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Today's quote:

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Here's my hope that we all find our Shangri-La"

 

Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who have met again as men and found themselves with less in common that they had believed they had."

So begins the Prologue to James Hilton's Lost Horizon which is perhaps best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.

I first read the book after I had come down from Burma to Singapore in 1975 and stayed in the newly-opened Shangri-La Hotel on Orchard Road. There, on the bedside table in my deluxe room in the Garden Wing, was a complimentary copy with the hotel's inscription "Inspired by the legendary land featured in James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, the name Shangri-La encapsulates the serenity and service for which our hotels and resorts are renowned worldwide" on its cover.

"Lost Horizon" had been published in 1933, a year in which the world needed romance and adventure more than ever. As the dark clouds of another war gathered on the horizon, and as unemployment and near-starvation added to the gloom, Hilton's novel offered readers a welcome means of escape - escape into a sanctuary hidden from the cruel world. Shangri-La is not a retreat from the future men cannot endure; it is a shelter against conditions that already existed in 1932.

If Shangri-La is a utopia, it is smaller than most in both size and idealistic vision. Except for semi-immortality, it offers nothing that the world does not already possess. Happy natives provided food and clothing. The valley had its own gold mine, and the High Lama imported only carefully selected luxuries deemed truly beneficial to health and happiness. The monks had discovered the key to longevity, and devoted their extra years to the appreciation of life and the pursuit of wisdom. Rejecting the virtues of hard work and ambition, they adopted a philosophy of moderation in all things, "avoiding excess of all kinds - even excess of virtue itself".

Shangri-La is modelled on the classical Greek view of moderation, including moderation to immortality. Hilton realised that absolute immortality was unlikely to be believed by his readers. Instead, he wins them over with a more plausible dream: a long life, enhanced by good health, spent in quiet contentment. Conway, the main protagonist in the book, realises that, for all its allure, Shangri-La is a prison and he must choose between a long life as its supreme ruler and freedom at the risk of death.

Conway's dilemma is our dilemma because we all have the need for such a place, even if only in our imagination.

Here's my hope that we all find our Shangri-La!

 

P.S. The long-forgotten Lux Radio Theatre broadcast "Lost Horizon" and other radio-plays. It's what you get when you wash with Lux toilet soap ☺