Lost Horizon is a variation on two important traditions of fantasy literature, that of the lost race and that of the ideal society. H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and She (1886) are famous early examples of the former, and Hilton, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Talbot Mundy continued the tradition. For the most part, they were writing for adults, but the color and excitement of their novels have made them popular with young adults as well.
In Utopia (1516), Thomas More described an ideal society and in so doing contributed a word to the English language. Subsequent utopias appear in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), W. H. Hudson’s A Crystal Age (1887), and Aldous Huxley’s Island (1962). Lost Horizon may be the best-known example of such a work, and it is perhaps the only one still read for pleasure. It may not be a coincidence that the novel also describes the most moderate and humane utopia of the tradition.
Although James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon in 1933 in response to specific world conditions, the book and its message have not become irrelevant over subsequent decades. War on a local or international scale remains an ever-present danger, and other forms of destruction (such as environmental degradation) continue to threaten civilization. Hilton’s novel fulfills readers’ fantasies of immortality (or near immortality), their yearnings for a better and more colorful world, and their hopes for the world’s survival.