Lost Horizon: Character Profiles
Henry Barnard (Chalmers Bryant)
Henry Barnard is the American passenger kidnapped and brought to Shangri-la, a fact he doesn’t mind since he is being sought by the police. His New York investment company’s financial failure cost investors millions of dollars. He travels under an alias and claims the crash wasn’t his fault; he was just speculating like everyone else. Barnard is good-natured and makes jokes. He likes the tolerance and freedom of Shangri-la and decides to stay there, especially when he discovers gold in the valley. He was a mining engineer and tells the natives how they can extract more gold. He thinks he will somehow use the gold to get back his status in the world. He is found out by Mallinson who sees newspaper clippings dropped by Barnard.
Briac is a French lama who had been the pupil of Chopin and teaches Conway some unpublished Chopin pieces at Shangri-la, which he then performs on the ship for the pianist Sieveking. These are the pieces that bring back his memory.
Miss Roberta Brinklow
Miss Brinklow is the woman from the London Missionary Society, a passenger on the hijacked plane. She is self-righteous and tough-minded. Nothing fazes her since she feels she is doing God’s work, and it should not be easy. She tackles the Tibetan language at Shangri-la so she can convert the natives. Always direct and blunt in her opinions, she questions Chang about the religion of the lamas, objecting to their broad-minded tolerance and the loose morals of the natives.
Chang is the Chinese guide to the newcomers of Shangri-la. He is almost 100 years old, awaiting full initiation as a lama. He came when he was 22 years old as a soldier. At the lamasery he learned English and became learned. At one point he fell in love with Lo-Tsen, but she returned his affection politely until he lost his desire. He is proud of the beauty of the lamasery and is able to converse with Conway about art and literature and the lama’s path. They become friends.
Conway is the main character. He is 37 years old and unmarried, a solitary man who is somewhat melancholy and disillusioned with the ways of the world since he lived through the horrors of World War I. At Oxford he was brilliant and should have achieved something noteworthy except for the war. After teaching Oriental history at Oxford, he joined the consular service and spent ten years in China. He knows eastern languages and ways. He was a hero at Baskul, overseeing the evacuation of the white residents during the revolution. When the plane is hijacked, he is expected to be the hero again, but instead, he is detached and actually enjoys Shangri-la, finding its philosophy and practices fit his contemplative, withdrawn character. He becomes friends with the High Lama, Father Perrault, who leaves the monastery in his hands when he dies. Conway, however, is torn between his desire to stay and his duty to help his friends, Mallinson and Lo-Tsen, escape. During the escape, he is the only survivor but loses his memory. When he regains it, he tries to get back to Shangri-la.
Henschell is the Austrian who arrives as a young man in Shangri-la in 1803, after Father Perrault has established his retreat. Henschell initially wanted to take the gold from the valley, but he was so smitten with Father Perrault’s goals that he decided to help him and became a co-founder by taking the lamasery to the next level of refinement. He used the gold to bring in supplies and shipments, modernizing the lamasery and building the library. He was unfortunately killed by a newcomer when he learned he would have to stay in Shangri-la. Conway sees the portrait of Henschell made just before he died. Though he was in his eighties, he looks like a youth.
Lo-Tsen is a Manchu princess whose bridal party was lost in the mountains. She entered Shangri-la in 1884 as a girl of 18 and is now 70 though she still looks 18. She is an expert keyboard artist of western music. The only woman lama postulate at Shangri-la, she runs off with Mallinson and dies in the escape. Many men have been in love with her, including Chang and Conway. Her motivations are unknown because she is only seen through the eyes of other characters.
