I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I saw the film: probably around twelve.
I know it was a Sunday afternoon. After lunch, watching the television film matinée, my mother would do the weekly ironing, as my sister and I sat mesmerised by old black and white movies. (The mystery of how our term for afternoon performances is derived from the French word for morning has still not been explained to me.)
“Lost Horizon” had a powerful impact. I was inspired to search out the book from our local public library. But the film is only based on the novel. There are major differences; notably in the endings.
And now comes my confession.
For the first and only time, I defaced a library book. I took a pencil and, in my best hand-writing, added a short coda. This vandalism was prompted by the shock of reading a book that did not end happily. I needed the hero to find what he had lost.
I was reminded of this by listening to BBC Radio 7 on the internet. They are currently transmitting a dramatised version of the book.
More than four decades have passed since that Sunday afternoon. I tell myself I am a little wiser. Failure and unresolved tensions – in life and literature – are somewhat easier to cope with. “And lived happily ever after” no longer raises my hopes, just an eyebrow.
However, this is not quite the end of the story. Many years later I was destined to reach my own Shangri-La, a haven found by accident, stumbled upon during a reluctantly taken holiday.
There are no snow-clad, hidden valleys. The secret of eternal youth is not currently on offer. Arrivals and departures are arranged by scheduled flights and taxis, not through plane crash and hazardous frozen treks. My home is in the tropics of Travancore, not Tibet.
But I have finally realised much of the peace and happiness that was so tantalisingly first glimpsed all those years ago, watching “Lost Horizon”.
(When writing this post, I came across an interview with Frank Capra, where he gives an account of the film’s almost disastrous opening.)