Free Study Guide for Lost Horizon by James Hilton

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The narrator, a neurologist, opens the novel with this prologue where he explains that he, a writer named Rutherford, an Embassy secretary named Wyland Tertius, and a stranger to the narrator named Sanders, a pleasant young pilot, have all sat down for cigars after dinner at Templelhof. The first three, he says, are three celibate Englishmen in a foreign capital, Berlin. Sanders, who knows Wyland, joins their party after the first three have already dined. They are sitting in the restaurant watching the Luft-Hansa machines arriving at the aerodome and enjoying the evening.

They all drink a great deal of beer, and then Rutherford questions Sanders about his comment that he had been at Baskul and that something interesting had happened there. Sanders tells them that an Afghan or an Afridi had stolen control of one of their planes and taken off in it. The interesting thing about the event was that the thief never came back. There also were three men on board and one woman missionary. One of the men is “Glory” Conway, a name that Rutherford first mentions. The writer asks Sanders why it was never in the papers, and Sanders says he has given out more information than he was supposed to, because the event was “hushed up.”

Wyland had stepped away from the table before Sanders told this information, so when he returns, Sanders reveals what he has said and asks Wyland whether it matters that he said it. Wyland seems somewhat offended that the pilot gave away this information and snubs him a bit. However, he willingly discusses Conway and how Rutherford knew him. Then, they all decide to make it an evening. Rutherford suggests that since the narrator is not leaving until very early in the morning that he spend the time in his hotel. They can talk in his sitting room.

They spend the time discussing Conway who had evidently left a significant impression on them both. Rutherford reveals that he had already heard about the affair at Baskul and had thought it only a myth. He also says that since he has traveled a great deal around the world, he has seen strange things, a comment that confuses the narrator. Then, Rutherford reveals that Conway isn’t dead, because he had traveled with him on a Japanese liner from Shanghai to Honolulu the November before. While he was on the Pekin express, he had spoken to a Mother Superior of some French Sisters of Charity. She had mentioned that a fever case had shown up at the mission hospital at Chung-Kiang, a European male with no papers and unable to give any account of himself. He spoke fluent Chinese and French and English with a refined accent. Rutherford had found this hard to believe and politely bid the nun good-bye.

Ironically, he found himself right back at Chung-Kiang when the train broke down a mile or two farther on the track. He decided to take the Mother Superior up on her offer to visit her mission. They prepared a meal for him, and a young Chinese Christian doctor sat down with Rutherford. They also took him for a tour of the hospital. When they introduced him to the foreigner she had told him about, he was astonished to discover that the man was Conway. Unfortunately, Conway didn’t remember Rutherford, because he was suffering from amnesia. Rutherford decided to stay there for a few days to try to help Conway recover his memory. He was unsuccessful, but he did make arrangements to take Conway home.

Once they were on the Japanese liner, Rutherford spent the time telling Conway as much as he could about his life. At the port of Yokohama, a new passenger came on board. His name was Sieveking, and he was a concert pianist. He was prevailed upon to give a recital for the passengers with emphasis on Chopin, a musician Sieveking specialized in. After he got up to leave at the end of the recital, Conway sat down at the piano and began to play a rapid, lively piece which drew Sieveking back to the piano in excitement. Conway was unable to tell the pianist what he had been playing, only that he thought it was a Chopin study. Sieveking refused to believe that it was by Chopin, because he knew everything that Chopin had ever written, and he had never heard this piece. Conway then remembered that it had never been published, and that he only knew it himself from meeting a man who had been one of Chopin’s pupils. Many witnesses saw this exchange between the two men and heard Sieveking say that the piece was so important as to be a part of every virtuoso’s repertoire within six months if it were ever published. The two men promised to meet again and even made arrangements to make some phonograph records of the piece. Rutherford tells the narrator that he often thought it a pity that Conway was never able to keep his promise to Sieveking.

That night after the recital, Conway regained his memory. During the next twenty-four hours, Conway told Rutherford everything that had happened to him, and then they had drinks in Rutherford’s cabin about 10:00PM the night before they were expected to dock in Honolulu. Rutherford never saw Conway again, because he gave him the slip and joined a crew of a banana boat heading south to Fiji. Three months later, Rutherford received a letter from Conway thanking him for his care, paying him for any expenses Rutherford may have incurred, and telling him that he was about to set out on a long journey to the northwest. That was all he said.

The narrator is most confused about how Conway arrived at Chung-Kiang, and how he lost his memory. Rutherford reveals that after Conway had told his story over those twenty-four hours on the Japanese liner, he had written it all down into a manuscript. He brings it out for the narrator and tells him to read it and make of it whatever he will. The narrator asks if he’s not supposed to believe it. Rutherford says that Tertullian’s phrase “quia impossibile est” is not a bad argument. Later, Rutherford sends a short note to the narrator saying he was off on his wanderings again would have no settled address for some months. Not surprising to the narrator, Rutherford is heading to Kashmir and then east. Perhaps he believes his own manuscript more than he is willing to admit.


The prologue lays down the background to how the narrator comes across a manuscript which reveals something mysterious concerning Conway and later, Rutherford. There are many strange events connected to Conway: first, the plane that is stolen; second, the Chopin piano piece which no one has ever heard; third, the loss of Conway’s memory and its return after he plays the piano; and finally, Conway’s strange story and his stranger decision to catch a boat to Fiji and head northwest. All of these events are foreshadowing for the manuscript that the narrator is about to read.


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Lost Horizon by James Hilton Free BookNotes

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