Shangri-La’s & Utopias

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Shangri-La’s & Utopias

 

Lost Horizon is a 1933 novel by English writer James Hilton. The book was turned into a movie, also called Lost Horizon, in 1937 by director Frank Capra. It is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.

The Plot…

Hugh Conway, a veteran member of the British diplomatic service, finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in Shangri-La, whose inhabitants enjoy unheard-oflongevity. Among the book’s themes is an allusion to the possibility of another cataclysmic world war brewing. It is said to have been inspired at least in part by accounts of travels in Tibetan borderlands, published in National Geographic by the explorer and botanist Joseph Rock. The remote communities he visited, such as Muli, show many similarities to the fictional Shangri-La. One such town, Zhongdian, has now officially renamed itself Shangri La (Chinese: Xianggelila) because of its claim to be the inspiration for the novel.

The book explicitly notes that, having made war on the ground, man would now fill the skies with death, and all precious things were in danger of being lost, like the lost histories of Rome (“Lost books of Livy”). It was hoped that, overlooked by the violent, Shangri-la would preserve them and reveal them later to a receptive world exhausted by war. That was the real purpose of the lamasery; study, inner peace, and long life were merely a side benefit to living there.

Conway is a veteran of the trench warfare of WWI, with the emotional state frequently cited after that war—a sense of emotional exhaustion or accelerated emotional aging. This harmonises with the existing residents of the lamasery and he is strongly attracted to life at Shangri-La.

 

 

Utopia (Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia) is a work of fiction and political philosophy by Thomas More (1478–1535) published in 1516 in Latin. The book is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social and political customs.

Utopia Conceived…

“Utopia” is derived from the Greek words ou (οὐ), “not”, and topos (τόπος), “place”, with the suffix -iā (-ία) that is typical of toponyms; hence Outopía (Οὐτοπία; Latinized asUtopia, with stress on the second syllable), meaning “no-place-land”. In early modern English, Utopia was spelled “Utopie”, which is today rendered Utopy in some editions.

In English, Utopia is pronounced exactly as Eutopia (the latter word, in Greek Εὐτοπία[Eutopiā], meaning “good place,” contains the prefix εὐ- [eu-], “good”, with which the οὐof Utopia has come to be confused in the French and English pronunciation).[1] This is something that More himself addresses in an addendum to his book Wherfore not Utopie, but rather rightely my name is Eutopie, a place of felicitie.[2]

One interpretation holds that this suggests that while Utopia might be some sort of perfected society, it is ultimately unreachable (see below).

The Plot…

Woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein for a 1518 edition of Utopia. The lower left-hand corner shows the traveller Raphael Hythlodaeus describing the island.

The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Jerome de Busleyden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of theUtopian alphabet and its poetry. The letters also explain the lack of widespread travel to Utopia; during the first mention of the land, someone had coughed during announcement of the exact longitude and latitude. The first book tells of the traveller Raphael Hythloday, to whom More is introduced in Antwerp, and it also explores the subject of how best to counsel a prince, a popular topic at the time.

Shangri-La’s & Utopias

 

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