Thursday, 10 September 2015

Shangri La

In 2004 the Times Literary Supplement noted that it was not a particularly interesting year for literary anniversaries: they could not think of any notable deaths in 1954, for example, whose 50th anniversary would fall in this year. But in fact 1954 was the year that James Hilton died: and it is not every author who gives a new term to the language. For, whenever we refer to a distant paradise as a “Shangri La”, we are using a name invented by Hilton.

It was his fine novel Lost Horizon (1933) that gave that name to the world. With its Buchan-esque opening words, “Cigars had burned low…”, we know we are in the realm of the gentleman’s club, the story told to a circle of adventurers and cognoscenti, the yarn of daring-do in the far flung corners of the world. And it is indeed a fine tale that Hilton tells, of a lost Himalayan kingdom somewhere between India, Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet, ruled over by a lama of no ordinary virtues and powers, and of how a group of Europeans brought there respond to what they find. Many themes mingle in the book - lost worlds, secret masters, paradise found and lost, invisible cities, the wisdom of the East, high adventure, the quest for immortality, and more. And there were some who believed that Hilton was describing no fictional realm but a real mystic domain…

To commemorate this excellent book and its author, The Lost Club, devoted to unjustly neglected writers, commissioned a commemorative Shangri-La postage stamp. It was issued in a limited edition of 200, depicting the remote lamaserie in its snow-clad mountain range. Eminent SF/fantasy artist Colin Langeveld designed the stamp, and copies were used by the James Hilton Society on the envelopes containing their newsletter to members.

Communications on the astral plane with the High Lama of Shangri La confirmed that the stamp will be fully valid for yak mail in the sacred realm should anyone ever find it again.

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