Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Wizard of Oz: I can't come back, I don't know how it works!

What can really be said about The Wizard of Oz that hasn't already been said?
Not too much, especially since its not all that complicated of a book, and most of what people say sort of ruins the fun. Besides, its lasting fame is due just a little more to the 1939 movie then to the 1900 book. LOST , for one, references a line from the movie in one of its most awesome episodes: 3x20: "The Man Behind The Curtain". In the book, after all, he's behind a wood screen, not a curtain. And the red shoes on a man buried under rubble that Desmond sees in Flashes Before Your Eyes come from the movie--in the book they're silver.

In the interest of not rehashing a plot that anyone with much interest in popular culture probably knows, I'll talk about where I saw connections and had questions, giving a little bit of thought to the differences between the film and the book.

One of the best things about The Wizard of Oz in any form is the well-developed characters and their interactions with and concern for one another. Along the way they all demonstrate that the gifts they seek are already inside of them. Sound familiar? Well, I think so.

I was really trying to develop some theory of who was who in the merry band. Some have lovingly lined up the characters with Michael/Jacob's list for the Others --Kate, Hurley, Jack, and Sawyer are Dorothy,The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man, and The Scarecrow respectively (thanks, Lostpedia). I'd totally get behind Hurley as the Cowardly Lion--he has a lot to offer but has some trouble doing it, as he showed in the last few episodes of Season 3. Other than that, I pretty much disagree. I think Sawyer's the most like the Tin Man. In the book, particularly, the Tin Man goes back and forth between making sure not to step on cute little bugs and (on multiple occasions!) decapitating beastly enemies that threaten his comrades. Sawyer, in his own words, is "a complicated guy, sweetheart." He's maybe the biggest romantic on the show, but he's also probably the most hardened by his pre-island situation. Plus, he comes through in a pinch. I think the one connecting factor between him and the Scarecrow is his straw-y hair. So who do I think is the Scarecrow? Hm. I'd really like to give this to Jack. He's a know-it-all, he's bossy, and um, just dumb sometimes. There are also times when he's a good leader, and his brand of bravery pays off. Similarly, when the Wizard of Oz leaves, he leaves the Scarecrow in charge of the Emerald City...Hm. Is someone going to put Jack in charge?

Which brings us, rightfully so, to the love of my life, John Locke. Sigh. He can probably be the Scarecrow too--he's wrong as often as he's right, but when he's right its pretty useful. But I'm going to have to make a weird case. I think he's Dorothy. Sorry Kate, being pretty and a girl isn't going to cut it. So here's why: Dorothy is in a different position than the others in her little band. She's more curious and more amazed by the entire world of Oz because she is truly a stranger to it. For her, the whole trip is an exploration. Nobody has picked up on seeing the Island as a fascinating new world to explore more than Locke has. For another thing, Dorothy has the power of the silver/ruby slippers pretty much from the get-go. Locke's got something going on in the magic department early on too, with his miraculous ability to use his legs and all. And...although Locke doesn't want to go home and Dorothy really does, both of them are interested in asking the big questions and getting sufficient answers. I'd also like to make the case that Dorothy infiltrated the Wicked Witch's castle most successfully since the Wicked Witch can't touch her due to the shoes, and that Locke most successfully infiltrated the Others and wasn't touched for similar reasons (they might have been a humbug, of course). But well, does that fall apart when Ben pits him? Maybe. Ok, there's my wacky little assessment.

That takes us to titular Wizard. Aside from some physical resemblance to Locke (short and bald!), I'm going to argue for a split bill between Ben and Jacob. The case for Ben is that he's definitely keeping some things for the Losties, and, as evidenced by the tumor and the ensuing mess he gets into with his fellow others, he doesn't have as much power as he'd like to make it seem. Be that as it may be, he's still the boss, even if he's pulling some humbug. So why'd he call himself Henry Gale--wouldn't he be more aptly named Mr. Marvell? I know, its not a one-one correlation, but I must think about it.

