Free Study Guide for Lost Horizon by James Hilton

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The Exhaustion of Passions Is the Beginning of Wisdom

The first theme concerns the philosophy of Shangri-La: the exhaustion of passions is the beginning of wisdom. This concerns the belief of the lamasery that only when you lose the foolish passions that hold you to the real world can you find wisdom to face the future.

World On the Brink of Destruction

The second theme involves a world on the brink of destruction. Obviously, Hilton, when he wrote this in 1933, was beginning to see the signs of the madness that would bring the world to a second world war. He creates this paradise of Shangri-La where only the wise recognize their responsibilities to the future and are the fragile link to save the world from total destruction.


Another theme is that of imagination. Conway expresses his satisfaction that Rutherford has the ability to believe the story he is about to tell him. However, the idea of imagination is meant for the reader as well. The author wants us to see the beauty of possibility as expressed in the mysterious land of Shangri-La.

Fate / Providence

A fourth theme involves the idea of fate or as Miss Brinklow calls it - Providence. The question is left with the reader about whether God has a hand in what happens to the four travelers. For at least three of them, Shangri-La is the answer to a prayer, but they are also a prayer answered for Shangri-La for what each can offer the future through the benefits of this valley. As for Mallinson, he is the antithesis of Providence, and so perhaps his fate - being lost in the end - is one that presents a lesson about foolishly turning away from God.

It is certain, because it is impossible is a quote from Tertullian, a church leader and prolific writer during the early years of Christianity, that reflects the idea we all hold inside that the most impossible things in life are possible if we only believe in them.


The mood is at first mysterious and fantastical, but soon it becomes reflective of the doom with which the outside world threatens the peace and security of Shangri-La. Ultimately, it is hopeful and uplifting as the narrator, Rutherford, and the reader all root for Conway to find his way back to the Valley of Blue Moon.

James Hilton - BIOGRAPHY

James Hilton-Lost Horizon Free Study Guide/Notes/Summary
James Hilton

James Hilton was born on September 9, 1900 in Leigh, Lacashire, England. He authored his first novel, Catherine Herself, in 1920. He went on to publish more than twenty novels during his life, including Good-bye, Mr. Chips and Random Harvest. Lost Horizon, published in 1933, remains his most famous and successful work. It was produced as a motion picture directed by Frank Capra in 1937. In 1939, Lost Horizon was chosen as the first book to be mass-published in paperback form by Pocket Books as Pocket Book #1.

Hilton's screenwriting credits include such classic films as Camille and Mrs. Miniver, which won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1942. Hilton also wrote the dialogue for Hitchcock’s film Foreign Correspondent. Hilton immigrated to the United States in the late 1930’s and eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He died in Long Beach, California from liver cancer on December 20, 1954.

Works by James Hilton

Catherine Herself, 1920
Storm Passage, 1922
The Passionate Year, 1924
Dawn Of Reckoning, 1925
Meadows Of The Moon, 1926
Terry, 1927
The Silver Flame, 1928
Was It Murder?, 1931
And Now Goodbye, 1931
Contango, 1932
Knight Without Armour, 1933
Lost Horizon, 1933
Goodbye, Mr. Chips, 1934
We Are Not Alone, 1937
To You, Mr Chips, 1938
Random Harvest, 1941
The Story Of Dr. Wassell, 1944
So Well Remembered, 1947
Nothing So Strange, 1948
Twilight Of The Wise, 1949
Morning Journey, 1951
Time And Time Again, 1953


The year 1930 was a pivotal one in world history. The Stock Market had crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression had set in. England was losing her empire very rapidly, and there was trouble in Afghanistan which was experiencing Civil War. There was a great deal of unemployment everywhere in the world, and the humiliation Germany faced after WWI was leading to the rise of a little known politician named Adolph Hitler. Times were hard all over the world, and there was great fear that the “War to End All Wars” may have been given that name prematurely. All of these events were felt to have influenced Hilton’s view of the world as he wrote Lost Horizon. He was almost clairvoyant in how his character of the High Lama predicts a world bent on a path to self-destruction. Perhaps, he sincerely hoped that there was a Shangri-La whose purpose was to be the hope of mankind when everything in the doomed outside world fell apart. Shangri-La became widely used in society as a description of a utopia or an isolated land of hapiness. President Franklin Roosevelt called the presidential retreat in Maryland Shangri-La, though the name was later changed to Camp David. Later, a Tibetan county in China officially changed its name to Shangri-La because they believe it was an inspiration for the novel.


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Lost Horizon by James Hilton Free BookNotes

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