Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lions and Aliens and Christians, Oh My!: C.S. Lewis Kicks Butt.

I am working my way through finishing C.S. Lewis's book-length works.
C.S. Lewis has been in my blood for a decade, both because he is a great storyteller and a pretty darn well-reasoned spokesperson for Orthodox Christianity. But what does that have to do with LOST? Well... In both the Chronicles of Narnia and the Ransom trilogy (which I'll be talking about), a great mythological world that seems, in some ways,very unlike our own, teaches Christian morality and belief in action without reducing it to 10 commandments or a Golden Rule. It's harder to pin that sort of thing down on Lost and it definitely has less of a clear message about what the "right thing to do" is, but I think there are some interesting points of contacts nonetheless. Let's dive in....

The Ransom Trilogy makes the most sense. In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom travels to Mars, meets and befriends its fauna, and gets to know about the way God (who in this case is pretty Christian) works on other planets. But not in a hokey "everything is like Earth" way, but rather in a "Maybe Earth is a little bit less in tune with God than other planets"...which actually in some way or another, seems to be a pretty loud tune in SF. In the second book Perelandra, Ransom is charged with the duty of protecting Venus's ethereal Adam and Eve from their own Fall. He is successful, and Venus looks like its shaping up to be a very different world than fallen Earth.

But the most relevant book, and the last, That Hideous Strength, takes place right here on Earth. That Hideous Strength finds Ransom back on earth, preparing to manage an interplanetary response to the threat of apocalypse. The devil's arrival, it seems, is about to come at the hands of overeager scientists and academics who really messing with the natural order, some knowingly and some because of their own ignorance and disconnectedness from the real world. They are a pretty nasty bunch of academics, lets say. Eventually, albeit briefly, Ransom gets Merlin on his side and calls down the gods (from their corresponding planets) to foil their plans. Merlin and the gods as ancient magic are neutral, so its okay that the Christian heroes co-opt them. Which, needless to say, I love, since it takes a big man (LEWIS!) to really celebrate the reality of non-Christian elements being important in the Christian tradition....

Which, to come back to LOST , seems apt in a world where Christian(Eko of course, and others by way of their virtues...and by allusion in the show) and Pagan(The Island) have to put down their own suspicions of each other to fight something more evil than they seem to each other. At least I hope that's what is going to have to happen with the Losties and the Others. Yep. And maybe it goes with my continuing feeling that Dharma really wasn't up to any good, and the purge might have actually been justified. Although I don't think Clive Staples would have been on board with that. Anyways, the point that those who are calling the shots aren't always the good guys and make it hard sometimes for you to see how bad they are, is an important one.
But in the end, in the very end, someone good is going to call the shots. Kapish? Hm. Just read it.

Narnia is a little bit less clear, since it is, after all, a children's story. Since it is in another time-space... and Carlton has said something to that effect. I felt a connection most seriously in "The Man Behind The Curtain" actually. In The Last Battle there is a False-Aslan (a donkey put in an Aslan suit by a tricksy monkey, seriously) which people are mistakenly worshiping, and Narnia is falling apart. People who believe in him are wrong, people who don't believe in him decide not to believe in Aslan at all, the southern people who believe in Tash instead of Aslan (thinly veiled Muslims) are arguing about his meaning....and Aslan is nowhere to be found.
Plus the Monkey cultivates everyone's reverence for the False Aslan by way of smoke and mirrors and complicated ritual, which real Aslan didn't need.

So when Ben was getting all up in Locke's face being like "I'm going to take you to see Jacob" and everyone was all "ooh Jacob! We've never seen him but we here he's pretty great," I was pretty skeptical about him--I know Wizard of Oz came first but if Jacob is the Island/the Island God/imaginary or false Island-God or what have you, he has a lot more in common with Aslan/False-Aslan than with little Mr. Marvel. But we saw Jacob...right? I'm not ready to believe Jacob is what people think he is, or if he is, Darlton and Co. did a pretty good making it hard to tell what he is. It's not a one-one correlation,but The Last Battle does focus on what the Followers think and do with regards to their Leader as much as on what that leader is. And isn't that we've been watching the Others do for the last season?

Well--I know I haven't done justice to my favorite guy in the world, so, seriously, read his books.
He balances myth-making and very serious meaning really really well. Sort of like LOST!

What's coming up?
Well--I guess I took a little break to read comics. Our Mutual Friend and The Fountainhead are still being slogged through, and I'm reading the Time Quartet, and school is starting! But we've got a bunch of hiatus to go, and plenty of books to read, both long and short and Stephen King-y.
Plus we've started The Prisoner. So creepy. So...
Be Seein' You!


