Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Shangri-La

In James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933), a lamasery in a valley or Polder in the depths of Himalayan Tibet, which has long been hidden (> Lost Races) from the outside world. In this sanctuary, a secret society of savants with much extended lifespans (> Immortality) have been contemplating recondite issues and living the kinds of lives mortals normally ascribe to the inhabitants of Tir-Nan-Og and other places beyond the bournes of this life. Hilton's depiction of this world may derive consciously from – and is certainly very similar to – Madame Blavatsky's description, in The Secret Doctrine (1888), of the home and activities of the Tibetan Secret Masters who convey to such as her the message of Theosophy. This relates in turn to the much more ancient notion of a Himalayan Utopia called Shambala or Shambhala. But the intensity of Sehnsucht conveyed through Hilton's depiction of S-L has just as important a source in the trauma of World War I, for Lost Horizon is a novel written in the aftermath of what seemed to many a terminal apocalypse, a war which ended not war but civilization itself; and S-L is a "solution" to that sense of desolation. As such, it stands in radical contrast to another 20th-century polder constructed in an attempt to come to grips with WWI and to debate the nature of civilization; that polder is the Magic Mountain at the heart of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1924). While S-L is discovered years after 1918, WWI ends the Magic Mountain.

Although S-L, in Hilton's novel, is the name of the lamasery alone, the term soon became identified also with the Valley of the Blue Moon which surrounds it. [JC]

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.