‘Lost’ (S2): Doc Jensen has more insight
Among hardcore Lostophiles — or at least among obsessives like me who try to decipher the show the way Dan Brown tries to decode Da Vinci paintings — there can occur what I like to call a ”Road to Damascus” moment, the giddy euphoria that can consume a soul after an encounter with epiphany. For the less religiously inclined, we can call this a ”Keanu Reeves says Whoa!” moment, as in, ”Dude! I just saw through the Matrix! Whoa.”
Shortly after Entertainment Weekly published Doc Jensen’s super-string Aaron Theory of Lost, hundreds of you wrote me with your own theories and Whoa! stories, and beginning next week at EW.com, I’m going to share some of your scholarship and personal testimonies twice a week, in addition to giving you some new Lost gold nuggets (or fool’s gold, depending on your POV) of my own.
To kick off the weekly dialogue, I’d like to turn you on to fellow Lostologist Sean Dunleavy. You can check out his intelligently reasoned mega-theory that Lost is an intricately and knowingly constructed allegory for the Patriot Act age in general and the war in Iraq specifically at his website. But several days after e-mailing me his politically charged manifesto, Sean sent me another e-mail, this one bursting with Whoa!-moment giddiness:
”I’ve just had a massive revelation re: the Flashbacks, the bizarre coincidences found in the Flashbacks, the Hatch, and the Numbers… The coincidences never occurred. The Flashbacks can’t be trusted. Why not? Because inside the Hatch there’s a great big transmitter, and everytime someone enters ‘The Number’ into the computer and presses the button, it gets activated, and starts transmitting. But what’s it transmitting? Well, if I’ve got it correct… it’s transmitting BELIEFS.” In a nutshell: Sean thinks the Dharma Initiative is essentially reprogramming human beings with new values and beliefs for the purpose of building a new society. (You can read more of Sean’s new theory at the aforementioned website.)
Like Sean, my mind changes about Lost every time I watch a new episode, or stumble upon some potentially revealing information. And when I do, man, can I froth at the mouth with Whoa! mania. When I was holed up in my office and manically constructing the Aaron Theory a few weeks ago, my wife and colleagues were convinced I had gone Unabomber on them. They were inches away from calling the boys in white with the butterfly nets. I remember the day I discovered the Wikipedia.org entry for Aaron Charles Donahue, and raved wildly about my (momentary) conviction that the crazy-spooky worldview mythology of this alleged ”remote viewer” explained much of what was happening with the Dharma Initiative, the Others, Claire’s abduction, and the Monster. (Curious: Donahue’s personal website is registered to a small island off the coast of Australia. Hmmmm…)
I had another Whoa! moment a few weeks ago during a restless slumber while traveling to Chicago to visit the set of Prison Break. (See next week’s EW for that report.) I had just finished reading three volumes of a truly cool, Must List-worthy comic book series called Planetary, which to this day I am convinced is one of the secret source texts of Lost. (More on this later.) This was shortly after the episode ”One of Them,” in which Sawyer squished a frog to death. My sleepy brain was putting stuff together: a Planetary story about a psychotic suicide cult on a monstrous island; vague memories of reading something about how certain frogs secrete psychedelic enzymes or something; and the opium poppies in the Virgin Mary idols in the Hatch. The word psychotropics came to mind, as in, ”Heroin belongs to a family of drugs called psychotropics.” Suddenly: Whoa! ”Psychotropics = Psycho Tropics = The island on Lost.” I was so convinced I was onto something, I woke up the guy next to me on the plane and explained it to him. Before I knew it, an Air Marshal was summoned, a sedative was administered, and I woke up inside a holding cell inside O’Hare Airport. (Please don’t tell my editors about this.)
Seriously, though: I do think my ”psychotropic” epiphany sheds some revealing light on the mysteries of Lost, in that I believe Lost is sending secret messages to its audience — and perhaps misdirecting its audience — through sly allusions and a conspicuous choice of words. Recall the whole business with the Black Rock last year. For most of the first season, most of us naturally assumed the Black Rock was Rousseau’s name for a foothill or butte or cliff or something — not the literal name of an ancient slave ship inexplicably beached in the middle of the jungle. (Burning question: Didn’t Rousseau also say that the radio tower that was broadcasting the Numbers, and later her S.O.S. signal, was located near the Black Rock? Weird how the castaways have never tried to find it….)
But here’s a more recent example: I’d love to hear from you H.P. Lovecraft experts out there about the possible overlap between the author and Lost. Of course, a mysterious land mass in the South Pacific, with a weird, mythic history and protected by a formless, monstrous guardian, evokes the writer’s classic At the Mountains of Madness. And aesthetically, Lovecraft’s pioneering blend of science fiction, horror, psychological suspense and invented mythology seems to have much in common with Lost‘s creative modus operandi; and considering the fixations with science (both mad and sound), metaphysics, mental illness, blurred lines between fact and fantasy, any Lostologist should consider picking through the author’s (formbidably dense) oeuvre for clues.