Captain Charles Mallinson
Mallinson is the main antagonist, the foil to Conway. He is ten years younger than Conway and looks up to him. Conway is fond of him, perhaps thinking of his own youthful innocence. Mallinson was the vice-consul under Conway at Baskul. Mallinson has a narrow, black and white British point of view. He is a racist, thinking like a colonist toward the Chinese and Tibetans. He believes Shangri-la is cold and evil and wants to rescue Conway and Lo-Tsen from it. He intimates that she surrendered passionately to his lovemaking, and her manner and facial expression confirms this to Conway. Mallinson is irascible and cowardly, getting hysterical during the hijacking and at Shangri-la, which he regards as a jail. He makes the arrangements for the porters and the escape, thinking Conway has gone mad. He persuades Conway to leave because he is too frightened to cross the pass by himself. He dies in the escape.
Meister is a German professor from Jena who was visiting Tibet in 1887 and was lost in the mountains. He is one of the lamas Conway meets at Shangri-la, and the only name that Rutherford can confirm.
The first-person narrator appears in the Prologue and Epilogue and is barely sketched in as a character. He was a younger student at Oxford when Conway was there in his glory. Conway could have been stuck up, but he was very kind to the narrator when he was a new boy. The narrator is never named, but he is a neurologist, and Rutherford consulted his book when he was dealing with Conway’s amnesia. The narrator is the main audience for Rutherford’s tale of Shangri-la, speaking with Rutherford in person and reading his manuscript.
Father Perrault is a Capuchin friar from Luxembourg who traveled with three other friars from Pekin in 1719 looking for evidence of Christianity in Tibet. He came to the Valley of the Blue Moon almost dead, the only survivor of his party. Eventually he built a Christian monastery on the same site as the old Buddhist monastery called Shangri-la. He practiced both Christianity and Buddhism and became the High Lama of the lamasery, living 300 years. He had a vision for the purpose of the lamasery. It needed to remain hidden to preserve culture for the coming dark time in the world. He strikes up a friendship with Conway, who has a like mind, and leaves Shangri-la in his hands as he dies.
Rutherford was a friend of Conway’s at Oxford and oddly enough comes across him by coincidence in a hospital in China. Conway has amnesia and Rutherford takes care of him, telling him about his past and taking him home to England on a boat. When Conway suddenly regains his memory he tells Rutherford the amazing events of his life at Shangri-la. Rutherford is a novelist and makes the account into a narrative, which the narrator reads in manuscript. Rutherford spends much time and money trying to find Conway or Shangri-la after Conway gives him the slip. Conway appreciates Rutherford not only for his help but his sympathetic ear. Rutherford is a man of imagination who can understand his tale. We feel that he must therefore be representing Conway’s point of view accurately. Rutherford is able to find only a few facts that would prove the story but remains sympathetic to Conway.
Sanders is the English pilot who was at Baskul and confirms the hijacking of the plane with Conway in it. The incident had been hushed up. This is an important detail for Rutherford because it confirms part of Conway’s story.
Sieveking is a German pianist who meets Conway on the ship when he has amnesia and is being taken care of by Rutherford. He is a specialist in Chopin, and when Conway plays unpublished Chopin pieces on the piano, Sieveking is excited and wants to write them down. Conway suddenly remembers he learned the pieces from a pupil of Chopin’s. This is when his memory returns, and he tells his tale to Rutherford.
Talu is the Tibetan pilot who hijacked the maharajah’s airplane to take the westerners to Shangri-la. He lived in the valley but followed the teaching of the lamas. When there was a need for more people at the lamasery, preferably Westerners, he came up with a plan that was approved by the lamas. He went to America to get trained as a pilot and then stole a plane to bring in people by air, since expeditions were difficult and rare. He is killed when the plane crashes near Shangri-la and is given a hero’s funeral in the valley.
Tertius Wyland is the secretary at a British Embassy in the European capital where Rutherford, the narrator, and Wyland have dinner. They were all at Oxford together and knew Conway. Wyland is rather stuffy and only remembers Conway as a “slack” person. He is upset with the pilot, Sanders, for speaking of Baskul, an affair the government hushed up. Rutherford dislikes Wyland’s narrow-mindedness and chooses the narrator as the audience for Conway’s story.