Monday, March 31, 2008

Each One of Us Was Brought Here For a Reason . . .

Bet you thought I just felt like quoting Locke from back when he was cool, but no, this is my attempts to link LOST to the second book in C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, Perelandra.

Perelandra picks up after Ransom, Weston and Devine return to Earth from Malacandra, or as we call it, Mars. Interestingly, Lewis himself is a character in the book. He participates in sending Ransom at the behest of the Mars chief Oyarsa to Perelandra, or as we know it Venus. Issues of fate, free will, determinism and relative morality all play major parts in this re-imagining of the Eden story. Many of those things remind me (okay, everything reminds me) of LOST.

At first it seems that who we are, why we are chosen for something is not important. Ransom explains to Lewis:

"Don't imagine I've been selected to go to Perelandra because I'm anyone in particular. One never can see, or not till long afterwards, why any one was selected for any job. And when one does, it is usually some reason that leaves no room for vanity. Certainly, it is never for what the man himself would have regarded as his chief qualifications."

p. 22

But once Ransom arrived on Perelandra, that feeling seems to change. "It was strange that the utter loneliness through all these hours had not troubled him so much as one night of it on Malacandra. He thought the difference lay in this, that mere chance, or what he took for chance, had turned him adrift in Mars, but here he knew that he was part of a plan. He was no longer unattached, no longer on the outside." p. 44 Sounds very Season 1 Locke.

Finally, Ransom's fate becomes vitally important. But first a little explanation. At this point in the story, Ransom realizes he has been brought to Perelandra to prevent the Venutian Eve from falling prey to the temptation of the Devil-possessed Weston. Ransom finds that he must step in the void left by the absence of the Venutian Adam even if it means attempting the impossible which could very likely lead to his death far from home.

Ransom argues with himself.

"The whole distinction between things accidental and things designed, like the distinction between fact and myth, was purely terrestrial. The pattern is so large that within the little frame of early experience there appear pieces of it between which we can see no connection, and other pieces between which we can. Hence we rightly, for our use, distinguish the accidental from the essential. But step outside that frame and the distinction drops down into the void, fluttering useless wings. He had been forced out of the frame, caught up into the larger pattern. He knew now why the old philosophers had said that there is no such thing as chance or fortune beyond the Moon. Before his Mother had born him, before his ancestors had been called Ransoms, before ransom had been the name for a payment that delivers, before the world was made, all these things had so stood together in eternity that the very significance of the pattern at this point lay in their coming together in just this fashion. And he bowed his head and groaned and repined against his fate . . ."

p. 125

As you may be able to gather, Ransom the man finds himself in a position to serve as a ransom payment for the entire planet Venus. Quirky naming coincidence?

Nevertheless Ransom still has free will to reject this fate, but in doing so he recognizes: "If he now failed, this world also would hereafter be redeemed. If he were not the ransom, Another would be." p. 126 In other words, the Universe would course correct or Ransom could embrace his fate and if he succeeded it wouldn't need to. [This makes me conclude that Desmond could propose to Penny in 1996 without the world ending. I think the universe would have found another button-pushing patsy. Is that Mrs. Hawking working for Widmore? For Ben?]

Ransom goes on to reason:

"[T]here had arisen before him, with perfect certitude, the knowledge 'about this time tomorrow you will have done the impossible.' . . . His fear, his shame, his love, all his arguments [regarding accepting and acting on his fate], were not altered in the least. The thing was neither more nor less dreadful than it had been before. The only difference was that he knew--almost as a historical proposition--that it was going to be done. He might beg, weep, or rebel--might curse or adore--sing like a martyr or blaspheme like a devil. It made not the slightest difference. The thing was going to be done. There was going to arrive, in the course of time, a moment at which he would have done it. The future act stood there, fixed and unaltered as if he had already performed it. It was a mere irrelevant detail that it happened to occupy the position we call future instead of that which we call past. The whole struggle was over, and yet there seemed to have been no moment of victory. You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical."

pp. 126-27

How's that for blending free will and determinism and even in a way that steps out of all boundaries of what we consider the normal flow of time?

