Literacy 2008: Preliminaries: Lost Horizon

(I read this book over the Christmas break, so it doesn’t count towards the 26 books I’ve resolved to read in 2008. But I have a corollary resolution to post something on this blog every day this year, no matter how short or irrelevant, so I’m cheating and rolling back the date.)

(I’m also cheating by shamelessly stealing Joe’s book review format.)

(Okay, the real post starts right now.)

Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Selling Points
The First Paperback Ever Published!

Recommended By
A list of “If you like ‘Lost’, you’ll love these books that inspired it!”

A plane carrying four people escaping from a civil war is hijacked, taking them to the utopian lamasery of Shangri-La.

The main character of Conway is so well-developed, it’s a surprising jolt to those of us whose only exposure to the 1930s is Hays Code-era movies. “Oh yeah,” you’ll realize, “I guess people back then were capable of intelligence and subtlety after all.” He starts out as a comically heroic stereotype, almost a mythic hero to his former schoolmates. Over the course of the book, you learn that he’s got no interest in being a hero, or in any of the trappings of the west of WWI or the British Empire. And you discover along with him that he’s mastered zen without realizing it.

Every other character starts out as a stereotype, and remains so. For every passage that challenges your condescending attitude towards popular literature and entertainment of the 30s, there’s another passage that just reaffirms it. And it’s impossible to gauge how impressive the climactic reveal of the secret of Shangri-La would have been when the book was written, since it’s such common knowledge now.

Kind of like if Jurassic Park had been written in 1933: An easy but not insulting read, there are plenty of moments of depth, and you’ll probably learn something new. But you can totally tell it was written to be turned into a movie.