Archive for February, 2010

Preliminary thoughts on “Lighthouse”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by SCS

“Lighthouse” definitely rings some literary bells. First, it recalls To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, which is divided into three parts, the last section titled simply “The Lighthouse.”  The novel depicts the changing dynamics of a large family, the Ramsays, over the course of a ten-year period during which time many characters die and World War I comes and goes. In the first section, “the Window,” some of the family members want to visit a lighthouse but the father discourages the idea. At the end, after several years have passed, they finally make the visit to the lighthouse. During this trip Mr. Ramsay and his son share a special father-son moment–James, who is accustomed to his dad’s criticism and high expectations is surprised when Mr. Ramsay lavishes him with praise. This sounds like a familiar family situation. In Lost, specifically in the Shephard family, the evolution of fatherly love took more time (an entire generation and a leap to an alternate universe), but at least Jack does learn to express his unconditional love for his son, David. Another clear similarity between Lost and this novel lies in the element of perspective. Woolf uses multiple voices to tell the story, a  technique where the point of view shifts from one character to the next, creating a highly textured story. This form of construction is a fundamental characteristic of Lost‘s storytelling. There is no one single voice of authority that can provide a whole narrative; various single threads of narrative are woven together to create a complete tapestry (to use the image of Jacob weaving).

THe Lighthouse of Alexandria, built in the 3rd Century. More commentary forthcoming on this image...

The other reference that immediately comes to mind is the story of Hero and Leander, a tale of two young lovers from Greek mythology. Hero, the beautiful priestess lives in solitude at the top of a towering lighthouse at the edge of Sestus. Guided by Hero’s lamp, Leander swims across the channel every night to visit her, and then returns each morning. The story ends in tragedy when Leander loses his way and drowns in a storm one night. When Hero finds his body she throws herself into the water, killing herself.

At this point, any strong connections to Lost are fuzzy, but both stories popped into my head when I remembered that tonight’s episode was titled “Lighthouse.”

PS: Yet another guest appearance for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! Jack’s son, David, had an annotated edition in his room.

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Revisiting “The Substitute”: Of Ladders and Loneliness

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost on February 23, 2010 by SCS

Okay, folks. Here’s a quick review of the literary allusions from last week, before we move on to tonight’s episode and its bookish Easter eggs.

It has been suggested that the two ladders we saw in “The Substitute” represent the two time lines or parallel realities. Will one of them break or become unstable? Will the characters have to be rescued from one reality and pulled into the other?

These ladders bear an obvious reference to Jacob’s dream depicted in the book of Genesis. First, Jacob goes “out from Beersheba, and…toward Haran” where he places a stone beneath his head and falls asleep (a dreaming stone? A stone of destiny?). Although I imagine this “stone” to be more like a brick, it’s hard not to identify it with the white stone that Smocke grabbed from the scale and threw into the water, explaining to Sawyer that it was an “inside joke.” But back to biblical Jacob: he dreams of a ladder (or a stairway) “set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven… the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” And then God speaks to Jacob. He says, “I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.” Yet another sacred narrative to ponder!

George, rabbits, loneliness, corruption….

In “The Substitute” we see our third Steinbeck reference. Recall the scene when Ben is leading Sawyer over the ridge to show him the second island in “Every Man for Himself.” Sawyer quotes Of Mice and Men (“that little place you always wanted, George?”), only to later be outdone by Ben’s quote from the same book: “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. It don’t make no difference who the guy is, long as he’s with you. I tell you, I tell you a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick.” Though less obvious, Dharma station #5,“The Pearl,” (the one with the pneumatic tubes), is another reference to a work by John Steinbeck. This novella (of the same name) is a story about a poor man who finds a magnificent pearl and instantly becomes a man of great wealth.  This blessing soon turns to a curse as he discovers how easily riches can “corrupt and destroy.” This brings to mind both Hurley’s “bad luck” and the MiB’s outlook on the nature of men. Lastly, Sawyer returns to Of Mice and Men in “The Substitute” as he follows Smocke through the jungle. Shortly before threatening to shoot Smocke, he provides a  brief summary of George and Lenny’s story. A short preface in the Bantam Book paperback edition sums up the relevant theme nicely: “This is the great American novel of loneliness, of love and need, of homeless and rootless men who have nothing but each other.” This succinctly describes the vulnerable condition of not only the castaways, but also the humanity that Lost allows us to see in even the most damaged antagonists like Ben. Loneliness and the fear of being isolated (literally on an island!) is one theme that deserves further examination.

Circle of Ash: Protector of the Innocent?

Posted in Sacred Narratives and Lost on February 16, 2010 by SCS

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. (Common utterance during the ritual ash-marking of Ash Wednesday; origin: Genesis 3:19)

The mark of Ash Wednesday

courtesy of abc television
Ashes as protection–courtesy of abc television

Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Ezekiel 9:5

I’ve been thinking about the protective circle of ash used to guard against the Smoke Monster.  First, I wonder what particular type of ash has these supernatural powers. What material do they burn in order to create special ashes? (Some have speculated that it is volcanic ash.)

