Monday, June 11, 2007

The Turn of the Screw

Ok, here we go.

LOST stuck this book in one of the most prominent spots on the show, no freeze-framing or squinting necessary to catch it. In episode 2x03, "Orientation", Desmond tells Jack and Locke to watch the titular film, hidden behind a copy of TotS. So is this book our training video?

Man, I hope not. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed TotS. But it's designed to be a frustrating experience, a ghost story with lots of questions and no clear answers. Just like the orientation film, TotS is both mesmerizing and frustrating, important details missing, enigmatic phrases suggesting layers you'll never see.

The basic story is pretty simple *Heavy spoilers for the book ahead, so proceed with caution*: a young governess is put in charge of two seemingly angelic children, Miles and Flora, at a country estate. She begins to be haunted by two ghostly figures, and becomes increasingly convinced these ghosts are trying to steal, possess, or kill the children. The governess finds out that the ghosts she sees look like two dead former servants who used to spend a lot of time with the kids but died under mysterious circumstances. The children, in turn, act increasingly bizarre, sneaking away, lying, and being generally creepy.

After she finds Flora wandering outside alone, she sends her away and attempts to confront Miles. In this final confrontation, she tries to get him to explain what's going on and own up to some past misdeeds, and he starts to do so. In the midst of all this, she sees the ghosts again, and pulls poor terrified Lil' Miles close to her. The governess thinks she is finally beating this thing, but Miles jerks suddenly, and falls into her arms, dead. The End.

Phew. Those summary paragraphs were incredibly hard to write, mostly because I've left out one important detail. Through all of the story, no one but the narrator ever definitely sees the ghosts, and we have no idea whether all this is in her increasingly unstable head. Apparently scholars have argued viciously about whether you can trust this unreliable narrator ever since the book was published, with no consensus yet.

The ghosts are pretty Lost-ey, and not just because they refer to them as "The Others". The governess begins to suspect that the apparitions are trying to lead the children to their doom, like happened to Shannon with Walt, or might have happened to little Ben with his Mom. The governess speculates about why a ghost might want to take the children "She suffers the torments...of the lost. Of the dammed. And that's why, to share them...she wants Flora." Yick.

The creepy little boy in the story reminds me pretty hard of Ben. He's constantly lying, and saying shit like "I'll tell you everything, I will. But not now." It's never clear in the story whether he believes in any of it, or how much he's been corrupted by the evil that surrounds him. Is he a conniving demon or a just a gullible, lonely boy? Search me, man.

I totally recommend it, both for pleasure reading and for Lost purposes. For one thing, it's a classic with a tough reputation, so that will make you feel smart. But its not really that hard, and only 100 pages, it's a quick read. As far as Lost goes, I don't think you're going to find a book that says more about the way the producers are building their mystery (sorry, anyone who has Sarah Mclachlan stuck in their head now). I just hope Lost doesn't end in a way that leaves scholars arguing about it for a hundred years.


Brad said...

To the same respect that you mostly recommend Turn of the Screw, I somewhat recommend The Turn of the Screw: THE OPERA! It has music by Benjamin Britten--British operas usually aren't pretty and stylish like Italian or German operas, but I remember liking the opera; it was spoooky.
disclosure: I had to read Turn of the Screw for a Humanities class in high school. I'm not completely sure if I read the entire thing.

Heather J. said...

just letting you know that I'm including a link to your review from my blog - I just read this book for the Lost Reading Challenge I'm in, and I appreciated reading your thoughts!