I'm going to throw Jacob into the mix now. I know that The Wizard, the Man Behind the Curtain, is a humbug, but there's plenty of real magic in Oz too. In the book, particularly, The Wizard makes himself appear in different forms to the different visitors--to Dorothy, a giant head, to the Scarecrow a beautiful woman, and so forth. I'm on the "Jacob appeared as an older Locke" train, and the smoke monster appears to people in different forms, I think the idea that different people see the Wizard differently ties in well. If Jacob/The Island/The Smoke Monster is being controlled, who's making Jacob appear the way he does?

So is there really a humbug in The Wizard of Oz? Clearly--in the book, everyone in the Emerald City wears green glasses so that everything will appear green, and the Wizard is a fake. But there's plenty of real magic in the Land of Oz too--heck, there's a living scarecrow, flying monkeys, and magic shoes! I think its sort of the same on Lost. There's certainly some humbug going on, but there's magic bigger than the humbug too.

And ooh! Who reveals the Wizard in the book and film? Toto! Who makes sure that "nothing stays buried on the Island for long"? Quite arguably, good old Vincent! Hooray for the weird dog as plot device!

There are a couple of other loose ends--The name Oz recalls the poem Ozymandias, which is about pride and the fall of empires and which.... everybody loves! It comes up in other LOST influences like the Watchmen, and Lost's four-toed statue has been seen as a reference to the broken-down statue of the ancient king. In the Wizard of Oz, likewise, The Wizard is the ruler of an opulent city at the center of a much simpler kingdom. The story has been seen as a populist fable (which I don't want to spend much time on, really)... are the tyrants supposed to be falling in LOST and is the common man to be championed? Well, I hope so, but I'm not really counting it. The rise and fall of empires is fascinating, no matter.

There's also this experiment I got to in my Wikipedia searching. Make of it what you will. But the whole human-technology interaction thing rings a bell with me. And of course, it's mighty nifty that Oz is a nickname for Australia. I'm sure you got that, but its fun.

Thats all I've got. I think the Wizard of Oz is totally relevant--it presents a cool mythology but relies on character development, it employs both real magic and slight of hand, and it keeps getting at that question: who's in charge and what does it mean for the little guy? Read it, watch it... enjoy it. In the mean time, I'm still working on the Ransom Trilogy. I love C.S. Lewis, you know. Aurora will be working on Harry Potter for a good while... so it might be a few weeks. In the mean time... read!


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land: a Cocktail Party to which I was not invited

I decided to read Stranger in a Strange Land because Wrinkle in Time got me so keen on science fiction. And Stranger in a Strange Land is billed as "the most famous science fiction novel of all time." Um. Give me a break. I guess I might be cynical, but this book was light on science fiction and heavy on early 1960s hangups dressed up as radical breaches of authority. Ugh. So perhaps it is apt that it gave its name to the worst episode of LOST ever (sorry), The One With Bai Ling. I wonder if that was on purpose...

So here's how it goes. Years before the book started, a crew of astronauts landed on Mars. Though they all died, one of them had a kid, who was raised by Martians. When another crew of humans picks him up years later and brings him back to Earth, it becomes clear that life on Mars has changed the way he experiences things--he can make people disappear if he is displeased with them, he goes into catatonic states for long periods of time, he can speak into peoples minds and see through their eyes. In short, he is in the business of "grokking" things, which is a combination of understanding and loving and being a part of them. Cool, right?

