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Excerpt from Chapter One: Lost Reading And Viewing from Lost's Buried Treasures
IS THERE AN (ANCESTOR) TEXT ON THIS ISLAND?
Even before the library in the Swan hatch, entered for the first time in "Man of Science, Man of Faith" (2.1, the initial episode of Season Two), and that Bible Mr. Eko finds in the Arrow hatch, the one the Tailies stumble upon in "...and Found" (2.5), made Mystery Island more bookish, tomes were common enough on Lost - not as common as miniature liquor bottles, but not exactly rare either.
Throughout Season One, we find the unlikely avid reader Sawyer page-turning a variety of books, from Richard Adams' Watership Down (a book he re-reads in "Left Behind," 3.15) to Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. In Season Two, he continues to read from his word horde: Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and Walker Percy's Lancelot. In the Swan even more books have screen time: James' The Turn of the Screw, Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and, most notoriously, O'Brien's The Third Policeman, an obscure Irish novel that became a surprise bestseller due to its unintentional product placement cameo. And speaking of product placement, in "The Long Con" (2.13) we find Hurley reading the manuscript of Bad Twin, a Lost tie-in novel written by the late Oceanic 815 passenger Gary Troup, later released by Hyperion, the publisher of official Lost books. Season Three continued to be bookish. The opening scene of the first episode ("A Tale of Two Cities," 3.1) shows a book club - the assigned book Stephen King's Carrie. Later, in"Every Man for Himself" (3.4), Ben evokes Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in his humbling of Sawyer, and in "Not in Portland" (3.7), Aldo is seen reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.
To paraphrase a question literary critic Stanley Fish once famously asked in the title of a book: "Is there a text on this island?" Many, many texts is the answer. Astonishingly, given that Lost is the story of the aftermath of a plane crash, not a single John Grisham novel has been found.
Not all the "texts" are literary, of course. Cinema ancestors - disaster films, Cast Away, Jurassic Park - and television series - The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilligan's Island, Survivor, The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, The X-Files - have all influenced Lost's themes, its mise-en-scene, its characterization, its narrative style. The postmodern, as Umberto Eco has noted, is the age of the "already said." Books, films, and television have all had their say on Lost.
Each time a new Lost text opens for perusal, the fans go wild and speculation runs rampant as the Lost-fixated begin to read, backward and forward, an extraordinarily complex, still unfolding, still entangling narrative. The threads of a text, a "kind of halfway house between past and future," the critic Wolfgang Iser would write, always exist in "a state of suspended validity" (370), and such threads are particularly well-suited for today's avidly conjecturing, anxious to conspire "fan-scholar."
"Quality" television series, according to Robert Thompson's authoritative delineation, are "literary and writer-based" (15), and most readily, proudly, acknowledge their ancestors and their influences. When Twin Peaks' Black Lodge turned out to be in Glastonbury Grove and Windom Earle and Leo Johnson cozied up in their Verdant Bower, the Arthurian legends and Spenser's Faerie Queene were born again in a new medium. When Tony Soprano sobbed uncontrollably at the ministrations of Tom Powers' loving mother in Public Enemy (as seen on TV), televised and filmic mobsters became brothers in the same gang - and genre.
Books, film, music, television, as well as other manifestations of both low and high culture - to borrow the witty formulation of film scholar Robert Stam - are governed by the same principle as sexually transmitted diseases. To have sex with another is to have had sex with all of his or her other sexual partners, and every "text" - every new novel or short story, song, or movie, or television series - is far from innocent; each potentially carries the "contagion" of every other text it, and its creators, have "slept with."
Lost is highly promiscuous, sleeping around with a wide variety of textual "partners." We divide these partners, one form of buried treasures, into three sections: Books on the Island considers texts which have actually put in an appearance on/in the beach, the hatches, the barracks. Ancestor Texts offers accounts of Lost's literary predecessors. Must-See TV and Movies provides a guide to the series' film and television ancestors.
Books on the Island
After All These Years - Susan Isaac's 2004 novel is one of several books Sawyer reads while convalescing in the Swan in "Everybody Hates Hugo" (2.4). It concerns Rosie Meyers, a Long Island English teacher suspected of murdering her husband on their 25th wedding anniversary after she learns he has deserted her for a younger woman. Escaping the authorities, she sets out to discover the real killer.
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret - When caught reading Judy Blume's novel Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret ("The Whole Truth," 2.16), Sawyer downplays his interest in the preteen drama by calling it "predictable" and with "not nearly enough sex." Though Margaret is often referred to as the quintessential teen novel, with its focus on the title character's experiences with menstruation and buying her first bra, the novel is just as much about struggling with spiritual development. Margaret grows up with a mixed religious heritage - one Christian and one Jewish parent - and the novel follows her efforts to come to grips with her own beliefs. Menstruation and training bras aside, it is a story of religious quest.
Though Sawyer belittles the book for its lack of sex, Margaret is (according to the American Library Association) among the top 100 frequently challenged books in libraries because of its frank treatment of sexuality and religion. Needless to say, it is certainly more than a simple, pre-teen drama.
Lost often delves into the importance of faith, of good vs. evil, of scientific vs. spiritual. Like Margaret, the Losties have trouble deciding if they buy into spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and, like Margaret, they receive many mixed messages about faith - at once bringing people back from the dead and pitilessly killing off members of the group.
Perhaps it would seem more fitting for a character like Locke, who frequently stresses the importance of faith and, even more frequently as of late, battles with his own ability to believe in the island's spiritual properties, to be seeking answers in Judy Blume. Perhaps Margaret would have taught him that it's okay to not be sure about every facet of spiritual experience - that it's okay to question a higher power.
Instead, it is Sawyer, the island's resident literati and bad-boy, who finds himself reading the coming-of-age novel, who has not yet had much affiliation with the island's spiritual properties, though he often struggles to find a balance between what is right and wrong. Even more, Sawyer's proclamation that the novel doesn't have enough sex further brands him as the most hormonally driven of the Lost-clan (he is the one, after all, who regularly engages in extra-marital sexual activity - with Ana Lucia and Kate - on the island).
When Margaret and her friends are desperate to increase their bra size, they chant, "I must, I must, I must increase my bust," a catch-phrase that has surely raised the eyebrows of overprotective mothers across the world. But to Sawyer, of all people, Margaret's spiritual journey is predictable and the book's lustfactor dismal. - Sarah Caitlin Lavery