Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Lost Horizon Analysis
James Hilton’s short novel is written so carefully that most readers accept the unlikelihood of its setting and story without hesitation. After all, Shangri-La lies high in the Himalayas, one of the coldest and most forbidding regions on Earth, yet the valley’s lower reaches are described as almost tropical. Transportation through the high mountain passes would present almost insurmountable difficulties, yet the lamasery boasts modern plumbing, a substantial library, and even such musical instruments as a piano. Readers’ doubts are allayed in part because Lost Horizon is a story within a story within a story, an adventure related thirdhand, and readers are accustomed to such tales being tall.
Readers also accept the situation because the novel’s four Western characters display a perfectly natural range of reactions to the world of Shangri-La. Roberta Brinklow decides that it is her duty as a Christian missionary to convert the inhabitants of the lamasery and the valley that lies beneath it. Henry Barnard, as Mallinson discovers, is actually Chalmers Bryant, an American financier wanted for fraud. For obvious reasons, Barnard is reluctant to return to the outside world, and he even comes to believe that Shangri-La represents a kind of business opportunity. (In his wisdom, the High Lama suggests that these are shallow interests that Brinklow and Barnard will learn to put aside after a few decades of life in Shangri-La.)
(The entire section is 564 words.)