Was Hugh Conway honorable in James Hilton's novel The Lost Horizon? If so, how was he honorable?
Hugh Conway, the protagonist of James Hilton's novel The Lost Horizon, is a character who must make difficult choices. In some ways Conway is a typically British hero, capable of great heroism on occasion, but in many other ways almost disturbingly passive and detached.
When the group realizes that they are being kidnapped, Conway does help out with writing SOS messages in multiple languages, but he does not actively resist the kidnappers. Upon arrival in Shangri-la, and his discovery that he has the opportunity to become the new leader of this idyllic society, he must decide between two duties, one to help his companions back to civilization and the other to pick up the responsibility of leadership.
The first point we need to examine in judging Conway is the unspoken assumption that he is obliged to make these decisions because in some way he is so essential that Shangri-la needs his leadership and that his companions could not make it back from Shangri-la in the company of professional porters, but instead require his company. In other words, to a great degree his dilemma is the product of his own sense of self importance.
In terms of the decision, he does make the choice which he finds personally least pleasant, of accompanying his companions and seeing them to safety, in a manner that would be considerable honorable within the structure of upper class English beliefs about duty as they would have been framed within his period. Of course, if we accept the premise that he is the ideal leader for Shangri-la, we could also argue that he is evading an important responsibility in leaving. In either case, he must make a choice, and whichever course of action he chooses will be honorable in so far as it aids one group for which he is responsible and dishonorable in the sense that it harms the other group.