In 1932 the English Novelist, James Hilton, wrote a romantic fantasy called Lost Horizon. The story plot caught the imagination of the reading public who were in the midst of a great depression and who were longing for a better life. Hilton begins his story by describing a war-torn China in the midst of the 1930’s revolution and describes how a group of Europeans escape the terrors of the war in an airplane only to crash in the snow covered Himalayas. The survivors of the crash are rescued by monks and taken to a warm, sun filled valley hidden in the Tibetan mountains. Looking down on this majestic landscape was the grand monastery called Shangri-La.
The main character in Hilton’s novel is a world-weary diplomat named Robert Conway who soon discovers the marvelous tranquility of Shangri-La where nothing is known of greed, war, hatred and crime. Conrad falls in love with a beautiful young Chinese girl only to find that she is over 90 year old. It seems that Shangri-La also has the power of giving long life to the inhabitants of this hidden valley. To tell you how the book and the 1937 Frank Capra movie ends will be up to you to find out. I can only tell you that the movie, “Lost Horizon,” was a box-office blockbuster and remained popular in re-leases for decades. It has been seventy years now, but I still have a vivid memory of watching this thrilling movie in 1937. Recently I purchased a paper-back copy of the book at Barnes & Noble and enjoyed reading this James Hilton novel for the first time.
United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, being considerably fond of Hilton's novel, named the presidential retreat now known as Camp David "Shangri-La" in 1942. In that April, United States bombers secretly launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet bombed Tokyo in a daring raid led by Colonel "Jimmy" Doolittle. Since Tokyo was far out of range of any American bomber base at the time, there was intense speculation from where the bombers had taken off. President Roosevelt facetiously told a press conference that the bombers had flown from Shangri-La. In line with this pleasantry, one of the aircraft carriers used during War World II in the Pacific Ocean was subsequently named USS Shangri-La.
Shangri-la is often used in a similar context as the "Garden of Eden" might be used. It represents a perfect paradise that exists hidden from modern man. Shangri-La might also be used to represent perfection that is sought by man in the form of love, happiness, or Utopian ideals. There are many people now living in Poland, Ohio, who feel that they have found their Shangri-La here in the Mahoning Valley and wish to keep it as their Garden of Eden. They see Poland’s Century-houses and truly believe that, since Poland has not change in a hundred years, it should remain unchanged. To these people I respond, “Stop dreaming! Utopia is a Greek word that means “no place” and Poland will soon become a “no place” if changes are not allowed to take place.”