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Defining the Threat: The End of EVERYTHING? Really?

By Sarah Clarke Stuart,

  Filed under: Lost
  Comments: 40

As usual, the Lostaways are doing a terrible job of asking the right questions or insisting on specific answers. And those who evade the inquiries always have the same lines: “It doesn’t matter,” “No time to explain,” etc. I’d like to pin down what kind of threat we’re dealing with here. Someone should demand that Richard explain what he means by “everything being over” if the Smoke Monster were to pull off his escape plan (“Everybody Loves Hugo”). What degree of danger are we talking about?

Simulation of a black hole

What follows here is not so much a theory as an exploration of the “impending oblivion” motif. Imminent doom in the form of nothingness or meaninglessness preoccupies many fantasy novels, science fiction narratives and children’s works of fiction: A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline, The Neverending Story, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Donnie Darko. In Lost, the stakes seem to be equally high. If we are to believe Charles Widmore and/or Richard Alpert, the Smoke Monster’s escape from the island spells certain oblivion. So the question I would like to pose is this: how is “the end of existence” illustrated in other narratives? What might this mean for the final days of our island adventure?

In the 2001 film Donnie Darko, the threat of eternal nothingness takes the form of a black hole. If one interprets the film as a science fiction story, rather than a psychological thriller about a schizophrenic teen, the basic premise of the story is this: A Tangent Universe has been created and will collapse on itself in 28 days. According to the tenets of the fictional Philosophy of Time Travel (a device used by the screenwriter to establish the rules), the collapsed Tangent Universe will create a black hole, taking the Primary Universe with it. The author, Roberta Sparrow, suggests that “If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable…Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence.” Can this be what Charles Widmore means when he says that if the smoke monster gets off this island “everyone we know and love – would simply cease to be”? Or when Richard Alpert tells Miles that “if that thing gets off the island, it’s over,” and then clarifies by saying “everything” will be over. Is John Locke just the beginning of a black hole, a sort of nothingness that consumes all?

In the film, Donnie is the “Living Receiver” responsible for saving the primary universe by sacrificing himself. Like Desmond, he is a time-traveling hero. Donnie reads a poem in class one day inspired by what he is experiencing: “I will deliver the children back to their doorsteps. (I’ll) send the monsters back to the underground. I’ll send them back to a place where no one else can see them.” Donnie Darko is actually an interesting text to interpret the workings of Lost and I’m certainly not the first to notice the similarities between the film and the series. Others have drawn out the comparisons in much greater detail. Here is one of the more thorough readings: I like these Donnie Darko theories; after all, the last line of The Philosophy of Time Travel is telling: “We are told that these things occur for a reason.”

Frank the time-traveling bunny from Donnie Darko (suspect it  inspired the Geronimo Jackson cover)

The Neverending Story, a German children’s novel, popularized in the 1980’s through its film adaptation, features a parallel universe, of sorts, to illustrate the power of hope, imagination and the creative power of the human spirit. There is a protagonist for each universe: Bastian in the real world and Atreyu in the fictional world, which is aptly named Fantasia or Fantastica. Bastian is portrayed in a realistic setting with a storyline and conflict of his own (his mother recently died; his father is in despair). But he becomes involved in the other universe when he reads about Atreyu’s adventures in a magic book titled The Neverending Story. The nemesis in the story is simply called “The Nothing” and its threat is no less than the obliteration of all Fantastica. It symbolizes a growing emptiness in the human heart. Atreyu is a young warrior charged with triumphing over The Nothing. Bastian enters the world of Fantastica to help Atreyu fight the war and returns with the “Water of Life,” a symbol of spiritual strength.  He is told that “There are just a few who go to Fantastica and come back…and they make both worlds well again.” The wise but curmudgeonly old book shop owner, Mr. Coreander, says to Bastian “you will show many others the way to Fantastica, and they will bring us the Water of Life.” By helping to ward off the Nothing, Bastian saves Fantastica and is able to traverse back to his own world, where he can continue fighting against the forces of meaninglessness and emptiness, first by curing his own father’s depression.