Well, what do you with that sort of guy? He teaches people about Mars, but he also teaches them about themselves. The book gets caught up describing the political details involved in the rescue of the Man From Mars (Mike Smith) and subsequently spends a lot of time describing the swinging lifestyles of Smith's coterie, which includes a number of beautiful, free-spirited women and an oldish wise man who also happens to be sort of a swinger, named Jubal. Jubal guides Smith's education, which involves a lot of dissing on organized religion and a lot of learning to find women very, very attractive. Eventually, after a visit to the Fosterite Church (an early prediction of the importance of the jazzed-up mega-church phenomenon), Mike sort of gets it in his half-martian head to start his own religion. What this basically consists of is everyone walking around telling each other "You are God" (ugh) and enjoying the benefits of free love (or more accurately, free sex). He's also teaching them how to be more like Martians, in terms of clairvoyance and seeing through other peoples eyes and so forth and the Martian language. In the end, though, good-old future Americans can't handle his blasphemy and stone him to death, whereupon his followers eat his body in order to fully "grok" him (because thats what they do on Mars). Bleh.

There is some Urban Legend stuff about Charles Manson loving this book, and my parents tell me that all the druggies liked it in their high school, so apparently it was pretty brazen. But it seems like the Man from Mars was just a cheap excuse to talk about and praise sex and rock+roll in a 1961 context. And even then, it seemed insincere. It is hard to make good literature which attacks social mores at length unless it comes from a position with some willingness to actually explore the workings of those social mores. Science fiction, at least in this personal story over broader political fable story, doesn't quite seem to be the right medium. And this dwells far too long on whats wrong with the world, taking it on faith that we agree. Some critics suggest that the book is a satire of attitudes, but I guess that either I don't enjoy that and that the joke seemed too messily and obtusely executed. Also, I don't think that those druggies took it as a satire. Finally, I don't think that LOST brings with it this attitude of insincere dismissal of social mores, and doesn't really show any hint of changing them. As far as religion goes, whether it loves or hates it, LOST is gladly in debt to its stories and attitudes. And as far as sex goes, Aurora says "It's almost neck in neck with Buffy for the sex is bad theme." Even if it ends up anti-religion and pro-promiscuity, I already know that Lost did a good job exploring the cultural norms that those go against. End complaining.

There is one thing I think might be of some use--the Martians have a signifier for a level of being beyond corporal existence. These folks are called "the Old Ones", and are more or less guiding spirits who dictate Martian life. The existence of wiser, bodiless creatures who direct the planets affairs might be of some use to our conception of the Island--both the whispers and Jacob could be this sort of thing, although just how wise and controlling they are is up for debate.

There is too, the alternate way of looking at this in terms of LOST, which I like better--simply that it refers to the verse of the bible.. Exodus 2:22: And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land. Or to Oedipus at Colonus:

Patience, stranger--
here in a strange land, poor man,
hate with a will
whatever the city holds in rooted hatred,
honor what the city holds in love.
The implication of these, I guess, has something to do with the person who doesn't fit in anywhere but has to fit in somewhere to go on, a characterization which could apply to many of our Losties. Are they strangers in a strange land on the island? Will they be strangers in a strange land when and if they return to the real world? Is Richard Alpert a martian? (teehee)...Is Bai Ling an alien?! Or is it simply about Jack, who, his escapades in Asia as proof, is a little less together and has a little more trouble fitting in then he'd like to let on? His tattoo says that "he walks among us but is not one of us." Hm... I know its easy to say there's more about our characters than we're seeing, but Jack has something other than his dad and his divorce and his waning power over the Losties bothering him. And I have no idea what it is. Do you?

So, I'm reading the C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy now as a break.
He presents a much more affable version of mars, and I am enjoying it. Sometime I will blog about the Space Trilogy, and also The Chronicles of Narnia, as they relate to our show. Which I think they do.

Also: Locke's dad plays Jason Segel's mean dad on Freaks and Geeks. He's so scary! Bye!


Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Wrinkle in Time

Nothing will ever beat the Chronicles of Narnia for me. There is my prejudice. However, I am starting to realize I must acknowledge its peers and competitors: this and the Dark Compass books, and later, perhaps, The Lord of the Rings, and maybe, when I am 50 or so, Harry Potter. Sawyer reads Madeleine L'Engle's story in 1x19: Deus Ex Machina, in his sexy Frankenglasses. That's right, I'm putting a picture of them up. Here.