But Lovecraft may have darker connections to the show. One of many myths about the author — vigorously disputed by his defenders — is that Lovecraft was an eccentric shut-in who lived under the thumb of his two aunts after the tragic deaths of his parents and a brief, failed marriage. In fact, in an issue of Planetary (which also features a character inspired after another Lost-linked author, Ambrose Bierce), Lovecraft is depicted as the original, prototypical basement geek, who dwells mostly within the cellar of his aunt’s haunted house. (By the way: In the same story, Lovecraft manages to conjure a supernatural, snowflake-shaped quantum computer in his basement lair that allows him access to alternate realities. Think: the Hatch.)
According to Lovecraft biographer, scholar, and apologist S.T. Joshi, the author’s father died in a mental hospital due to syphilis — a disease whose symptoms seem very similar to the symptoms that have been attributed to the phantom virus allegedly on the loose in Lost. Lovecraft was a troubled soul — his youth profoundly affected by intense emotional trauma — and also allegedly something of a bigot; his work is marked by some truly unenlightened language, and the man even named his cat after a certain unprintable racial slur.
Lovecraft’s elaborate Cthulhu psuedo-mythology included a Cygnus creature, or ”swan,” and after his death, he was buried at Swan Point Cemetary in Rhode Island. His gravestone is a granite marker that reads I AM PROVIDENCE, which spoke to the writer’s intense identification with his hometown… although the declaration is also a line attributed to Satan in the book The Life of St. Anthony.
Finally, on a more benign note, one of the murkiest if more entertaining bits of Lovecraftian lore is the legend surrounding The Necronomicon, a sinister spell book referenced in several of his stories and allegedly chockablock with symbols and hieroglyphics. So many curious stories surround this thing that it reminds me of a comment one Lost producer made not long ago about Mr. Eko’s walking stick. To paraphrase: ”This thing has its own backstory.” Some say The Necronomicon is a real spell book that was used by Lovecraft for his fiction. Others say Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon was turned into a real book by enthusiastic fans and Satanists. I dote on The Necronomicon because of the hieroglyphics business, but also to establish firmly in your mind its status as a real-life example of a blurred line between fact and fiction, which seems to be recurring theme in Lost. Bookmark that idea; we’ll come back to it next week.
Now: apply Lovecraft to Lost‘s island, Monster, ”Black Rock” (racist attitudes + granite gravestone = slave ship?), ”Station Three: The Swan” (whose logo, as discussed last week, also resembles a devilish snake), the Disease, and the Hieroglyphics in the Hatch — are all these things allusions to Lovecraft? Is Lovecraft the Rosetta stone that can decode the language of Lost‘s mysteries?
Now I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m nuts. Or, at best, you think I am mistaking interesting but utterly incidental or merely coincidental similarities for some grand creative conspiracy. And when it comes to this Lovecraft stuff, I’m willing to concede that you might be right. (But if it turns out that the Others are a Cult of Lovecraft who think the island is some Chthulu hellhole posssessed by the author’s ghosts — you heard it here first!) At the same time: This is Lost, a show all about the coincidences that may be or may not be part of some grand and wicked design. Besides, there can be no argument that the show is chockablock with a large amount of meta-fictional wordplay, hidden cues, secret symbols, and explicit nods to external sources. Recently, the producers confirmed to EW that the ”Dharma” in the Dharma Initiative is actually an acronym. (We’ll explore what ”Dharma” might mean next week.) Earlier this season, the producers loudly announced that a Lost-referenced book, The Third Policeman, is filled with clues. But perhaps the most provocative proof that Lost‘s subtext is rife with revealing bits and deliberate nods to real-life authors is Hurley’s recent discovery of a manuscript amid the wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815 called Bad Twin, written by an author named Gary Troup — an anagram for ”Purgatory.” Next week at EW.com, I’m going to tell you all about Bad Twin, which is going to be published in our real world in May, and how the book links to writers Paul Auster and Robert Heinlein, and how it all adds up to a brand new Doc Jensen theory I like to call the Ghost Writer Hypothesis. It’s going to explain the coincidences, the flashbacks, the blurring of fantasy and reality, and how it all connects to Mr. Eko’s current fixation with cutting down trees. If you want a hint, I’ll give you one word: Grok. Look it up: Grok explains everything. But that’s next week.
Until then, use the form below to send me an e-mail with your burning questions and theories, and come back on Monday for my roundup.