Lost Horizon by James Hilton: The Origins of Shangri-La

40 Best Lost horizon images | Lost horizon, Lost, Ronald colman

It was 2013 and I was browsing old paperbacks in a local bookshop that sadly no longer exists. I remember the shop well, it was one of those cozy narrow stores that was crammed full of leaning stacks and overflowing shelves. I liked it because they had low prices on classics, and bought used books for store credit. So I shopped there a lot, always looking to add something to my collection that I didn’t already have. I had never seen or heard of this book before, but when I saw it and had to have it.

I honestly couldn’t place what drew me to Lost Horizon. Perhaps the stunning vintage paperback art style and the striking sprayed pages? Maybe it was the smell of old book that greeted me every time I flipped a page? Or simply that the short tale captured my imagination and took me on an adventure. At the time I was really into hiking and maybe I was drawn to the mountainous cover art, or maybe my wandering soul craved the isolated utopia I found within the book. I guess it was all of it, the experience as a whole.


Lost Horizon is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery located high in the mountains of Tibet. Though I had heard of Shangri-La before, I never really thought about what it symbolized or where it came from. Until I found Lost Horizion.

Perhaps you have heard of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir? Inspired by Lost Horizon.

Or maybe you have seen the original film? The book was written in 1933 and by 1937 it was adapted into a movie. Apparently, the film was shortened as the film was reissued over the years, and no copies of the original 132 minute film survive. There was another remake done in 1973, but both are really outdated. I would love to see a modern page-to-screen adaptation of this done! Worse things have gotten more remakes.

losthorizSince 2013 I have found 5 beautiful copies of Lost Horizon and I can’t stop adding them to my collection. I can’t let go of the first vintage paperback copy I found, even though it is crumbling and worth nothing. Just last week I found the same edition in pristine condition in an antique shop which I of course bought with the intention of replacing the first one, but I probably still wont let the ruined one go. I also have a hardcover first edition and a gorgeous hard cover illustrated edition that I just love.

Searching for the meaning of life is a huge motivator for the main character Conway. “We do not follow an idle experiment, a mere whimsy. We have a dream and a vision.”

“We’re here because we’re here, if you want a reason.”

Shangri-La is a symbol of harmony of nature and man, it symbolizes some kind of paradise on the Earth. The road to Shangri-La is difficult and hard to find, but those who find it don’t want to leave. 

Conway eventually falls in love with the peaceful immortality of Sharngri La, but he is divided between two worlds. With peace comes stagnancy. While in Shangri-La, he loses his sense of time, along with his desire for ambition. And unfortunately the human condition is changeable; Conway could not stay in Shangri-La and have a full human experience. 

“Perhaps the exhaustion of the passions is the beginning of wisdom. That also is the doctrine of Shangri-La.”

“To be gentle and patient, to care for the riches of the mind, to preside in wisdom and secrecy while the storm rages without —it will all be very pleasantly simple for you, and you will doubtless find great happiness.”

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