A Wrinkle In Time is a pretty short, and very tightly written--alot of fantastic things happen without too much fanfare. We're set up with a sort of grumpy, but intelligent, teenage girl named Meg and her weird little family. In particular, her much-younger brother Charles Wallace seems to possess some extra-ordinary connections. Her mother and long-absent father are scientists. The book starts out with a bit of ambiguity about their work, but that is only so that the rest of the plot is all the more interesting. There are three witchy types( Mrs Who, Whatsit and, Which) who end up transporting our heroine, her brother, and a boy from her school to far-off planets, to save Meg and Charles Wallace's father who is trapped on a planet called Camazotz. This planet is consumed by"the dark thing" which also threatens to consume Earth, so our heroes get a chance to see what they must, in later books, save the earth from.

But how do they get around, you ask? Well, this is probably the most obvious Lost-esque element of the story. We found out gradually that Meg's parents have been working on the concept of "tesseracts", which are more or less the titular wrinkles in time of the story. By folding time, people and non-terrestial beings can travel very great distances very quickly, to other planets, especially. Yes, LOST's time-space continuum movement methods are blurry at present, but if they're as simple as this, then I say hooray.

One of my favorite fantastic conceits from the book is the planet of Camazotz. It was the classic industrial-type distopia: everyone does everything in unison--children bounce balls in perfect time, mothers call them in all at once, anyone who shows the slightest sign of weakness, like a common cold, is quietly exterminated, and creativity and self-expression are non-existent. I couldn't help but think of my favorite film, Brazil. Ok, that envisions a world where everything is supposed to be regimented but is in reality a huge mess...but well, I just like that thread that something that seems so ordered can be so deeply messed-up. So is this what the Island is protecting the world from? Is the black smoke anything at all like the black thing that looms over Camazotz? The Smoke Monster seems to have good reason for attacking the people it attacks on-island, but maybe it has bigger consequences.

Another important point brought up in the book is psychic communication. The evil ruler of Camazotz, "IT", speaks directly into the brains of our heroes, and eventually takes control of Charles Wallace. While plotting how best to save him, Meg, Calvin, and her father end up on a planet where eyeless, tentacled, fuzzy monsters engage in some less sinister mind-to-mind communication. While again (surprise!) we don't have hard evidence of psychic communication on the island, psychic powers do seem to be a strong theme, and communication could well be one of them.. could mind control be?

Finally, there's the cultural and intellectual milieu that this book is set in. One of the witchy types talks only in philosophical and artistic quotes, usually in different languages. One of the great evils of Camazotz is its lack of concern for art and beauty. The black thing threatens to sap the world of these things. Although I think that the conscious cultural reference thing is a parallel with LOST, I maybe resented them in a book intended for kids...I think LOST does it better. The one place where I didn't mind it, was in a quote from the Bible in the final chapter of the book...

"The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, bretheren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." —1 Corinthians 1:25–28

Sigh. Thanks, Bible. Now I am not saying that I think that the Losties are particularly foolish, but I think in a lot of cases they have shown themselves to be less than mighty. And thats a good thing: they might have the world to save from the hands of the mighty, after all.

Finally, this book ties science and magic and religious faith together, without any of them seeming particularly false or contradictory to one another. I think LOST does that too, with equal or exceeding panache, and it is pretty rare these days, so I really value it. Anyways. I think its definitely worth a read, if only because its not very hard and has a few really elegant images of other worlds. Yep. That's that.

I'm currently working on Stranger in a Strange Land. Here's a preview: I think its insidious. We will find out if that is the right word. I'm also trying to read Out of The Silent Planet. They are confusing themselves in my mind. Oh space travel. Adios.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Rainbow Six or Showing My Pinko Colors, for reals.

