Lost Horizon : Summary of Chapter 4-6
Summary of Chapter 4
Conway feels physically satisfied and mentally alert at the sumptuous dinner Chang gives them. He reflects that although he has lived in the east and seen telephones in Lhasa, he is surprised the lamasery has green porcelain bathtubs made in Ohio. He feels at home with Chinese people because he lived in China for ten years. He finds it difficult to guess Chang’s age. Chang is meticulously courteous , even when the guests are rude in their questions. Conway is happy with the simple elegance of the lamasery, everything well proportioned. He feels there is some light drug in the food that makes everyone sleepy.
Conway observes to Chang that they must not have many visitors, and Chang agrees. Conway says that a separate culture could flourish here uncontaminated by the outside world. Chang asks what he means by contamination. Conway replies, “dance bands, cinemas, electric signs” (p. 67). Conway is in his element, speaking fluently and pleasantly.
Miss Brinklow, however, is more direct and wants to know how many are in the lamasery and of what nationality. Chang says there are fifty full lamas and some others like himself who have not attained complete initiation. They come from all nations but mostly Chinese and Tibetan. Then she wants to know what they believe in. She herself believes “in the true religion” (p. 69). Chang asks if one religion is true, do the others have to be false? Their main belief is in moderation, avoiding excess of any kind, including an excess of virtue. The people are “moderately sober, moderately chaste, and moderately honest” (p. 69). Chang refuses to discuss the habits of the priesthood.
Mallinson harps on the topic of getting porters, and Chang says he is not the right person to ask. Mallinson wants a map and wants to know how they communicate to the outside world. He is scared and stands up but begins to get dizzy, asking how they got all the modern conveniences here. Chang continues to be silent.
Conway catches Mallinson before he falls down, and he is helped to his room by a servant. The others retire, leaving Conway and Chang alone. Conway takes up Mallinson’s point that they need to get porters as soon as possible. Chang mentions that it is difficult to get porters. Conway says that Chang had porters when he met them, but when he doesn’t answer, Conway concludes, “So you came there deliberately to intercept us” (p. 73). He understands that they were expected. Chang only answers they are not in any danger at Shangri-la. Conway is soothed by seeing Karakal in the moonlight and lets it go for the moment.
In the morning, he decides not to tell the others what he has found out. He realizes they are virtually prisoners. He knows that as a representative of the British Government, he should demand more help. Personally, however, he finds Shangri-la fascinating. He is cautious, not letting on that he speaks Chinese. Chang puts them off, saying they get shipments every now and then, and they can try to hire porters the next time they arrive in a couple of months. Mallinson loses his temper.
Commentary on Chapter 4
No doubt the average person would respond more like Mallinson than like Conway. The party seems to have been kidnapped and is being held in Shangri-la. Furthermore, they are being given some narcotic to make them more compliant. Is it the drug that makes Conway surrender to the atmosphere? More and more we find out that Shangri-la exactly suits his nature. He immediately takes it as a positive that the place is sheltered from the corruption of the world.
He knows he should act as he did at Baskul. He knows he could get a knighthood for his handling of that incident. People tend to like him, he thinks, for the wrong reasons, because they don’t understand him. He is not one of the “strong-jawed, hammer-and-tongs empire builders” (p. 76). Actually, he can’t think of anywhere else on earth he would rather be. Mallinson is full of racial prejudice, saying you can’t get the Chinese to act quickly. Conway does not think the eastern races lazy, but rather, that the British and Americans rush around too much.
Conway begins his double life of watching the lamasery as a British official to see what is really going on and why they were forcibly brought there; at the same time, he enjoys himself immensely. Though we are always presented two different evaluations of Shangri-la, Conway’s is in the foreground and Mallinson’s in the background because we are in Conway’s mind much of the time.
Summary of Chapter 5
The four newcomers discuss their plight in the morning, thinking about having to spend two months in Tibet. Conway says it’s no worse than two months anywhere else, for people in the consular service have to go odd places anyway. Barnard is in good humor about it, noting that these lamas seem to be rich, so they will be well fed, and Miss Brinklow says she is in the Lord’s service and thinks of it as a call. Of course, they will be reported as missing in the western papers. Only Mallinson is sour.
Chang shows the party around Shangri-la with its impeccable taste in Chinese art, ceramics, and lacquers. In a noisy world, Conway likes the quietness of Chinese art, which appeals to the mind. There is also a huge library full of the world’s greatest literature and philosophy in various languages. Mallinson finds maps of the country, but Chang warns him he will not find Shangri-La on any map.
Miss Brinklow wants to see the lamas at work, imagining they are doing some handicrafts, but Chang says it is forbidden to disturb their privacy. Miss Brinklow insists on knowing what the lamas do, and Chang replies that they spend their time in contemplation. She objects that that isn’t doing anything. They have tea in a garden, and then they see the music room with its harpsichord and grand piano. The lamas hold western music in high regard, especially Mozart. Barnard tries to imagine how they got the piano over the pass. Chang will not discuss how they bring in goods from the outside, and Conway notes there is a distinct boundary around certain things that may or may not be discussed.
In the music room they discover a beautiful Chinese girl who plays the harpsichord. She is Lo-Tsen, another waiting to become a lama. There are women lamas, though she is the only one presently at the lamasery. Barnard asks how old she is, but Chang says he can’t say. At night Conway wanders out into the courtyards musing in the moonlight about the “line of secrecy” he is mapping out (p. 92). He thinks of Lo-Tsen, the little Manchu. He hears trumpets and gongs in the distance and then overhears the conversation of two Tibetans who say the music is the funeral of Talu, the pilot, who “obeyed the high ones of Shangri-la” (p. 94). Now Conway knows the flight had been planned to bring them there.
