Monday, February 18, 2008

A King Lost (Part I)

Trying to crack the nut that is LOST is a handful; any fan of the show can clue you in on that. Desperate Housewives doesn’t immediately send thousands to message boards following each show. One of the most time-consuming aspects of LOST decoding is sifting through the endless pile of hints, nods, winks, conspicuous lines, three-frame visual clues, and everything else crammed into the episodes by the producers to tease or illuminate. The team from CSI would need a few months to go through the mountain of details piled up over the course of the 70 shows already aired.

Making matters worse for LOST’s detective corps is that relevancy is a major concern. Viewers quickly caught on to the show’s endless “easter egg” plants, ranging from music nods (Mama Cass played on the Hatch’s record player; episode titles such as “White Rabbit”), book nods (Sawyer’s catalogue of beach reading material), film nods (Star Wars being the most popular), to the more intriguing ones. Any cameo by The Numbers sent the fan base into a frenzy well before the season one finale, and the producers became so aware of it that while they admitted that The Numbers weren’t “an answer,” they decided to keep tossing them out there for fan enjoyment. Point being, when Hurley runs past some soccer girls whose jersey numbers are The Numbers, fans may leap on it but aren’t actually being given anything to figure out the show’s puzzle. Though it stops a LOST apostle’s heart when it unexpectedly pops up, seeing another Dharma Logo or catching a glimpse of another coincidence amongst the backstories does not answer any questions. Some things are just superficial and warrant no more than a smile and nod. Charlotte Staples Lewis (C.S. Lewis) acts as such a superficial nod. Having said all of that, I do believe one recurring plant in the show has a deeper meaning that may in fact go a long way in theorizing what is at the heart of The Island’ mysteries. Stephen King.

The love affair between Stephen King and Team LOST (J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse) is not a secret. In his Entertainment Weekly column, King has made no attempt to hide his affection for the show, often referencing it or recommending it to television viewers. Likewise, the producers of LOST have cited King as an inspiration/influence on commentary in both the DVD box sets and their pod casts. In a significant show of mutual respect, King has given Abrams, Lindelof, and Cuse the greenlight to adapt his Dark Tower series to film. Besides all that affection, there are the numerous intersections between King’s works and LOST.

Starting with the superficial, Team LOST has cited The Stand as a key influence, and that is most readily seen in the sharp divide between the Castaways and The Others. But how original or profound is that? Good and evil, black and white; it’s been the most common play in story telling’s history. There are also the book plants: The Gunslinger, Carrie, and Hearts of Atlantis; there for the never-blinking eye, but may not be any more telling than when a Judy Blume showed up. There are also the dialogue plants: Carrie made the rounds in Juliette’s book club, possibly prompting Ben to ask Locke for some Stephen King reading material two months later. There are also graphic matches. In Season One, Locke and Boone dig away at The Hatch, which would be difficult not to connect with Bobbi Anderson’s backyard woods dig in The Tommyknockers. In Season Two, Henry Gale’s balloon carriage is scouted out by Sayid and Kate, it bears a few sponser logos on it, including one for Nozz-a-la Cola, an alternate dimension Earth soda encountered by The Dark Tower’s quartet in their travels. In On Writing, page 97, King describes, “a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. Inside the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes… On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.” In Season Three, Ben mentally cons and tortures Sawyer using this exact same #8 white rabbit.

There are other similarities, which could just be chalked up to great minds thinking alike (or one plagiarizing from the other). King has long loved to plug literary references into his books; it can be shocking how well-read some of his rural Maine characters turn out to be. LOST and King make common mention of Watership Down, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, the Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter (honest), Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, and several other novels. Both have used dreams as a device, with characters being either guided by them or receiving glimpses of their future. LOST also (seemingly) borrows on another King staple: Daddy Issues. Few, if any, on the Island had a harmonious two-parent upbringing. Neither did King, whose father left his wife and two sons while King was still a tot. In his books, King very often inserts dysfunctional or single-parent (or parent-figure) relationships: Jack and his mother in The Talisman; Ben, Eddie, and Beverly’s single parent families in IT; Roland and Jake in The Dark Tower; Clayton and his son as well as Clayton and Alice in Cell; Carrie and her mother in Carrie; and, Ben Mears and Mark Petrie in Salem’s Lot. Danny Torrance from The Shining is a prime example of a character with an ongoing father issue, though I don’t believe anyone on LOST was chased around a hotel by their ax-wielding dad.

Then the parallels take on Kennedy-Lincoln level connections. LOST sees a plane crash land into a Twilight Zone-ish island, The Langoliers sees a plane cross into a Twilight Zone-ish Earth. Both LOST and The Stand have a young and pregnant character carrying to term without a father (Claire, Frannie). LOST’s two main male characters are Jack and Sawyer, and the protagonist of The Talisman and Black House is Jack Sawyer. Walt on LOST is a youth possibly endowed with psychic abilities, something seen in numerous King works (The Shining, Carrie, The Dark Tower, The Children of the Corn). Lost has Charlie struggling with substance abuse, and King often wrote similar such characters often modeled after himself (Jack from The Shining, Eddie Dean from The Dark Tower, Father Callahan from Salem’s Lot, Gard from The Tommyknockers, and Larry Underwood from The Stand, to name a few). The characters in LOST are dogged by a “monster” that assumes the appearance and memories of key people from their past to torment them or lead them to their deaths, this is also the modus operandi of Pennywise from IT.

Now, take any one of the previous examples, it’s reasonable to argue that it may just be a coincidence. Altogether? I suspect they’re as much coincidence as the intertwined backstories of the LOST castaways. I have also reached the conclusion that King’s Dark Tower series may offer LOST fans the biggest possible clues to what the Island is.