I think I confused Tom Clancy with John Grisham, and eagerly picked up this book.
Unfortunately, I am not a White, conservative, deeply heterosexual 35-65 year old man interested in paramilitary secret service members of a similar demographic, their guns, their nemeses, and the innocent women and children that they endeavor to save. And I did not completely admit to the error of my ways until I was about 400 pages into a 700 page book. Oh good Lord. Now don't get me wrong, I like morality plays, and I like stories about the world in peril, and I am not really against maintaining social norms, but Rainbow Six rubbed me the wrong way. We'll discuss.
Rainbow Six was seen on the Swan Hatch bookshelf in 2x03-Orientation.
Lostpedia points out that R6 was published in 1998 so could have come in a supply drop.

Rainbow Six chronicles the founding and early missions of an international counterterrorist organization. Conveniently, our heroes are pure-blooded Americans--ok, one of them is Hispanic- with stalwart values. There's an exciting encounter with plane hijackers in the first chapter, but after that the terrorist incidents they deal with seem predictable and relatively small-- a bank holdup, Marxist idealists holding up some rich dudes Castle, Basques or a close approximation thereof holding hostage sick children at pseudo-Euro-Disney, and finally (horror of horrors!) the provisional IRA taking our heroes wives, one of them pregnant no less, hostage at the hospital they work at. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and the good guys always win with maybe one casualty on their side, and plenty of pontificating on the nature of their Very Important Work. Perhaps the best part of this plot line is how quaintly "terrorism" was defined less than a decade ago, and how exciting the start of the internet age is--some time is taken to explain the wonder of "e-mail" and other computer technologies. Aw.

The other plot, which is interwoven with the counterterrorist one, is a bit more interesting and relevant to our show. Some folks, whose identity eventually becomes clear as a major drug company, abduct some homeless dudes and then some young career women and start testing some deadly virus on them. It is sinister and shrouded in mystery, and sort of fun to read. As it turns out, the culprits are planning to release a virus at the Australia(!) Olympics which would eventually wipe out most of the world's human population. It's sort of ingenius, but their motives, again, are sort of cheesy: They want nature to be returned to healthier balance...some of the members of the organization are even...*gasp*..vegans.

The Rainbow group intervenes in the eleventh hour, of course, and literally saves humanity. Not that I'm not grateful, but really, I'd like to think that the implications of mass plague ( as in The Stand) are more interesting than just the threat of it. Interestingly enough, the tip-off comes from a master terrorist named Popov, who had been coordinating the terrorist incidents in the book as a sort of middleman between the world-annihilating corporation and the terrorist groups. When he realizes who he's really working for, he bolts and saves the day. Although he's a sneaky, sly, amoral Russian, a eye-roll worthy stereotype in many respects, ultimately, he knows where to draw the line. And he was probably the one thing in the book I couldn't predict from chapter to chapter.

So what does this have to do with our show? Some looming threat of bio-terrorism on the broadest scale in one form or another, certainly( there's some intimation of this in the Lost Experience, apparently). Along with that comes the balance between the natural world and the encroachment of man: I don't think LOST comes down for either over the other, but they're definitely in some conflict. Then there's the evil of big corporations (which is sort of a relief in the conclusion of this book after the parade of unpopular political separatists who I'd probably side with over whitey in some situations). What I hestitate to say this book shares with LOST is its world-view. It is so simple and black and white. LOST doesn't approach its storytelling in that way, and doesn't present morals without some nuance. That's not to say that there aren't moral extremes on the show, as in Evil Under The Sun, good and evil do exist and are real. But they can't be taken care of by secret services, at least in the conventional sense.