In which everything turns to a mush in my head, or what Jack should learn from Buffy

This isn't about any book specifically, it's just random rambling on my part. Spoilers for all Harry Potter and Buffy (and Star Wars, but that seems ridiculous). So as I've been totally reabsorbed by Harry Potter, Emilia and I have been working out way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it got me thinking about the importance and awesomeness of "the trio". Which got me wondering about whether other trios can give us any hints about how things might work out for Lost's main triangle. So let's take a moment to ignore all the other characters and focus on Jack, Kate and Sawyer. Just pretend it's the start of Season 3. Jump with me, won't you?

Seems to me there are two basic structures, with Harry Potter and Buffy in one camp and Lost and Star Wars in the other. Harry, Ron, and Hermione square up eerily well with Buffy, Xander, and Willow, as the brave, whiny, and burdened by destiny hero, the loyal, earnest dork, and the clever, insecure and socially awkward brain. Lost's big three of Jack, Kate, and Sawyer line up with Luke, Leia, and Han Solo as the earnest, whiny, daddy-issues hero, the tough, ballsy heroine, and the scoundrel with a heart of gold.

Now I do have a couple of actual points here, besides that archetypes are fun. First and most personal, why is it that the hero always seems to have issues with being a little whiney-pants? Dear to my heart as all these stories are, there are moments in all of them when I find myself yelling at the screen (or book) for the hero to shut up already. I guess it’s sort of the problem with being the hero: it really is all about you, and at some points that's a real burden. There are times when you just gotta deal with that by yelling at your friends for no reason (Harry), running away and being a waitress (Buffy), straight up ignoring Yoda (Luke) or some good ol' crying in the jungle (Jack). The good news is, by the end of the three finished stories, Harry, Buffy, and Luke have all pulled it together to the point where they are (usually) able to focus calmly on the mission, drawing on the strength of their friends and family, and act as brave and selfless leaders. Jack has a ways to go on every front.

Ok, the next, sort of counter-intuitive thing I notice is that the hero hardly ever gets the girl (or guy). It seems that in all four examples, romance within the trio is between the two seconds, not the hero and a second. All of them have false starts, misleads or confusion in the other direction. Xander likes Buffy, Luke is entranced by Leia, Jack loves Kate, and Harry and Hermione….well I don't see it, but there are enough mixed signals to start a huge shipping war lots of 13-year-old girls still have internet scars from. But none of those couples get farther then a kiss- the real chemistry and balance was in a hero-less pairing.

Of course, if you watch Buffy you know that Willow and Xander didn't work out either, but they had a real, if screwed-up, romance (you have to give Buffy some leeway. Unlike the other three stories I'm talking about, Buffy was never planned out farther than a season or two ahead, and the constant need for drama frequently eats through long-term story satisfaction. We are talking, after all, about a show that suddenly decided in season four that Willow was a lesbian). And I'm sure that our Lost triangle is (groan) far from resolved. But if Ron/Hermione and Han/Leia are any clue, bet on the couple that bickers.

Something else I notice about the three finished stories is that by the end, the hero has to face death in a very clear, conclusive way. Harry, Buffy, and Luke step willingly, defenses down, into the arms of certain death. In DH, Harry accepts that he will have to sacrifice himself, faces Voldemort wandless, and dies. Buffy has the distinction of dying twice, first in season one when she faces her prophesied doom at the hands of the Master, and more certainly at the end of season five when she dives into a dimensional portal to save her little sister (and the world). At the end of Jedi, Luke presents himself to Vader, and goes willingly into the Death Star (I love George Lucas, but subtle he's not), fully expecting to die.

I'm not saying Jack will die- all the characters I just named are smiling contentedly as the credits roll on their stories. I'm also not sure that I'm right about the way the triangle will play out. I'm just guessing about the way this will work, but it seems clear to me that the three finished stories point in particular direction, especially for Jack.

If Jack is going to step up and be the hero of the story, he's gonna need to get in line with the hero path. First, he should stop pushing people away and bogging down in his own shit. Less Order of the Phoenix all-caps Harry, season two sad Buffy, whinny can't lift the X-wing Luke. Be the leader and the hero, stop letting your problems push you away from the people you need. Second, he's gonna need to step fully out of the way of Kate and Sawyer. However that plays out, it's not about him, and him staying in the picture is dragging everyone down. Finally, there is going to come a time when Jack's going to need to step between his people and death, and he'd better be ready for it. And I'm not talking "I'll get off the island and come back for you guys" sacrifice. If the other stories are any guide, our Doc's gonna have to accept death with open arms. I really hope he's up for that.

Ok, coming up next, a Jurassic Park post. Also, someday we'll blog about old BBC show The Prisoner, which based on the pilot is basically Lost, but with funny jackets and an evil balloon. Don't laugh, it's totally terrifying.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon: the best book title ever

Dear Stephen King,

I love you. Have you heard? I love that you do not require me to make a commitment to a world outside of my own understanding, let me read a book in a few days, and manage to set stories in a very specific time by mentioning such cultural identifiers as Surge soda and Tubthumping, and that you don't require me to be a devoted fan to have a lot of fun with any individual book.