There are a couple of other themes to note as well. First there's this odd way of viewing experiences and whether or not we should want to repeat them.

Ransom was hesitant to over-indulge in any extraordinary experiences (and there were many) on Perelandra. "This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to work backwards . . . was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But money itself--perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defence against chance, a security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the unrolling of the film." p. 43

It makes me wonder if this is somehow at play on the Island. Does the Island allows you to control time and how fast and in what direction it rolls, unrolls, and rolls backwards? Is that why Widmore wants it and Ben is determined to keep it? And is their greed in desiring this ability to repeat experiences or extend them what will ultimately undo them both?

Finally, both Ben and Widmore could be like the demon-possessed Weston in Perelandra. Weston claims for himself an ultimate imprimatur on his desires and his methods to achieve his desires for universal domination by the human race. He explains to Ransom:

"The world leaps forward through great men and greatness always transcends mere moralism. When the leap has been made our 'diabolism' as you call it becomes the morality of the next stage, but while we are making it, we are called criminals, heretics, blasphemers. . . ."

Which prompts Ransom to query: "How far does it go? Would you still obey the Life-Force if you found it prompting you to murder me?"


"Or to sell England to the Germans?"


"Or to print lies as serious research in a scientific periodical?"

"Yes. . . . Can you not even conceive a total commitment--a commitment to something which utterly overrides all our petty ethical pigeon-holes? . . . I am the Universe. I, Weston, am your God and your Devil." p. 82

At times we get glimpses that this may be the way Ben feels about the Island. In fact I've often hoped we'd see that Ben acts the way he does, finds justification for his actions and the lives he's sacrificed in some greater good scenario such as saving humanity. But more and more it looks like Ben is merely protecting his corner of the sandbox. Oh well, we'll see.

Perelandra was a tough, but interesting read. And to go out on another Locke quote, it even provides Venus with it's very own Adam and Eve.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Questions from "Meet Kevin Johnson"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Questions From Ji Yeon

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Are The Whisperers Eldila?

In addition to the more famous Chronicles of Narnia Clive Staples Lewis, i.e. C.S. Lewis, wrote The Space Trilogy. In the first of these novels Out of the Silent Planet the protagonist, a man named Ransom is taken from Earth to another planet in our solar system known to its inhabitants as Malacandra. Malacandra is inhabited by three human equivalent, though physically not very human-like, people groups. They are ruled by a being named Oyarsa who is the greatest of another group of beings, the eldila.

Below are descriptions of these eldil put into terms that Ransom, the mere human, will hopefully understand. Ransom has heard an eldil, but he's never seen one.

"[Ransom begins:] 'But what are eldila, and why can I not see them? Have they no bodies?'

[The being he's talking to, a sorn, replies:] 'Of course they have bodies. There are a great many bodies you cannot see. Every animal's eyes see some things but not others. Do you know of many kinds of body in Thulcandra [Earth]?'

Ransom tried to give the sorn some idea of the terrestrial terminology of solids, liquids and gases. It listened with great attention.

'That is not the way to say it,' it replied. 'Body is movement. If it is at one speed, you smell something; if at another, you hear a sound; if at another you see a sight; if at another, you neither see nor hear nor smell, nor know the body in any way. But mark this, Small ONe, that the two ends meet.'

'How do you mean?'

'If movement is faster, then that which moves is more nearly in two places at once.'

'That is true.'

'But if the movement were faster still--it is difficult, for you do not know many words--you see that if you made it faster and faster, in the end the moving things would be in all places at once, Small One.'

'I think I see that.'

