Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Hilton, James

(1900-1954) UK writer, in the USA from 1935, where he worked mainly as a screenwriter. He became famous with his 13th novel, Lost Horizon (1933), which Frank Capra made into an equally famous movie, Lost Horizon (1937). The movie changes some aspects but remains remarkably faithful in spirit to the book's marriage of cultural anxiety and escapist longing. Conway, the protagonist, is a vicarious victim of World War I, a spiritually deadened Walking Wounded of a sort found quite frequently in novels of the 1920s; Lost Horizon itself is one of the last "aftermath" tales written, and perhaps the most resonant of all.

The tale told within the frame is not particularly complex. Escaping from troubles in northern India. Conway and his companions find themselves passengers on a hijacked plane that takes them deep into Himalayan Tibet, where it crashes. The party is rescued by a group led by an aged man, and they come to Shangri-La, a lamasery set high above a Polder valley which Conway soon realizes has been hidden from the outside world (> Lost Races) for centuries. (Though in the novel Shangri-La is the name of the lamasery only, not of the Valley of the Blue Moon which contains it, the term has come to represent the entire polder.) Here Conway enjoys the air of studious, timeless serenity rather similar to that which, in Madame Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine (1888), attends the Secret Masters who expound Theosophy from their Tibetan fastness. This atmosphere profoundly answers Conway's need for surcease from a world whose centre no longer holds; and on meeting Father Perrault, the centuries-old High Lama, he soon discovers that Perrault considers him his natural heir, which is why the plane was hijacked in the first place. [JC]

see also: Magic Mountain.

James Hilton


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.