I really love The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, a short novel about a 9 year old girl who gets lost on the Appalachian trail. She strays from her mother and brother's bickering for a moment, and ends up having to fend for herself in the wilderness for quite a long time, to the tune of a few weeks. She hikes and falls, tries to sleep, wades through pretty large marshes, makes wrong turns that take her to Canada, and has a prolonged vomiting and other bodily emissions spell as her body adjusts to its primitive diet of nuts, berries, raw fish, and dirty stream water. Eventually, hallucinating like crazy, she finds her way to a forest road, she confronts the fear that has been chasing her through the woods, and a hunter finds her and takes her to the hospital. Although he's interested in putting her through a lot of pain, King is interested in letting the girl die... but in how she manages to live.

Although the book isn't mentioned or read in Lost, it was featured on a Lostpedia Stephen King connections list, and with good reason. The whole scenario of being thrown off the beaten path and surviving on your wits has been played with on Lost--There was plenty of survival questions being asked in Season 1 that the introduction of the Hatch sort of diverted us from.
Remember the good old days of Locke skinning boars (and the camera dwelling on it for long periods of time). Of Charlie trying to catch a fish to impress Shannon? Remember when everyone would sit around the fire and talk and the montage-y music would play and the camera would pan out to the stars? Sigh.

In The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, survival doesn't depend on society..the only other person out there is an hallucination. Trisha has her Walkman with her, and is able to tune in to Boston Red Sox games for a few days before the batteries run out. Tom Gordon, the relief pitcher, is her hero--she wears a Red Sox hat and his jersey while in the woods. She talks to him, and sees him with her every so often, and he keeps guiding her through the woods when she feels like giving up. Along with this good spirit, she also senses (and King hints spookily at) another, malevolent, presence, whom she decides is "The God of the Lost," who basically wants to get her and tear into tiny pieces. These visions, like those on LOST, serve a clear (albiet spooky purpose for the seer. Furthermore: both good and evil in the supernatural--since we don't know what is good and evil on LOST at this point, I'm going to make a guess that things like the Smoke Monster and Jacob are a little bit of both. There's even the slightest hint of a yearning for God: Trisha thinks back to her father's belief in "the subaudible", the spiritual essence in everything, and gets mad. The Subaudible isn't going to help you when you're lost in the woods for days on end--she needs real protection and more importantly, strength, and in Tom Gordon she gets it.
I guess it might be nice to mention, too, that King doesn't go very big in making up mythologies and supernatural stuff for this book (which I think makes it sort of unique for his work?)...which makes it kind of like Lost, in that its just enough to whet your whistle.

So basically it's great, there's survivalism, cultural context, good and evil, and a little yearning for divine protection. Thanks Stephen King! So what else is on our plate: I'm going to report on the Ransom trilogy (I just finished it! Yay!!), Aurora's still going to talk about trios and Harry Potter and other nerd things, and she's slogging through The Fountainhead while I slog through Our Mutual Friend. But as she pointed out recently, we've got 7 months to go. We've got plenty of time to get through lots more books.

A couple of tidbits, survivalism+Lost related.
I read a piece about Jeffrey Lieber, who gets created by credits, but envisioned the show as way more just about survivalist, Lord of the Flies type stuff. The article is a little whiny, but interesting. I Love The Monster, so...I can't be too sad he wasn't kept on.

ALSO: Yesterday I found out the Terry O'Quinn is from Newberry, Michigan!!! This explains so much! I've been there a few times. It's in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, near Lake Superior, pretty far from much of anything, especially in the Very Very Snowy Winter. It's not hard to see how he could have some seriously engrained experience with big,scary woods and basic survival skills up there. As if it weren't already big enough, my love for him grows and grows. How could it not?... Bye!


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Island: Will Tantric Yoga save the world?

This is a tough one. Aldous Huxley's Island than a little bit pontificating, so its going to be sort of hard to talk about it as though it had a plot. But it's definitely food for Lost thought. isn't excellent--it's kind of manifesto-ish and moreThe novel is set on the Southeast Asian island of Pala, which is the namesake of the "Pala Ferry" mentioned in the Pearl Station Orientation video and the General Orientation video in Ben's flashback. Its unused dock is where Michael's boat takes off from (and where Jack, Kate and Sawyer are bound, gagged and hooded) at the end of Season 2, and where Sayid and Co. dock their boat at the beginning of Season 3. Still, even with all the action going on around it, (surprise, surprise) it's not entirely clear what the Pala Ferry seems to have taken Dharma members from station to station and possibly from island to island.