The face of the impending "Nothing" in the Neverending Story

In A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle), an “official Lost book,” there looms a similar malevolent force, “The Black Thing,” described as a dark cloud. With their friend Calvin, Meg and Charles Wallace travel through space and time to rescue their father, a time-traveling scientist who has been captured by dark forces.  They find him on Camazotz, a mind-controlling planet where all of the inhabitants are hypnotized under the spell. The Black Thing’s effect is taking over the universe and already partially covers the earth. Meg, the heroine of the story, learns how to defeat it through love and human connection with her family.

In Neil Gaimen’s children’s novel, Coraline (2002), the “Other Mother’s” domain is surrounded by endless blank space. Again, we are dealing with parallel worlds, one that is realistic and ordinary, the other fantastic and dangerous.  Initially, Coraline finds the world beyond the fourteenth door of their family’s home perfect. The food is better and the parents (the Other parents) give her more attention. But she soon realizes that the Other home is ruled by dark forces and that the Other Mother has been capturing and imprisoning children for a long time. Coraline must save them. One day she is taking a walk out of doors in the Other universe and finds herself lost in what seems to be an empty canvas. “The world she was walking through was a pale nothingness, like a blank sheet of paper or an enormous empty white room. It had no smell, no taste, no texture.” “Nothing to find here,” the cat tells Coraline, “This is just the outside, the part of the place she hasn’t bothered to create.” Again, a lack of creative power is the problem and the villain is responsible for oppressing the innocent and destroying hope.

Desmond Reading Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories

In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the death of imagination is a central concern and the repression of creativity is illustrated in the form of dark forces attempting to poison the “Sea of Stories.” Haroun’s father, a storyteller, has lost his gift of yarn-spinning and the father and son duo travel to Earth’s second moon to help restore his powers. Two societies live on this moon; one lives in complete light and the other in complete darkness. The dark side wants to poison the Sea of Stories and dampen the imaginative forces behind the power of storytellers.  But Haroun helps protect the magical waters: “…even though he was full of a sense of hopelessness and failure, the magic of the Ocean began to have an effect on Haroun.” Again, in this story the child saves the father and the family’s original world is restored.

Will a black hole be created if the smoke monster isn’t restrained? Is he the Nothing? Will dark blankness settle over the entire universe if he is released from the island? (If so, then, why?) Let’s not forget last week’s Wonka-inspired promo: “Not a speck of light is showing/So the danger must be growing”

The nothing, the smoke monster, a black hole, a gaping chasm swallowing up all of existence– they all represent our fear of complete emptiness or, at a more abstract level, the oblivion of imagination and the human spirit. As Jacob says in “Ab Aeterno,” “There’s many other names for it too: malevolence, evil, darkness. And here it is, swirling around in the bottle, unable to get out because if it did, it would spread. The cork is this island and it’s the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs.”

Thanks for reading! Please visit my blog for more Lost and Literature material and find information about my upcoming book, Literary Lost.

The book cover

From TVFrenzy:

  • gusteaux

    The linked site is blocked on my computer. Can’t you just post it here? Geeze.

  • Sarah Clarke Stuart

    Sure, man. No problem.

    • gusteaux

      Thank you. 🙂

  • Nice choice of stories Sarah! I remember Wrinkle In Time and Neverending Story from when I was a kid. They both impacted my thinking to this day. Interesting how many of these stories have kids saving their parents, and how water and/or love is symbolic of a connection to hope or a way to defeat nothingness. As I just mentioned in my recent post, kids are pure of heart, giving them a connection closer to the source of light/creation. So it is up to the child to inspire those who have lost their hope or imagination. Perhaps it will be Aaron, Ji Yeon, Walt, and David who save their parents, or the Losties who save theirs.

    Congrats and good luck on the book!

    • Sarah Clarke Stuart

      Thanks, Marc! Yes, there are so many common themes running through all of these narratives.

      There is a line from The Neverending Story that reminds me of some of your own postings: “Every REAL story is a neverending story.” And we know that, like the Velveteen Rabbit, a story can only become real if it is loved. Which is exactly what Lost is for so many fans: real in the sense that they bring it back across the fiction threshold and into their lives.