The first reference that comes to mind is Ash Wednesday, day one of Lent in the Christian tradition. The ashes used to mark the foreheads of those attending an Ash Wednesday service come from the palm fronds of the previous Palm Sunday.  Celebrated one week before Easter, Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus returns from the desert. Clearly, here is an example of ash made sacred. It is handled with special care–ritually burned, blessed and stored for almost a year. Is this tradition somehow reflected in Lost?

In the Catholic Church, Lent is a time for repentance, and the ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, represent the brevity of life and inevitability of death.  “Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19)  Ashes are a symbol of sorrow and penitence, so why do we see them used as a source of protection in Lost? To answer this question, I turn to the Book of Ezekiel.

The following passage makes me wonder if the sign of the cross, which was initially used on public penitents, was taken from this story.

Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark (an X or T-like figure)* on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” To the others he said, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple. Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. (Ezekiel 9: 3-7)

*Ezekial 9:4 — in the original language “put a mark” on read as “taw a taw.” Taw is an X or a cross-like figure.

The protective mark here is not necessarily of ashes, but it prefigures the cross of Ash Sunday, a much later development in the history of the Church. Together, the notion of sacramental ashes and the story of God’s premeditated slaughter, imply that ashes have the power to mark the innocent and spare them from the wrath of God.

Here is another passage from the Old Testament that might shed some light on the tradition of ashes imbued with holy power.

“And all the Israelite men, women and children who lived in Jerusalem prostrated themselves in front of the temple building, with ashes strewn on their heads, displaying their sackcloth covering before the Lord” (Judith 4:11)

courtesy abc television

Reading the season premiere through this biblical lens, we would cast the Smoke Monster in the role of God and the inhabitants as a population of sinners and strays on the one hand, and faithful believers on the other.

I’m sure there are other sacred traditions in which ashes are a central part. Does anyone know of a significant story (religious or not) in which ash is a prominent image?

Lostpedia has this to say about the possible meaning of the ash:

Note that in a large amount of lore, salt and dust- like substances are placed in circular form around places such as homes to ward off or keep out certain things or beings.

I’ll have to examine this “large amount of lore” and see what I can find…

Through the Looking Glass and What Kate Does There

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 11, 2010 by SCS

Caution: there are a few spoilers here for Season 6, Episode 3, “What Kate Does”

So far, in the flash sideways scenes, we have seen Claire going into labor with Kate by her side, Ethan Goodspeed monitoring the progress of mother and unborn child, John providing Jack with a more spiritual understanding of the universe, Kate running, tracking (Claire) and escaping “capture,” and Jack rescuing Charlie from near-death. What else should we expect from this “Looking Glass” world? Will Michael lose Walt to child services? Will Jack assume a leadership position? Will Kate adopt Aaron?

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, the people from Alice’s real life are manifested as kings and queens and talking animals. She works out her interior conflicts and coming of age struggles within a fantasy world in the same way that the characters of Lost bring their personal issues with them through time, space and splintered  reality. I have a feeling that, though the details will be different, ultimately the mode of redemption for each character will have its mirror reflection in the “Sideways” universe, for lack of a better term.

According to the philosophy of Lost thus far, it seems that whether in the original storyline or the splintered universe, the characters will have to endure the same amount of pain, loss and heartache and enjoy equal amounts of joy, purpose and redemption. I guess it is possible to interpret their island life as a dream sequence, like Alice’s story, now that we have this new timeline, but whether both realities are “real” or not, I think the looking glass metaphor is an effective one. It provides narrative balance (yin and yang of the story) in a TV show that prizes dualism (science and faith, for instance) and also would follow the rules of Ms. Hawking’s theory of Course Correction.

LA X 1 and 2: Literary References

Posted in Season 6 Lit with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2010 by SCS

Rushdie

On the plane, before mysteriously disappearing, Desmond is reading Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories. This is a fantasy novel for children about a storyteller, Rashid, who loses his ability to create narratives because of his son’s lack of imagination. Haroun must venture into a magical Wonderland-like universe to restore his father’s gift. This work has been called a “meta-fable,” a particularly good choice for Lost, the ultimate televisual meta-narrative.

Kierkegaard

Hurley finds a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in a backpack when he leads the group under the walls of the temple. In this philosophical work, Kierkegaard re-tells the story of Abraham’s test (Genesis), and explores the nature of faith and the ethical implications of a blind duty to God. Could these four re-tellings of the “binding of Isaac” be interpreted as Abraham’s alternate universes? In any case, the text certainly explores the various possible outcomes of different actions.

The title comes from the New Testament: “So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  The passage goes on to say, “do everything without grumbling or questioning”  (Philippians 2.12).*  These words reflect Ben’s rhetoric and his unquestioning faith in the island. Of course, we see what happens to Ben when his faith is shaken. Recall the conversation between Ben and “unLocke” in “The Incident.” Unlocke persuades Ben to question Jacob and the island. When Ben asks, “why do you want me to kill Jacob?” unLocke answers, “Because, despite your loyal service to this Island, you got cancer. You had to watch your own daughter gunned down right in front of you. And your reward for those sacrifices? You were banished. And you did all this in the name of a man you’d never even met. So the question is, Ben, why the hell wouldn’t you want to kill Jacob?”

*(New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition, Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1992)

Posted in Uncategorized on February 3, 2010 by SCS

Happy Season 6! It’s finally here.