'Well, then, that is the thing at the top of all bodies--so fast that it is at rest, so truly body that it has ceased being body at all. But we will not talk of that. Start from where we are, Small One. The swiftest thing that touches our senses is light. We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge--the last thing we know before things become too swift for us. But the body of an eldid is a movement swift as light; you may say its body is made of light, but not of that which is light for the eldil. His "light" is a swifter movement which for us is nothing at all; and what we call light is for him a thing like water, a visible thing, a thing he can touch and bathe in--even a dark thing when not illumined by the swifter. And what we call firm things--flesh and earth--seem to him thinner, and harder to see, than our light, and more like clouds, and nearly nothing. To us the eldil is a thin, half-real body that can go through walls and rocks: to himself he goes through them because he is solid and firm and they are like cloud. And what is true light to him and fills the heaven, so that he will plunge into the rays of the sun to refresh himself from it, is to us the black nothing in the sky at night. These things are not strange, Small One, though they are beyond our senses.'

pp. 94-95

Later Ransom finds that he can sense the eldila when he comes to an Island filled with them.

"[Ransom] said to himself that he was having a look at the island, but his feeling was rather that the island was having a look at him. This was greatly increased by a discovery he made after he had been walking for about an hour, and which he ever afterwards found great difficulty in describing. In the most abstract terms it might be summed up by saying that the surface of the island was subject to tiny variations of light and shade which no change in the sky accounted for. If the air had not been calm and the groundweed too short and firm to move in the wind, he would have said that a faint breeze was playing with it, and working such slight alterations in the shading as it does in a corn-field on the Earth. Like the silvery noises in the air, these footsteps of light were shy of observation. Where he looked hardest they were least to be seen: on the edges of his field of vision they came crowding as though a complex arrangement of them were there in progress. To attend to any one of theme was to make it invisible, and the minute brightness seemed often to have just left the spot where his eyes fell. He had no doubt that he was "seeing"--as much as he ever would see--the eldila. The sensation it produced in him was curious. It was not exactly uncanny, not as if he were surrounded by ghosts. It was not even as if he were being spied upon; he had rather the sense of being looked at by things that had a right to look. His feeling was less than fear; it had in it something of embarrassment, something of shyness, something of submission, and it was profoundly uneasy."

pp. 108-09

Finally, when Ransom first encounters the greatest eldila, Oyarsa he describes Oyarsa as "the merest whisper of light--no, less than that, the smallest diminution of shadow." p. 118

I don't want to give away directly what type of being known to us humans the eldil are apparently intended to represent, but I did want to share these descriptions of these beings that are heard and not seen though are sensed in the way light moves around them since they reminded me of some of the stranger goings-on occurring on a certain Island we're all familiar with.

***All citations are to the Scribner edition of the paperback published in 2003.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

LOST in Slaughterhouse Five

After watching Desmond unstuck in time in The Constant I decided to re-read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five which features a similarly unstuck protagonist, Billy Pilgrim. I'm going to list out things from the book that remind me of themes in LOST roughly in the order they occur in the book. Feel free to comment and theorize away.

