Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Hilton, James

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1900-1954) UK screenwriter and author, called up near the end of World War One but never in active service; in the USA from 1935, known mainly for slightly sentimental mainstream novels like Good-bye Mr Chips (1934). He is primarily of sf interest for Lost Horizon (1934), a romantic Lost-World tale which is also very well known, though generically distinct from the rest of his work. In the hidden Tibetan valley of Shangri-La, a name of Hilton's own coinage [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], an English diplomat gives the frame narrator (who is never named) a manuscript by a third figure, the mysterious Hugh Conway, whose narrative comprises the bulk of the tale, in a Club Story fashion that both enforces the fact that a story has been told and allows a mystification of its meaning, in particular the Slingshot Transcendence that ends it. The influence of the book upon Lionel Davidson's The Rose of Tibet (1962) is clear and elucidating.

Conway first 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; he there encounters the High Lama, an eighteenth-century monk (see Immortality) who discourses on matters beyond the ken of short-lifers, while 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 interbellum tales of lost worlds: 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 was emotionally very much on target for its complex time, 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, but lacks anything like a Shangri-La to soothe the soul. 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/undeciphered chop]
  • Nothing So Strange (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, 1947) [hb/]

about the author


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies