While most students, staff, and faculty are preparing and/or cramming for Finals Week here at JSRCC, there is currently an even more epic struggle unfolding on television. The final season of LOST is playing out on millions of screens across the world and, as it does, fans in online communities theorize over the meaning of the island’s mysteries and the intertwined lives of its inhabitants. Will the Smoke Monster succeed in his plan to escape his bonds on the Island? Will the Losties manage to survive the showdown and ultimately realize their destiny? Is the fate of humanity as we know it hanging in the balance? How can I possibly concentrate on my studies when these questions are being answered at 9pm every Tuesday?
Now I know what you’re thinking. Is a librarian really advocating for a television show rather than fighting the good fight for books and literacy? The answer is this: I’m doing both. The intricate themes, in-depth character development, and complex plot construction on LOST have been praised by critics and audiences alike as some of the best writing ever seen on television. Many fans attribute this phenomenon not only to the talents of the writers tasked with the job, but furthermore to the very literariness of the show itself.
Hardcore LOST fans have identified over ninety works of literature referenced within the show. Some of these books can be found strategically placed in the background of a scene, others are conspicuously read by characters, and many have direct connections to the overarching themes found within the show.
Here are just a few of the titles:
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
In this Civil War-era short story, a man waits to be hanged at the titular bridge by two soldiers. In the moments before the man’s death, time seems to distort and slow down, and he considers the possibility of escape if the rope were to snap. The reader is drawn into the man’s past by way of a flashback that is eventually broken by the snapping rope and the man’s apparent escape. He makes his way back to his wife and attempts to embrace her, but before he can, he is enveloped in a blinding white light. In the end, the man is revealed dead at the end of his noose, all of the action having taken place in his mind in the mere seconds before his death.
Is everything occurring on the island simply a hallucinatory dream? Are the Losties themselves already dead? Theories abound folks!
Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
The collection’s stories are generally in the style of O’Connor’s Southern Gothic, portraying grotesque characters and problematised familial relationships. Furthermore, they function as an examination of the role of religion in the internal and interpersonal lives of her characters. These are, of course, major tropes in the Lost series. Jacob, the seemingly omnipresent “protector” of the island is seen reading this book just as John Locke falls to his possible death from a hospital window. The title of the story collection is taken from a work by the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard De Chardin titled the “Omega Point”: “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
An allegory in the form of a novel, Lord of the Flies details the struggle of a group of schoolboys to establish a stable society after being stranded on an island. Before long, their makeshift world self-destructs and the savage side of human nature overshadows reason, accountability and human empathy. The central conflict in the book is the growing ideological gap between Ralph, the rational and moral leader who wants to establish order, and Jack, who demands a hedonistic, animalistic anarchy. The book is referenced a number of times throughout the series and shares a number of LOST themes including the ideological struggle between the Man in Black and Jacob, an unseen amorphous monster, and the premonitory power of dreams and visions.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Set during WWII, Catch 22 was written by Heller as a satirical take on both the complexity and absurdity of conflict. A significant aspect of the novel is its structure. The plot is cyclical and non-linear in design, made up of flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. In fact, there is no clear distinction between what is happening in “real-time” and what has already happened in the past. In many ways, Heller suggests that events in the present, past, and future are deeply interconnected in ways that are not often easy to see. Catch 22 can be seen in at least two LOST episodes, but its narrative structure mirrors the show’s proclivity for flashbacks, flashforwards, and even flashsideways. Oftentimes the audience is left to decipher what is happening to who and when. Heller’s focus on conflict mirrors the struggles of the Losties, their collective histories, and ultimately their connected destinies.
As LOST’s Man in Black says, “They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.”
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
This novella is set in California during the Depression and focuses on the friendship shared between two men; George, a practical yet sensitive protagonist and Lennie, a mentally disabled but physically strong companion. The two men find themselves employed at a ranch, where they run into trouble as a result of Lennie’s slow wit, but continue to dream of a harmonious life unencumbered by the complexities of modern reality. The work is largely critical of dreams in general, as they function only as a temporary escape from the problems of the real. Steinbeck’s themes of fate, independence, and loneliness are on display in this work and mirror the Losties’ own evolution as characters who appear destined to reach their destination together, whether they want to or not. Furthermore, the two seemingly co-existing realities depicted in LOST’s final season suggest that one reality is simply not real. If you could choose to exist in reality or in a dream that wasn’t real, which would you choose? Perhaps the Losties will face a similar decision when they confront their destiny.
As a reminder, all of the aforementioned books are available here, at your beloved JSRCC Library. If you’re interested, look them up in our online catalog, or simply ask your nearest library associate. And remember, there are plenty of good shows to “read” out there in televisionland, but the book is always better.