GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (69)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

It is very likely that James Hilton, author of the novel Lost Horizon, written in 1933, had access to some of the letters sent by the Portuguese Jesuits in the distant first quarter of the 17th century, whether it was the Relação of Cacela, the Cabral letter, or the letters of António de Andrade, the true pioneer in the Himalayan region. Note the following passage from the British writer’s work: “The monastery, however, had more to offer than simple displays of chinoiserie. One of its features, for example, was a very nice, tall and spacious library …. Conway, after a quick look at some of the shelves, found plenty of reasons to be surprised. The best literature in the world was there, it seemed, as well as a host of abstruse and curious things that he was unable to appreciate. Volumes abounded in English, French, German, and Russian, and there were large quantities of Chinese and other Oriental languages. One section that particularly interested him covered Tibetan studies, if we may designate it; Conway also noted several rarities, including the New Discovery of Gran Cataio of the Kingdoms of Tibet, by Antonio de Andrade (Lisbon, 1626); China, by Athanasius Kircher (Antwerp, 1667); Thevenot’s Journey to China, by Fathers Grueber and d’Orville; and the Relazione Inedita di un Viaggio al Tibet, by Beligatti.”

The prologue and epilogue of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon are narrated by a neurologist who dines in Berlin with a novelist friend named Rutherford. One of the topics of the conversation is Hugh Conway, the British consul in Afghanistan, who had disappeared under strange circumstances. Rutherford will later reveal to the neurologist he had discovered Conway at a French mission hospital in Chongqing, China. Before disappearing again, the Englishman tells his extraordinary story to Rutherford, which is the crux of  the “romance within romance.”

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