15 June 2019

Shangri-La

Here in Santorini I have already finished one novel. I ordered it via Amazon. It was written in 1933 by James Hilton and it is titled "Lost Horizon".

Two things attracted me to it. Firstly, the very fact that it was written between the two world wars and secondly and pre-eminently because this is the story that introduces us to a mystical paradise on earth called Shangri-La. It is part of  western culture now. Something of a dream antidote to the oftentimes chaotic character of modern life.

I suspect that Hilton was already aware of tales of lost kingdoms and mystical realms located somewhere in the mountains of western China and Tibet. The idea clearly appealed to him and so his Shangri-La was imagined and brought to life. It is a place of reflection and study - a lamasery that overlooks a verdant valley. A place where "moderation" in all things is the watchword.

By accident or design four westerners are brought there - each with their own stories to tell but the very aged High  Lama takes a particular shine to Conway - a veteran of World War One. He seems aimless and frustrated with life until he becomes accustomed to Shangri-La with its ttreasured secrets.

The High Lama says to Conway: "Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity crashing headlong against each other. The time must come, my friend, when brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword. For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here.” 

Did Conway end his days in Shangri-La? Perhaps he is still there. Or maybe Shangri-La is a state of mind rather than an actual place. "Lost Horizon" is not a great work of fiction but I found it eminently readable and I am pleased that I bothered to order it.
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Meanwhile here on this unusual island, I made it up to the little church on the mountainside this morning - along a rocky path that clings to the precipitous slope. The church - Panagia Katefiani - was locked but I was able to peer inside to see images of saints painted in the style of the Greek Orthodox Church. And there were candles and beads and crosses and a pile of logs for the wintertime. I suspect that the church was built up there to be close to a holy water source located in an adjacent cave.
Not my own picture - View from Panagia Katefiani over Perissa

19 comments:

  1. What a shame the church was locked after your climb. Wasn't there a pop group called the Shangri-Las?

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    1. I believe there was Sue and this book is where they got their name from... though they might not have realised it.

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  2. One would think that they would leave such a church unlocked. I mean- is a thief going to make that climb?
    Perhaps. But hardly likely.

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    1. I was surprised as I have been in quite a few unlocked churches in Greece.

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  3. "Lost Horizon"....I've seen both versions of the movie...years and years ago...and read the book...years and years ago. I should dig it out again....it's a flash or two from the past.

    Not much has changed since Hilton writing the book back in the early 1930s ...Like the lost city of Atlantis...Shangri-La shall never be found.

    I do believe we have to, personally, make our own. I think you are temporarily in yours! :)

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    1. I think you found your Shangri-La when you were The Queen of Hinchinbrook.

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  4. I think I've been to that church!

    I never read "Lost Horizon" but I saw the movie with Jane Wyatt. We have a copy in the library. Maybe I should give it a try one of these days.

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    1. As I say - it's not great literature Steve but it is strangely of its time.

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  5. The book sounds very good. Enjoy your holiday Shangri-La.

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    1. Santorini isn't quite Shangri-La Bonnie.

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  6. What a great view from that church.

    I read Lost Horizon years ago and liked it; should re-read it now and see how it goes. Just recently I read another of Hilton's books, Random Harvest, which I also enjoyed, especially the ending.

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    1. I like the style and the manner of his writing - taking us back to the 1930's.

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  7. It sounds like Lost Horizon was predicting the state of our world today.

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  8. Thank you for this interesting book review. I very much like the cover.
    The view from the little white church is beautiful. Logs for winter time? I imagine the rocky path leading up to the church being even more challenging in winter.
    Speaking of winter, I have begun reading Hannah Hauxwell's Seasons of my Life.

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    1. I hope you enjoy reading about Hannah Hauxwell's life. Before long I hope to visit the area she lived and worked in.

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  9. Hilton (a Lancashire lad) got the idea for Lost Horizon from the writings of botanist-explorer Joseph Rock, who travelled widely in the Himalayas in the 1920s. Rock wrote colourfully about many lost monasteries and isolated Christian communities that he found in the mountain canyons of Tibet and Yunnan. In fact, Rock was exaggerating and dramatising a lot of what he saw. Hilton went further and turned some of Rock's notions into fiction. For instance, Rock described an isolated monastery where people seemed twice their actual age. Hilton turned this on it's head and made it so people lived for centuries in remote mountain hideouts. I found this out when I visited some of Rock's 'lost communities' that have now cashed in on the Lost Horizon craze and re-named their villages as Shangri La! https://www.josephrock.net/2011/03/chapter-5-gongga-shan-glories-of-minya.html

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