Lost Horizon, written by James Hilton and copyrighted in 1933, was the first paperback ever published. Lost Horizon is the quiet, elegantly narrated story of four Westerners kidnapped and brought to a mystical Himilayan paradise they cannot understand or appreciate.

As the story opens, the four dissimilar individuals are kidnapped by plane during an evacuation of Peshawar's white citizens. Their plane crashes in the mountains of Tibet, their kidnapper/pilot dies, and the four are inexplicably met by a group that escorts them up Mount Karakal and to the lamasery.

Then things get weird.

The quartet lives in perfect, serene luxury. Their assigned mentor, Chang, sees that all of their needs are met. They meet one of Chopin's ex-students, a captivating Chinese princess, and the eerie and fascinating High Lama.

But are our heros satisfied?

My copy of Lost Horizon found me on my last day of 11th grade. The last student to leave the classroom, I was summoned back by my teacher.
"You forgot your book, Jennifer."
"But it's not..."
I bit my lip, grabbed the battered paperback, and said goodbye. The book soon disappeared, and I forgot about it. Three years later, it mysteriously reappeared and immediately became my favorite book. The story is told simply and elegantly, and the tension is built very carefully. No matter how many times I've read it, I still find it difficult to put down late at night.

Lost Horizon are also a Gothenburg, Sweden-based power metal band, formed in 1998 by Wojtek Lisicki, Martin Furängen, and Christian Nyquist. Or, to give them their stage names, Transcendental Protagonist, Cosmic Antagonist, and Preternatural Transmogrifier. They were joined by Daniel Heiman, a.k.a Ethereal Magnanimus, in 2001, just in time to release their first album, Awakening the World. This was rather well received among metal-listening circles, and afterwards, two more members joined - Fredrik Olsson and Attila Publik (Equilibrian Epicurius and Perspicacious Protector, respectively) in time to record the band's second album, A Flame to the Ground Beneath in 2003.

Well, I really don't know how much I can say about Lost Horizon's sounds without deviating into their image, but I'll try. As musicians they are obviously very accomplished. Their songs are fast paced yet clean and melodic; not for them grindy nu-metal distortions. However, it must be said that they are all too fond of their instrumentals, which (at least on A Flame to the Ground Beneath) usually consist of swoopy synth effects, not all of which really work. There are no less than three instrumentals per album, on both Awakening the World and A Flame to the Ground Beneath which can make paying £16.99 (in the UK they're usually found as imports) for what is, in actuality, a collection of just six songs a wee bit peeving. Granted, all of these tracks are often over six minutes apiece (with Highlander - The One clocking in at 11.05), but...

I wish, though, I had something slightly less deprecatory to say about their self-crafted image. The cover of Awakening the World features the Swedish quartet descending on a cloud, long hair flapping in the breeze, the otherwise bald Equilibrian Epicurius's cloak flowing gently behind him, into a field populated by besuited twelve-foot taheen wielding bullwhips and puppet-strings on which are attached blindfolded humans digging their own graves. Then the cover of A Flame to the Ground Beneath features the six of them ascending wihle stood heroically on six whirlwinds up from the Earth's surface... Oh, and in their bio, they tell us how only the label Music For Nations successfully "proved themselves worthy" of the band's attention.

Now combine this with the fact that they call themselves the "Bringers of Metal Salvation" and reactions can range from "What a load of wankers!" to "Do they have even the slightest speck of a sense of humour?!" This second proposition is backed up by their lyrics, most of which concern truth, asceticism, purity of one's heart, and such. All very serious subjects, wouldn't you say?

All the same, despite my mini-rant about their, well, rather pretentious, self-crafted image, Lost Horizon are still rather a good band. They're quite different from any other metal band I have heard, with a very clean, yet complex and multi-layered sound. Not even fellow power metallers like Rhapsody or DragonForce or Blind Guardian have the epic, voluminous, yet oddly calming sound that is possessed by Lost Horizon.