      • Dharma Chameleon

        WOW. Mind Blown. Thank-you and Marc for your REAL blogs.

  • Jacob’s Revenge

    LOST has never made any allusion to black holes or ultimate blackness. Instead, it has repeatedly made references to the Game metaphor: there are Rules, there are Teams, there’s the concept of these teams either winning or losing, and the concept of everything being over if a certain team escapes its boundaries. If you and other series analysts spent more time constructing analysis based on what has been plainly exhibited in evidence instead of imagined sci-fi constructs we’d all be further along in understanding LOST’s baseband theme.

    • Andrew

      what about the Swan Hatch? “Just savin’ the world, brotha.”

    • Sarah Clarke Stuart

      I’m familiar with it, but the game metaphor never roused my imagination. I don’t find it as compelling.

      • Dharma Chameleon

        It can still be a game with a black hole or UT Resolution of said game.

      • captain trips

        Wow, really? I find that shocking, it’s one of the central conceits of the show. Two sides, one dark, one light.

        Also, first time reader of the blog here, you’re doing some great work.

        • cap10tripps

          My brotha…

  • neoloki

    actually she is dead on in her construct of what Lost is about.

    • Bakedbob

      Well yes you can say she is… But explaining what Lost is about through other movies-books-theories…kind of ruins the originality of the show.
      Of course there are similarities but they are just that.
      LOST is maybe playing with old-archetypic kind of myths and stories but it has its own scent. And that is the way we should be discussing it..
      My opinion anyway..

  • Leo Kitsune

    Hey! So, in “A Wrinkle in Time” we a have a Charles Wallace???
    Because in Jacob’s Lighthouse number 108 was Wallace, the guy that was “coming”, but instead a Charles WIDMORE has come to the Island. Any connections? Or just a reference?

    • I think Des is Wallace. We know nothing of his parents.

  • mattiecat

    I was waiting for someone to just ask MIB his name! I was so frustrated. I also want to know why he didn’t kill Locke as the smoke monster but killed Eko and the pilot. Because they weren’t candidates?

    • Zonker

      Eko theory: Eko was insufficiently pliable for the MIB’s plans. I believe Eko’s last words were something like “I did the best I could and I have nothing to be sorry for.” Quite different from John Locke’s self-pity that allowed the MIB to turn him into his loophole.

      Pilot theory: Frank Lapidus was supposed to fly Oceanic 815 that day. So the smoke monster was enraged when he found the wrong pilot. Interestingly enough, we’ve never seen a Lapidus-centric episode, and he has yet to appear in the sideways world either. Maybe there’s more to him than meets the eye?

    • RichM

      I think the “real” answer is Darlton did not know what the Smoke Monster (And Jacob, for that matter) was in the first 1-3 years of the show. Which is not to say it’s wrong or ruins the show, just that what ever they’ve decided it is now is a retcon, and shouldn’t be looked into too closely.

      • mattiecat

        I think both theories are plausible. Why haven’t we seen Lapidus in the flash sideways?

        • adam118

          Lapidus was on the PA system when the plane landed in the Sideways. BOOYAH!

          I have 2 theories on why MIB didn’t take Eko

          1) Eko had healthy self esteem and confidence, thus would be harder to “control” than Locke.
          2) The actor left the show to be with, if I remember right, his dying mother, which meant Darlton had to kill him off.

    • Hot!Pocket

      That MIB remains nameless is actually a huge point in support of the author’s idea that Lost has intentional thematic connections to The Neverending Story. When the weakening Empress is given a proper name, the cycle continues, the course corrects, the game begins anew. Nice idea, Sarah Clarke Stuart! Your blog has a new place on my ‘Favorites’ tab.

      Regarding Jacob’s Revenge comment (seen above): I like his contention that if only proper funding and research were put into the ‘Lost as Game’ paradigm, then we’d be getting more out of this show. The best part about this show is how it ‘interdisciplinary’ it truly is. The fact that there is a show on primetime where the WRITERS are followed as closely (if not closer) than the actors, is an incredible feat.

