(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When Rutherford finds Hugh Conway, a former schoolmate, suffering from fatigue and amnesia in a mission hospital, Conway relates the following weird and almost unbelievable story concerning his disappearance many months before. Conway is working at the British consulate in the city of Baskul when trouble breaks out there in May, 1931, and he is considered a hero because of the efficiency and coolness he displays while all the area’s white civilians are being evacuated. When it is his turn to leave, he boards a plane in the company of Miss Roberta Brinklow, a missionary; Henry Barnard, an American; and Captain Charles Mallinson, another member of the consulate. The plane is a special high-altitude cabin aircraft provided by the maharajah of Chandapore. Conway is thirty-seven years old and has been in the consular service for ten years. His work has not been spectacular, and he is expecting to rest in England before being assigned to another undistinguished post.

After the plane has been in the air about two hours, Mallinson notices that the pilot is the wrong man and that they are not headed toward Peshawar, the first scheduled stop. Conway is undisturbed until he realizes they are flying over strange mountain ranges. When the pilot lands and armed tribesmen refuel the plane before it takes off again, Conway begins to agree with Mallinson and Barnard, who think they have been kidnapped and will be held for ransom.

When Conway tries to question the pilot, the man points a revolver at him. A little after midnight, the pilot lands again, this time narrowly averting a crash. The passengers climb out of the plane and find the pilot badly injured. Conway believes that they are high on the Tibetan plateau, far beyond the western range of the Himalaya Mountains. The air is bitterly cold, with no signs of human habitation in this region of sheer-walled mountains. The pilot dies before morning, murmuring something about a lamasery called Shangri-La. As the airplane’s passengers start out in search of the lamasery, they see a group of men coming toward them.

When the men reach them, one introduces himself in perfect English; he is a Chinese named Chang. The men lead Conway and the others to the lamasery of Shangri-La, where they arrive that evening. There they find central heat, indoor plumbing, and many other luxuries more commonly found in the West. They are given fine rooms and excellent food. They learn that a High Lama lives at the lamasery, and that they will not be privileged to meet him. Although Chang tells them that porters will arrive in a few weeks to lead them back to the outside world, Conway has the strange feeling that their arrival in Shangri-La has not been an accident and that they are not destined to leave soon.

In time, Chang tells them that Conway is to be honored by an interview with the High Lama. Mallinson begs Conway to force the High Lama to provide guides for them, for Mallinson has learned that Barnard...

(The entire section is 1213 words.)