Hilton, James

Tagged: Author

(1900-1954) UK author, in the USA from 1935, known mainly for slightly sentimental mainstream novels like Good-bye Mr Chips (1934). His romantic Lost-World novel, Lost Horizon (1933), is set in the hidden Tibetan valley of Shangri-La, a name of his own coinage [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and is couched – an English diplomat gives the narrator (who is never named) a manuscript by the actual protagonist, the mysterious Hugh Conway – in a Club Story fashion that both enforces the fact that a story has been told and makes the content of that story problematic; the influence of the book upon Lionel Davidson's The Rose of Tibet (1962) is clear and elucidating. Conway describes his flight by hijacked plane to the Inner Asian hinterlands between China and Tibet, where the plane is deliberately crashed adjacent to the serenely paradisal Shangri-La; Conway there encounters the High Lama, an eighteenth-century monk (see Immortality) who discourses on matters of Transcendence, implicitly evoking the Time-theories of J W Dunne, and giving definitive shape to the cultural pessimism (see Optimism and Pessimism) and Sehnsucht [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] typical of twentieth-century Lost World tales: Conway is specifically appointed to maintain Shangri-La through the Holocaust to come, and to aid in the subsequent re-creation of civilization. Lost Horizon is emotionally very much on target, and was extremely popular; it was been filmed twice (see Lost Horizon).

An earlier novel, Terry (1927), posits a similar sense of the exhaustion of the world through the secular frustrations experienced by its idealist hero. Nothing So Strange (1947) deals, just after the fact, with the nuclear bomb and the Manhattan Project. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Utopias.

James Hilton

born Leigh, Lancashire: September 1900

died Long Beach, California: 20 December 1954


  • Terry (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1927) [hb/]
  • Lost Horizon (London: Macmillan and Co, 1933) [hb/]
  • Nothing So Strange (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, 1947) [hb/]


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