Here's what I think: the book was in the Swan Hatch, and Kelvin Inman was there (he was sort of a cutie). Kelvin was in Sayid's flashback as a member of the American forces in the Gulf War, and tells Desmond that he was a spy, "but left because '...men followed my orders.'" It's unclear how he came to the Island, and its debatable what his true work there was. His arrival, after the first Gulf War, would also be after the Dharma Purge, and the initiative would be defunct. So, was he a true or misguided Dharma-ite, or was he an Other in Dharma clothing? Oof. I don't know, but a military book read by a military dude on an Island whose nature (both regular and super-type) people struggle to retain control over, seems to make some sense.

So that's it. I don't want to talk about it anymore. And like that, it is out of my life. Read it, if you have tons of time or if you don't feel guilty doing some skimming. It could be a much better story in someone else's hands, since the structure of it doesn't completely stink. Or play the video games. They seem to be pretty popular. And I'll get back to reading!


Watership Down: "It's about bunnies."

After much thought, and more thought, and some research, and some semi-absurd surprisingly long discussion, I am still confused about the extent of the relationship between Watership Down and our old trusty show. It's not that I don't think it has to do with LOST- I do think it relates. But just how is another matter...Lostpedia gives some basic points and the LOST Community is doing a book club which very recently put together an in-depth podcast on the bunnies. Check it out! The book first showed up in 1x08-Confidence Man, as Sawyer reads it on the beach. Boone had been reading it on the plane (aw, Boone), and Sawyer took it from his luggage. He's also seen reading it in 3x15: Left Behind. Geez, Sawyer, finish it already.
In the meantime, we've seen plenty of bunnies and bunny books and so forth: the White Rabbit episode, Ben's #8 Bunny, Of Mice+Men, and Alice In Wonderland. So, here goes.

Watership Down is the story of a group of male rabbits who leave their warren to join or form a new warren in a safer place. They're not sure when they set out. They decided to leave on the advice of Fiver, a runtish type with some unexplainable connection to the rest of the natural world. There are some inevitable and interesting hurdles: they spend some time in a spooky new-agey warren,which it turns out, is being provided for, and taken from, by a farmer who lets the warren grow but takes rabbits for food at his leisure by way of a fencing system (hello, electric fence thing). When they get out of that mess, they establish a happy warren on Watership Down, and start making friends with the surrounding wildlife, most notably helping a wounded gull named Kehaar, who in turn will help them. With what? Why with getting does and procreating of course!

The climatic conflict of the book is their infiltration of the Efrafa warren. Efrafa is run by General Woundwort, a rough sort who rules with an Iron Fist, organizing his warren in a military fashion with groups of rabbits who patrol so that no one can get in or out of the warren's lands. The warren is well-provided for and well-guarded, but sort of miserable-some does are unable to have babies (hello, baby theme!) because they are so unhappy, and the Watership Down guys are doing them a service by taking them. So they take some does, by seemingly supernatural means (at least to the Efrafran rabbits): they enlist Kehaar to attack and confuse the Efrafrans and they escape in a boat! Eventually, though, Woundwort follows them back to Watership to retrieve (and punish) his errant does. Our heroes fight him and his thugs off through sheer will and another trick--A dog released from a nearby farm. Then they settle down, a bit worse for the wear, but able to have babies and have a happy, more or less utopian (in a not creepy sense) existence.

So here's the party line, which I think is great in some ways. The Losties are Fiver's gang, they're trying to start a new, better life that is safe. There are differences of personality and of talent within the group as there are in the Downies. Fiver especially, with his intense connection to the natural world (which leads to his premonition about the doom of their previous warren) could be compared to Walt, Desmond, or my favorite candidate, Locke...(since he's most deeply connected to the island, not to the general psychic world). Other rabbits are good leaders (Hazel), good problem-solvers (Blackberry), good strong-armers (Bigwig), etc. They have to learn to work together, and they manage to succeed by making the Right Choices. I can pretty much get behind this.

The general consensus is that The Others are the Efrafans, and Ben is more or less of a Woundwort figure, ruling with an Iron Fist, somewhat militaristically, dispatching his minions at his will, telling them only as much as is necessary, punishing them harshly if they try to leave, and making some of them (like ol' Juliet) just plain miserable and eager to get the hell out. In the end, Woundwort's choice to flex his own military muscle outweighs what's really best for his people, and does him in. Will Ben's?