      • Sarah Clarke Stuart

        Yes–this is, first and foremost, a writer’s show. Damon and Carlton are superstars. And Gregg Nations and others are pretty well known too.

        Thanks for reading!

  • Brendan McGrath

    A wonderful reflection — just a few notes: first, the picture from “The Neverending Story” that’s posted isn’t a picture the Nothing, it’s a picture of Gmork, who is “the servant of the power behind the Nothing.” Also, in “A Wrinkle in Time,” it’s not the Black Thing that Meg and the others defeat; it’s “IT,” the giant brain on Camazotz. Certain Meg and the others win “a” victory or “a” defeat over the Black Thing, but they don’t/can’t defeat it entirely. I think the Black Thing could variously symbolize, or actually BE, the shadow of original sin, dark/demoic forces either personal or impersonal, evil, etc.

    • Sarah Clarke Stuart

      Thanks, Brendan. By “the face of the nothing” I did not mean that the wolf is actually the Nothing, but I guess I didn’t make that very clear. I was thinking that Gmork is to the Nothing what the MiB is to a black hole. Like a warning sign. True about the IT versus the giant brain. It was only one battle and that’s probably how it will work out on Lost–the goal is just to keep the evil/darkness at bay so that it doesn’t take over the universe (or the multiverse)Thanks for the feedback!

  • Brendan McGrath

    Sorry, in the last post, it should read “picture *of* the Nothing,” and “dark/*demonic* forces.”

  • cap10tripps

    Wonderful read Sarah, thank you. I particularly like the “Donnie Darko” comparison. Admittedly I’m bias (it’s my favorite film), but the idea that the tangent universe must be destroyed is picking up steam imho. The train of thought behind Darko inspired many a discussion between me and a circle of friends. Time travel, fate, free will, black holes, acceptance, letting go, it’s really a discussion on our time in the milky way and a brilliant medium to ponder its meanings and mysteries…

  • Ament

    So is it safe to say “Lost” has created the Religous/Sci-Fi genre for television?

    • Bakedbob

      Lost has not only created a genre (which im not sure about its name yet)
      Sci-fi/Religion wont cut it…you have to add
      and even more maybe..

      The LOST COCKTAIL has a bit of everything in it and it still is Unique.. how is that?
      It has for sure created a CULT among the genres.
      Its like it created a different universe in our entertainment-hungry brains…isnt it? hmmmm…….Well for me anyway..

      • Sarah Clarke Stuart

        Yes–you are so right! In fact, I think this is a result of the medium itself. From what I’ve read, the execs at abc discouraged the writers from creating a hardcore science fiction story. I guess including a multitude of genres casts a wider net and pulls in higher ratings. Angela Ndlianis (sp?) has written an interesting essay called “Lost in Genre: Chasing the White Rabbit to find the White Polar Bear” in which she discusses Lost’s genre-bending practices. It was published in Reading Lost but don’t know if you can find it online.

  • I read your blog. It is very and quite insightful. Entertaining. Enlightening.

    You know the show was given away 4 minutes and 23 seconds into the Pilot. Episode 1.1 .

    Taijitu? Spinner Cone? I’d tell ya to ask Rizzo’s friendo Marc O, but he don’t like drunken bums. hmmpf.

  • Baby Fark McGee-zax

    Sarah – Will you marry me?

    • Sarah Clarke Stuart

      Wow! I like this response.

      • Baby Fark McGee-zax

        That’s certainly not a rejection. Alright, alright, alright

  • what about the Swan Hatch? “Just savin’ the world, brotha.”

  • what about the Swan Hatch? “Just savin’ the world, brotha.”

    • S Clarke Stuart

      Ummm? what about the swan hatch?

      • Sarah C Stuart

        S Clarke Stuart – Will u marry me?

  • Rosie

    So, blocking the world of darkness is behind Jacob’s theory? Does that mean his intent to leave the world “bathed” in light? Or what?

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