Also, soon after their second album, Fredrik Olsson/Equilibrian Epicurius and Daniel Heiman/Ethereal Magnanimus announced their decision to quit, which means that currently (March 2005) the band are on the lookout for a new vocalist and (possibly) guitarist. So, if you think you look good bare-chested in tight leather trousers, war paint, and a long, flowing mane of hair, and you can sing, why not go for it? And remember...

"No Fate. Only the Power of Will."

Sources -
Inlay to album A Flame to the Ground Beneath

Film, directed by Ross Hunter, 1973, remake of Frank Capra's version of 1937, adaptation of James Hilton's novel.

I can imagine what happened for this film to come into being: a bunch of studio guys are sitting around, drinking gin-and-tonic, maybe a joint, and one of them comes up with the idea that it would be great if they could find a film that would bridge the generation gap, which at that time was about as far apart as Archie Bunker and Mick Jagger. Something that both college-age rebels and their parents would find equally interesting-- for different reasons, perhaps, but still, a ticket is a ticket. What interested hippies? Asia, philosophy, pacifism, and wild sets and costumes. What interested their parents? Musicals, eye candy, a feel-good script, and nostalgia. Very well, then, "Lost Horizon", the old classic, as a musical, in color. Can't miss, right? It was a bomb.

Lost Horizon, by James Hilton, is perhaps less than a classic, but not a bad novel. In broad terms, he sketches out a utopian society in Shangri-la, "The Valley of the Blue Moon", near Tibet, inhabited by peacefully contented villagers who serve an abbey of very long-lived monks. Intruding into paradise is a Gilligan's Island-like planeful of outsiders (a veteran of WWI, a missionary, etc.) each with their own spin on the situation -- what plot there is concerns the reaction of each of them to being presented with a choice to live in paradise, or try to return to the tumult of the Twentieth Century. Taken on its own terms, it's gentle, pop-lit fluff, presenting Hilton's own conservative British views in "Oriental" dress, as exotic and as familiar as a fortune cookie. As captive honored guests of the monks, the castaways are forbidden to leave the valley, but never pressed into work or prayer (not that the monks do too much of that themselves), treated royally, and given simple, yet luxurious quarters --who'd want to escape? In this Middle American Heaven-on-Earth, the monks are both cultured and wise, the climate is warm, the food is plentiful and tasty, the villagers are picturesque nonentities and nothing ever changes. The nuns are chaste, but encouraged to look pretty, and even flirt a bit (the reason given is one of the most hilariously inaccurate explanations of Tantric Sex I've ever read). Even their religion is nonthreatening: revealed as a best-of-both worlds blend of Christianity and Buddhism, there's little to offend any but the staunchest fundamentalist or the oddballs out there who actually knew something about Tibet (which in the early Thirties was a very small number).

As a Capra film focussing on the adventure/character interplay angles it was enchanting; and perhaps Steven Spielburg could have made it fly, if he'd been around. As an early-Seventies Hollywood product, the adventure was over too quickly, and the updated roster of characters too bland, to make much of an impression. Deprived of the sketchy, suggestive qualities of classic B&W, the monastery resembles a de luxe beauty spa in white and pale blue, and while at least some of the monks' robes tried for historical accuracy, most of the rest of the inmates looked as if on their way to a morning massage and fango bath, with a couple of holes of golf in the afternoon. Maybe Stephan Sondheim could have restored some grit to the story, playing up the very real conflict inside each character's reaction; just five years afterwards, Brian Eno or Philip Glass would have captured the tranquil atmosphere to a T; instead, Bert Bacherach and Hal David were given the job of writing the songs, which marry Muzak-like melodies with some of the clunkiest New Agey lyrics ever penned. Quite naturally for the time, every song calls for a dance number, which range from the merely forgettable to the completely boring, and so is the script, which has not one line worth quoting.

Tie-ins with this movie were legion -- there were everything from cookbooks to posters planned to promote this film, and such was the hype that I actually went out and bought the soundtrack album. Just about the only thing good I can say about it is that it made enough of an impression on me to write this review completely from memory nearly thirty years after -- the next month I read Aldous Huxley, bought a copy of the Bardo Thadol, and hence learned about real Tibetan culture. Moan.

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