Aldous Huxley's Pala is a little bit more clearly defined. The book serves as a corrective to the dreary distopia of Brave New World by presenting a working utopia that benefits from a synthesis of western science (especially medicine) and eastern spirituality (especially Buddhism). We learn about Pala from its inhabitants alongside a British journalist who has been sent there to scope out its oil resources for his boss (hello Widmore?) but who ends up getting pretty enthralled by what the Island has to offer. What is that exactly? Aside from the initial thrill of learning how much the Island inhabitants value tantric yoga, there are also carefully administered magic mushrooms, Mutual Adoption Clubs where children aren't tied to one set of parents for their whole childhood, and shared communal duties, both physical and intellectual, which strengthen all of the society...there's a really nice little jab at Western intellectuals who study one thing to the exclusion of others and become gross little blobs instead of whole people.

Of course there's a little bit of conflict thrown in for good measure...the soon-to-be rightful ruler (of a ruling family that had control over the island since before this utopian period) and his over-bearing mother, aware of the money they can get from selling off Pala's lucrative oil reserves, are about to really ruin things by cutting a deal with a nearby island that has westernized too fast, leaving a huge gap between the haves and have nots. Having something like this to be in opposition to makes the smooth functioning of Pala all the more appealing.

This could be a really great story, I think, but as it stands, it reads more as Huxley's own musings on the ideal society. And do I put this? I am a little skeptical. And not only because the book was constantly proposing Buddhism-based alternatives to Western Christian attitudes about the way society should be. I will digress here: it is a noble effort for someone, like Huxley, so concerned with the problems of Western civilization, to offer an alternative, but the fact remains that he is a Western thinker and can't completely explain or understand Buddhism. Anyways, I'm skeptical because I think that any working utopia is going to seem a bit far-fetched. It requires too many people to be in sync with each other, or else it has to be so self-contained (as in the case of this island), that it hardly seems like a viable solution for the rest of the world. Which I guess is okay, if a little sad. Plus, dystopias are just so much more fun!

In the end, Pala's new ruler sells the place out for that all too-tempting oil money which he can use to buy himself happiness, by way of material posessions (like scooters purchased from catalogs). Although I hadn't bought into the Pala utopia wholesale, it's easy to see how depressing it is to give up a mellow and equitable society for industrialization, pollution, and gross economic disparities. But the ending of the book seems to suggest that, though the society was destroyed, it lingered in the hearts and minds of its adherents nonetheless.

So where's Lost in this? The Palan establishment is probably just a teensy bit like Dharma, which has ideals and goals that are intellectual, spiritual, and community-building in nature. Admittedly, its not working as well as Pala was (with folks like Roger assigned to one duty that just pissed them off), but maybe the name was chosen in a spirit of high hopes bythe Dharma Initiative.

Then there's the threat of big oil spoiling the fun. Although it doesn't seem like its going to be Big Oil, the corporations who are threatening to ruin the Lost Island(s) seem to want something, and maybe want to send others in to do it for them. I think its entirely probable that some of the Losties could be unwitting pawns for the Bad Guys who are also capable of being turned to the preferability of Island Life (like the reporter character in Island). At the same time, somebody had an inside man (a native son like Pala's ruler) in Dharma once: Ben. Although of course, the Hostiles were around before Dharma was...nonetheless, the crossing paths of the outsiders accepting a society that they were originally sent to hate, and of the natives betraying it are an important part of the big Lost Puzzle.

All that said, I think it's time to admit that the Others/Dharma/Hostiles/Natives jumble has gotten me so mixed up that the more times I allude to it, the less I know what I'm talking about.
Recently Aurora pointed out to me that I was operating on the assumption that the Hostiles (specifically Richard Alpert) were the good guys. And I said oh yeah, he is pretty evil, and I was embarrassed. But really, I think that the "special properties" of the Island have been protected by something good(?) for some time (as in centuries)...does that mean that there's been a bad around all this time too? Oh, man, I cannot wait for some of the Island mythology. If only for the simple fact that I could chase it around in my head for weeks and never get anywhere on my own.

Finally, in fun Huxley facts from Wikipedia, this was Huxley's last book, written after he was diagnosed with cancer. Near to death, he asked his wife to inject him with LSD, which much like the magic mushrooms in Island, eased his mind in his dying moments. His death got little public mention, though, as he died on the same day as President Kennedy and...get this..C.S. Lewis!
I love C.S. Lewis.

On that note, adios. I'll be dropping by for a short post on The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon soonish. I've started Our Mutual Friend (oof!) and want to finish the RansomTrilogy and talk Lewis a bit. Aurora should be doing a bit on literary and cultural threesomes (um?) and what they can tell us about looking at Jack/Kate/Sawyer. I for one, am looking forward to it.