Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422
Hugh Conway, a charming, brilliant man—tall, bronzed, with short brown hair and blue eyes—who is a veteran of ten years of unspectacular work in the British Consular Service. He is found by his friend Rutherford in a mission hospital suffering from fatigue. He relates how he was kidnapped and flown to Shangri-La, a peaceful lamasery in the high Himalayas, where the ancient and wise High Lama hoped to preserve a record of the culture of Western civilization against its total destruction by modern warfare. When the aged High Lama knew he was about to die, he asked Conway to succeed him as High Lama. Though tempted to accept, Conway decided it was his duty to accompany his kidnapped companions back to civilization when the opportunity to leave arose. Before Rutherford hears the rest of the story, Conway disappears from the hospital, apparently drawn back to the tranquillity of Shangri-La.
Rutherford, his friend and former schoolmate, who finds Conway suffering from fatigue and amnesia in a mission hospital in China.
Henry Barnard, a large, fleshy man with a hard-bitten face who is wanted for fraud and embezzlement in the United States. He is satisfied to stay in Shangri-La and enjoy the pleasant life there.
Miss Roberta Brinklow
Miss Roberta Brinklow, a missionary, neither young nor pretty, who plans to convert the lamas and the tribesmen in the valley of Shangri-La.
Captain Mallison, another British consul, young, pink-cheeked, intelligent, excitable. He is anxious to leave Shangri-La and turn Barnard over to British authorities, and he is later insistent upon taking Lo-Tsen with him. Rutherford is unable to learn what happened to Mallison.
Chang, a Chinese lama who meets Conway and his friends near their wrecked plane and conducts them to Shangri-La.
Father Perrault, the High Lama, a very intelligent, scholarly man two hundred and fifty years old. Formerly a Capuchin friar, he adopts the Buddhist faith and establishes the lamasery of Shangri-La. He adds guests from time to time but permits none to leave.
Lo-Tsen, a beautiful Chinese girl with whom Mallison falls in love and who accompanies Conway and Mallison when they leave Shangri-La. In reality sixty-five years old, she quickly loses her youth and beauty outside the charmed lamasery and becomes a bent, withered old woman. She brings Conway to the mission hospital.
Briac, a Frenchman who was once a pupil of Frédéric Chopin and who plays for Conway some of the composer’s unpublished music.