Ok, I think this works. Or I think it worked pretty darn well, before the events of the last few episodes of Season 3 went down. So I will propose two alternate theories. My first theory, dismissed by my blog colleague to some extent, is that the book was introduced early enough that the extent of the Other's evilness wasn't quite fleshed out. This book expertly hints at the problems of society-building that the Losties were going to encounter in a somewhat general sense (with great nods to breeding, psychic, and supernatural themes and their later importance) but maybe it doesn't predict the show arc, which may not end so simply. Which is fine with me.

My alternate theory is fairly crackpot, but I need to say it because other fans haven't, to my knowledge. I don't think that Ben is like Woundwort, and I don't think that the Others are Efrafa. For one, Ben is a Trickster, not a General..he's vicious, sure, but as of the end of Season 3, I think there's something to his pleas of being the "good guy". For another, it seems like the Others have some higher purpose, and I found Efrafa so depressing because they seemed so regimented and ordered and banal like the real world, which the Others lives don't. Furthermore, the Others more or less initiate contact, not the Losties, just as the Downies, not the Efrafans, are the infiltrators. Its really tough for me to parse out who is who.

And here's where my hypothesis gets screwy: I think if the Others can be tied to anybody, its the farm-fed warren with the inexplicable customs and self-delusion (which is what the Dharma Initiative turned out to be, in a way). The Watership Down warren ends up integrating some members of that warren, some rabbits from the nearby farm, and some of the Efrafans, who all bind together to defeat Woundwort. Just as I think the Losties are in the process of binding together with nominal Dharma-ites (Desmond), and Others like Juliet, Alex and Carl, and seeming foreigners to both groups like Danielle (who's been compared to Keehar)...against some Big Bad who is bigger, a lot bigger, as in the whole world bigger, than Ben. SO...I think its Widmore and Co. But I am pretty big on this Corporations are the Bad Guy thread of Lost. So ....There you have it. They're up against The Man.

So what about the storytelling? Glad you asked! What I loved most about Watership Down was not the society-building, but the importance of stories both as history and as religion. W.D. has interludes of El-ahrairah, legends of the trickster rabbit who all living rabbits looks up to. The book is careful to make note of the different ways these stories are told in different warrens as indicators of how they operate, and also to make clear their continued relevance to the values and actions of the Downs warren. The ending of the book is by far my favorite part. Our heroes hear their stories being told to baby rabbits, with a little exaggeration, as legends of the rabbit god...and in the very end, Hazel, the chief rabbit, old and content, hops off into the bunny afterlife without a great deal of fanfare.

Also, Richard Adams lays bare the importance of Watership Down as a social allegory and as influenced by other stories of society building, by way of quotes from philosophers, Shakespeare, Robin Hood, and so on.

At the risk of sounding way too entranced with Lost (who, me?) I think it has a similar reverence for the value of storytelling as a transmitter of values and of history, since LOST itself is very complicated storytelling with an important in-show mythology! Like Watership Down, too, it makes clear its debt to other stories and societal ideas by naming them or showing them--By featuring what Sawyer reads, it reminds us what it owes to other stories, and what maybe someday other stories will someday owe to it.

Next up: Rainbow Six (ugh) and A Wrinkle in Time (hm). Hooray!


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Moon Pool

This is the book when I realized I was going to see Lost everywhere I looked. The Moon Pool itself has never been on the show, but people think that constant mentions of the moon pool -aka submarine dock- in the Looking Glass Hatch might be a reference to this classic early science fiction novel. Me, I'm not sure, but it was interesting anyway.