Commentary on Chapter 5
Conway, who is something of a scholar and lover of art, is more and more pleased by the lamasery. There is everything there he could need for his own happiness, including the beautiful Chinese girl who plays western music in an enchanting way.
Miss Brinklow’s clumsy inquiries bring out the fact that the lamas do “nothing” from the Western viewpoint, though they are engaged in meditation. She does not see the usefulness of this, but Chang says they are pursuing wisdom.
The only thing disturbing to Conway is learning about the dead pilot and that he was in the employ of the lamas. The passengers were deliberately kidnapped and brought to Shangri-la. He is accumulating all these facts and putting the pieces together like a puzzle without letting on anything to anyone. We see the two sides of his personality at work. He has an aesthetic side that responds to beauty and a sharp mind that likes to solve problems.
Summary of Chapter 6
After a week the party of visitors has settled into a routine with Chang acting as their host. Avalanches on Karakal happen around noon. They are allowed to go into the valley carried in bamboo chairs down the steep mountainside to see the culture there. In tropical warmth the valley grows a variety of foods. Conway notes the danger of the mountain looming over them, but miraculously they are not destroyed by avalanches. The contrast of danger and beauty makes everything even more lovely. The natives, Chinese and Tibetan, are courteous and happy. There are Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian temples, for Shangri-la is tolerant of religions. Miss Brinklow wants her missionary to come to the valley and wants to begin by studying the Tibetan language. Chang agrees to this.
Conway makes use of the library and music room, for he is an accomplished pianist. He sees books that are published up to 1930. Chang says that their newspapers may appear to be out of date, but nothing of importance is reported that couldn’t be foreseen in 1920. Conway asks if they are not interested in the current world crisis? Chang says they will be interested in it in time, but time means less to them than to the outside world. Conway likes Chang better each time they speak.
Conway is fascinated by the “little Manchu” and likes to hear her play. Mallinson too comes to listen to her music, though she speaks to neither of them because she does not speak English, and Conway keeps secret that he can speak Chinese. Mallinson cannot imagine Lo-Tsen likes being in the lamasery because she acts like a doll rather than a human being. Conway argues that she is subtle, not clumsy and vulgar like western women. Mallinson thinks Conway is a cynic about women.
Conway has friendships with women but few romances. He is older and more discriminating he tells Mallinson. Mallinson wonders how old Lo-Tsen is and Conway answers, “between forty-nine and a hundred and forty-nine” (p. 103).
Conway collects information from Chang who is willing to talk about some aspects of Shangri-la. He finds out that there is as little government as possible. The basis of law and order is not the police but moderation and good manners. The worst punishment would be to be exiled for some crime, which is a rare occurrence. Conway wonders if there are any disputes about women. Chang says rarely because it would not be good manners to take a woman from another, and if someone wanted her that badly, it would be good manners to give her up. There is no democratic voting for that would be judging one thing right and another wrong.
Conway wonders at Barnard’s cheerfulness, but Mallinson has found out his secret. Barnard dropped some newspaper clippings that show he is really Chalmers Bryant being sought by the police for failing with stock market investments for other people. Mallinson wants to turn him in when they get out, but Conway is tolerant. The crash of Bryant’s group in New York resulted in the loss of a hundred million dollars. Barnard/Bryant admits his identity to the group and says they have been generous to him so far. He thinks they should continue co-operating and let the future take care of itself. Conway agrees.
Commentary on Chapter 6
Hilton wrote the book during the Great Depression caused in part by too much speculation on the stock market. Bryant says he was only doing what he had been doing, and suddenly the market crashed. This is interestingly suggestive of the stock market crashes, the huge loss of investor wealth, and economic depression of 2008-2010. Though Mallinson is angry and wants to turn Barnard/ Bryant in as soon as possible, Conway reacts in the way Chang says they deal with things in Shangri-la. He is moderate, agreeing to Barnard’s proposal of temporary amnesty and co-operation.
The discussion Mallinson and Barnard have about the stock market could apply to the condition of the world at large in the 1930s. Mallinson says there is no excuse for swindling because you have to play the game according to the rules. Barnard replies “the whole game’s going to pieces. Besides, there isn’t a soul in the world who knows what the rules are” (p. 113). This describes the state of chaos felt in the first half of the twentieth century that resulted in two world wars and a Great Depression. Mallinson believes everything will be all right if you play by the rules. Barnard perhaps takes advantage of the fact that things are falling apart. In either case, there is no shelter from the storm. This contemporary turmoil of the world is contrasted with the harmony of Shangri-la where there is plenty for everyone.
Mallinson and Miss Brinklow feel that the tolerance of the lamas is the same as looseness. In Shangri-la law and order are not seen as black and white. Even democracy is felt to be too vulgar for this paradise. The lamas rule through wisdom and benevolence, and the valley citizens are harmonious and self-regulating for the most part. Violence and crime are unknown because of the ideals of moderation and courtesy. The example Conway uses of two men fighting over the same woman, for instance, foreshadows Conway and Mallinson both falling in love with Lo-Tsen. Conway will do as Chang describes and yield politely. They have different reactions to Lo-Tsen. Conway likes to contemplate her beauty and art, but Mallinson thinks she is too cold and will try to break through her shell of reserve. The speculation about her age is an important point. Conway already guesses she may be older than she looks.
When Conway thinks about returning to the world, he knows he will be disappointed. He sees the endless reports to write, the receptions. Just then he is summoned by Chang to see the High Lama. This is an unprecedented honor.