  • The author of the book majored in Anthropology. Charlotte Lewis did too.
  • Aliens abduct Billy, take him to their planet and keep him in a zoo cage where he mates with another abducted Earth female. The cage is furnished much like the Swan with appliances and furniture from Sears and a working record player. Billy exercises each day to stay in shape; makes his meals; cleans his dishes. I don't know if he does it to "Make Your Own Kind Of Music."
  • Billy got to the alien planet through a time warp allowing him to spend years on the alien planet but only be gone from Earth a microsecond.
  • The aliens taught Billy that when a person dies he only appears to die because he's still alive in the past. The aliens view time, past, present and future, as always existing and permanent. They can focus in on a particular moment like we would focus in on one part of the Rocky Mountains. Time does not pass one moment to the next with moments disappearing forever once they are past. You can be dead in this moment, but fine in plenty of others, so they don't fret about death.
  • Billy first becomes unstuck in time while serving in the US Army in World War II.
  • Billy describes his death as a violet light and a hum.
  • As a child Billy's father tries to teach him to swim by throwing him in the pool leaving him to sink or swim. Kind of reminds me of Charlie.
  • At one point Billy shifts from WWII to the 195os where he's about to give a speech. He worries that he will sound like his WWII young kid self, but in fact he delivers his confident Toastmasters-type speech. So unlike Desmond Billy seems to act appropriately wherever he is and can adapt. He seems to have all his consciousnesses at all times.
  • But when Billy is moving around he does have to rely on visual cues such as his car to figure out when exactly he is. He does not instinctively know.
  • Every so often, for no apparent reason, Billy would find himself weeping.
  • Christmas 1944 passes unremarked for Billy and the author who find themselves as POWs in a railroad car at the time.
  • There's an Alice in Wonderland "Drink Me" bottle reference.
  • Billy's movements in time aren't always consistent. For example, being slightly unstuck in time he watches a movie backwards . He also knows in advance what time the aliens are coming for him, and willingly goes out to meet them. As the novel progresses he can clearly "remember" all the moments of his life from birth to death rather than being surprised that he's now in X year or Y place.
  • In the POW camp, Billy begins shrieking uncontrollably and is taking to the hospital, strapped down and given morphine. The shrieking was not time travel related, but it reminded me of Minkowski and his description of Brandon.
  • Within 4 years of starting this time traveling, Billy voluntarily commits himself to a mental hospital because he believes he is going crazy.
  • Billy begins to look for meaning by reading science fiction. No mention of Philip K. Dick though.
  • A fellow mental ward patient tells Billy that everything there is to know about life is in The Brothers Karamazov.
  • A fake book is referenced about people whose mental diseases couldn't be treated because the causes of the diseases were all in the 4th dimension and doctors didn't know couldn't see or even imagine them.
  • According to the aliens in order to get Earthling babies you need not only the normal mom and dad but you need homosexual males, women over 65, and babies who lived an hour or less after birth, plus 2 other types of people. Maybe that's what's wrong on the Island.
  • Even though the aliens know what will happen at all moments in time, including the end of the universe, they do nothing to change any of those moments. Those moments are the way they are structured.
  • The woman that Billy Pilgrim makes pregnant on the alien planet stays on the alien planet to raise the baby instead of going back to Earth.
Desmond and Billy Pilgrim are both unstuck in time, but there are stark differences in Billy and Desmond's time travel in The Constant. Billy never truly gets lost in time as Desmond seemed to and as seemed to lead to Minkowski and Eloise's deaths. Instead Slaughterhouse Five takes the position that moments in time are discreet events that your lifetime collective consciousness can move between. Billy doesn't need a constant to move seamlessly through time, though that may be in large part attributable to the lessons the aliens teach him about time and his subsequent nonchalant attitude.

In Slaughterhouse Five you cannot change these moments in time that you move through repeatedly. Billy knows when others are going to die, but does nothing to warn those people or stop them. Similarly the aliens know when and how the universe will be destroyed, but do nothing to prevent it. Death is therefore meaningless to Billy and the aliens and is summed up over and over with the phrase, "So it goes." Your moment of death is structured that way; you don't mess with it. A philosophy I'm sure would be Mrs. Hawking approved.

There is no traumatic event that triggers Billy's unstuckness in time. He wasn't exposed to radiation or electro-magnetism and thrust through some barrier. Instead he just started coming unstuck at a point in his life when he was tired, cold and frankly willing to die. Both Billy and Desmond were serving in their respective militaries when their unstuckness began. Other than that we're given no clue as to why Billy is unstuck or if there are others who are unstuck.

Another key difference is that Billy develops the ability to access every moment of his life from beginning to end as he's time-shifting. This ability seems to become stronger as the novel and presumably Billy's life progresses. Early on Billy seems nervous and uncertain as this happens, but later in the novel Billy can for the most part tell quickly and accurately where he is and what's going to happen next. And in the case of the alien abduction he even anticipates and plans for it. Desmond clearly hasn't developed this skill, but I wonder if Ben has.

Slaughterhouse Five is a unique blend of an anti-war book that examines critically the fate of child soldiers at the hands of removed commanders and the glamorization of war mixed with a unique form of the science fiction of time travel and aliens. Is this what's happening on the Island? To Ben? To Desmond? Definitely not in a one to one translation as is the case with every other reference the show makes to things literary, pop culture, and scientific. But is it worth taking a look at to figure out what might be going on in LOST? Absolutely.