MP is a classic pulp science fiction adventure story from 1918 (Project Gutenberg has it). Basically, it's about this mysterious island and the people stealing monster it contains. Unlike our monster, this one is made of pure, shining moonlight. "The Dweller" or "The Shining One" steals people to feed off their emotions, and holds them captive thrall forever. The monster comes with an eerie cysteine tinkling sound, and when someones sees it their face contorts with "utter agony and utter ecstasy".

The story follows a very international little group, drawn to the island for different reasons. The main character, Doctor Walt Goodwin (spooky) is trying to find his old friend, who has been taken. He is joined by adventurous Irishman Larry, a Norwegian looking for his wife and child, and a evil Russian looking to harness the monster for his own sinister purposes.

So far it's very Lost, right? Well, I'm sorry to report that once they get to the Island, we break pretty hard with the show (at least as far as we've seen). On the island they find an ancient lost civilization, and the story gets really tangled in the technologies and politics of this world. And dwarfs and frog people. The plot is pretty standard science fiction stuff about two races, one dominant, lead by an evil priestess. The priestess and her ilk worship the shining one, the good people (including beautiful handmaiden Lakla) worship and older trinity called "The Silent Ones". Eventually there's an epic battle I'll talk about after I stop and explain some things.

There's some character alignments that are pretty eerie, although it might just be that everybody's using the same archetypes. The Irish guy, Larry, is a wisecracking, nick-naming, adventurous ne'er-do-well who's always clutching his pistol. He's the past's more innocent version of Sawyer. The Doctor is very Jack: earnest, brave, and constantly pointing out that he believes in science, not supernatural crap. Larry falls hard for native lady Lakla, and they hook up while the Doc looks on pathetically. The friend Doc is going after? His name is Throckemartin, called Throcke, and he chides the doctor for his inability to believe in higher power, or the unexplainable.

Back to the plot. It turns out that The Shining One was actually made by The Silent Ones. They're remnants of an ancient race, who believed that they had grown so wise that they could create powerful life. But this belief was prideful, and their pride infected their creation, and it became warped. It fed off negative emotions, and grew stronger. First they made sacrifices to it, but it's gotten out of control and started taking people. The evil priestess (and the evil Russian) are going to try to use the monster to take over the whole world, so its time for an epic battle between good and evil. The Shining Ones tell Larry that the only way to stop the monster is with great sacrifice. Larry and Lakla will have to throw themselves into the Shining One, and the force of their love and purity of their sacrifice will kill it. They choose to do this.

Except for no good reason, it doesn't kill them, just the monster. It dies, and its thousands of captives fall : "no longer dead-alive, now all of the blessed dead, freed from their dreadful slavery!" Yay. Larry and Lakla decide to hang around and help rebuild her society, and the Doc seems inclined to do the same, but all of a sudden the Russian (suddenly back from the presumed dead) knocks him out, and he wakes up locked out, with no way back in. Everything that was is covered by the sea. "There was no road to Larry- or to Lakla! And there, for me, the world ended." Poor lil' dude.

I have to say I see parallels. Or at least potential parallels. The show hasn't gotten close enough to the question of what the monster actually is, let alone the ancient lost civilization that the ruins have hinted at, for me to have anything but a feeling that this seems relevant. And the mix of ancient power and modern greed is very Lost. The idea of the captive dead fits for me too, depending on your interpretation of the way the whispers and visions work. It's interesting to consider the monster as a being that feeds off negative emotions and is rebuffed by positive ones, although I hope Lost could be a little subtler about it. Reading this book made me reconsider the importance of our monster, who's been lurking in the background lately. I wonder if the end of the show could include a similar final showdown with the monster, possibly including a parallel noble sacrifice.

I recommend this book if you like science fiction, especially older stuff. Anyone else is probably going to get bogged down in the middle. I think there's a lot that connects to Lost here, but I genuinely can't decide whether it's intentional, or if its just because they're both working from the same stack of sci-fi tropes and character archetypes. Either way, it's a good excuse to read some melodramatic pulp adventure, and I say take it.