Carolly Erickson’s Holiday Gift Suggestion

If you’ve already read today’s NYTBR review of The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, you don’t need to be told much about Carolly Erickson. For the rest of us, I’ll merely point out that her first foray into fiction is proving to please critics as much as her histories and biographies of figures like Henry VIII, Catherine the Great, Empress Josephine, and Queen Victoria.

James Hilton’s Lost Horizon warms the heart with its vision of a purer, simpler world. A planeload of travelers from the West crashes in the mountains of Tibet, and then are miraculously rescued and taken to a remote valley high in the Himalayas. The travelers bring all the stresses and anxieties of the sophisticated, modern world with them—only to discover, as they grow accustomed to life in the magical valley, that a better way of life exists. They shed their cares as they join the community and contribute to its wellbeing. One of the travelers, a seeker, discovers that the community conveys not only the gift of inner peace and outward harmony but of extraordinary longevity.

But all is not well in the valley of Shangri-La. One of the travelers begins to doubt the authenticity of the claims made by the monks who govern the valley. He and his brother—the seeker—leave and return to the outside world, only to meet with danger and disillusionment. The seeker, true to the vision he has found in the Himalayan paradise, slowly makes his way back to that charmed zone of peace and hope. Lost Horizon is a modern fairy tale, and like all fairy tales, it lifts us out of our limitations and allows us to glimpse the paradise we could make—if only we would.

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4 December 2005 | gift ideas |