Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Lost Horizon

"'Slacker,'" explained Conway, "is a slang word meaning a lazy fellow, a good-for-nothing. I wasn't, of course, using it seriously."
    Chang bowed his head in thanks for the information. He took a keen interest in languages, and liked to weigh a new word philosophically. "It is significant," he said after a pause, "that the English regard slackness as a vice. We, on the other hand, should vastly prefer it to tension. Is there not to much tension in the world at present, and might it not be better if more people were slackers?"
    "I'm inclined to agree with you," Conway answered with solemn amusement.
   The above quote from James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon is more than solemnly amusing to a modern reader, but it retains its meaning perfectly. The Shangri-la where Conway and his three traveling companions find themselves stranded is an idyllic place, with only the "moderate" pursuit of knowledge and understanding as the only occupational choice. The book (and the Frank Capra movie) has become a cultural touchstone, and one of the few positive utopia stories to stand the test of time. Its earnest protest against the modern world's conflicts may not be great philosophy, but it does define an ideal (although the lamas still enforce a caste system over the workers who live in the valley.) But, while ignoring some dubious class distinctions (colonialism is always present), the book remains a good yarn, with exotic action scenes (including an airplane hi-jacked during a revolution in Afghanistan!) and an open ended finish which mirrors the yearning for a paradise on earth that is present to some degree in each of us.

By Professor Batty


Blogger Rose said...

This book totally enthralled me when I was ... 14 or so? I thought it was so romantic! --Is it?

Blogger Professor Batty said...

It is a great adventure yarn. Romantic? Not so much, and nothing at all like the movie in that regard.

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