to gain a slice of the pie, Zhongdian renamed itself Shangri-La. The tourism authorities then began reprinting and churning out paperback copies of Lost Horizon to support the marketing campaign, and I must have come across dozens of them while perusing bookstores, hostel shelves and cafes across Yunnan. I never got around to reading it until recently, however.

It’s nothing particularly amazing. The story begins with a group of Westerners – a British consul, his young assistant, a female missionary, and an American fugitive – having their plane hijacked in India and flown north into Tibet. Crashing far from any Western influence, they find themselves near the isolated lamasery of Shangri-La, where they are greeted warmly and told they may have to wait for a few months before porters arrive to take them back to the outside world.

There are many secrets about the monastery, and the Westerners find themselves frustrated by the monks’ lack of openness and forthrightness. It eventually transpires that Shangri-La greatly extends the lifespan of its inhabitants, and that the Westerners were deliberately kidnapped and brought there. More than a few elements of the book strongly reminded me of the TV series “Lost.”

Aside from being a generally mediocre book, it was also one of those where I strongly disagreed with the philosophy being put forth. Shangri-La is a peaceful, pleasant, quiet place, where the monks live Buddhist lives free of excess. The lama predicts a terrible coming war, one which might potentially engulf the whole world and leave Shangri-La as the last bastion of civilisation, and he is gathering people here for the purpose of preserving humanity.

All well and good, except that the protagonists were not given a choice about whether or not they wanted to spend their lives in Shangri-La, and the lama has no intention of letting them leave. Conway, the main character whom the reader is positioned to like, is a disillusioned war veteran who finds himself quite happy there. Mallinson, his young protege and foil, considers them to have been kidnapped and is quite angry. I found my sentiments to be 100% behind Mallinson, yet the reader is positioned to find him disagreeable and unlikeable.

Personally, I would quite gladly accept an offer to live for hundreds of years in a life of quiet contemplation, reading, discussion and education – if it was genuinely an offer. Not if I was fucking abducted. If that happened I would shout and struggle and fight and maybe even kill to get out of there. Nobody has a right to determine anybody else’s decisions, no matter how beneficial they think they might be for the person in question.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s thematically very similar to “Lost.” The difference is that “Lost” was entertaining.

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