Lost and C. S. Lewis: Connections on the Fringe

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Here’s what we know: there are at least two major references to C. S. Lewis in the TV show, Lost. One is a character named Charlotte Staples Lewis (the “C. S.” in Lewis’s name stands for “Clive Staples”). The other is a secret Dharma Initiative lab in California nicknamed the “Lamp Post.” So we know someone on the Lost writing staff or one of its producers is a Lewis fan. Here’s what I can’t prove: that the latest twist in the new season of Lost may be influenced by Lewis as well.

The final season of Lost opened on January 2nd, 2010 with a new surprise. At the end of season five, our heroes—stuck in time in 1977—tried to alter time and space by setting off a nuclear bomb at a key location on their mysterious island. If the bomb were to work, their plane would never crash land on the island some twenty-plus years later, and they would avoid all the pain and suffering they had endured for the last several years. The big twist in the new season was that it worked…and it didn’t. 

Perhaps the writers were sitting around a table at the end of season five having the following conversation about the show’s final season:

 “Do we go with it working or not?”

“If it works then we’d be starting the whole show over again. Talk about pulling a Bobby Ewing.”

“Yeah, that made Dallas fans mad.”

“So we say it didn’t work?”

“Sure, and the show progresses to the end as we planned.”

“But wait a minute, what if it did work and we got to see how things turned out for everyone?”

“Yeah, but the same problem, and the audience never gets answers to its questions about the island.”

“Fellas!”

“What?”

“Fellas!”

“He has an idea.”

“I got an idea.”

“Well?”

“We do both!”

“Come again?”

“It works and it doesn’t work—both at the same time!”

That’s probably not how it happened. But it appears to be what’s going on one episode into the final season of Lost.

Lost is wonderfully mysterious, to the point of seeming supernatural, but the producers claim it to be rooted in science. One of the show’s favorite themes last season was time travel. Another was the relationship between time and space. In the series, the mysterious island possibly changes locations and moves out of phase with space-time in relation to the rest of our earth. Additionally, characters have traveled to several moments in time on the island. But even more than that there is the show’s signature device. 

The first several seasons employed a flashback motif. We met characters as they struggled to survive on the island, but this struggle was given more meaning when the camera focused in on a character’s face and the “Lost flashback sound” (a kind of white noise-windy-almost-jet engine-Doppler sound) transitioned us into a flashback in which we saw aspects of the character’s life which bore on his/her current struggles on the island. These flashbacks succeeded in giving greater meaning to the people and events experienced by the audience in the show’s present. But a couple of seasons ago, the makers of Lost hit us with a fun new twist: they added flashforwards to the mix. We didn’t know at first, and when we found out we were blown away. Last season the convention of flashing backward and forward evolved into a plot element—characters actually flashing backward and forward in time. What else, then, could the producers and writers possibly do with space-time in this show? The answer surprised me completely.

In the first twenty minutes of the new season’s first episode, I saw two separate plot lines developing: one in which the explosion did work and now the characters were back on the plane (where the show began) several years in past. They make it to their destination, never crashing on the island. But in another plot line the explosion only sent those stuck in 1977 back to a future in which they are finally “caught up” with everyone else with whom they originally crashed several years before—the crash did take place, and space-time was not altered. The show then moved forward, switching back and forth between these two contradictory story lines, and in those first 20 minutes I said out loud, “It looks like they’re wanting us to stay lost.” 

I first tried to wrap my head around it by wondering if it were all a dream. Or then I thought, maybe they’re going to spend one episode showing us what would have happened if space-time had been changed in order to show us that the castaways are better off having crashed on the island. But then my daughter said, “Oh, I get it—parallel universe.” And that made sense to me, especially considering that Lost creator J. J. Abrams has another show called Fringe in which the idea of parallel earths in different dimensions is central to the plot, and Abrams’s Star Trek movie from last summer uses the device of an alternate universe in order to explain the changes he wanted to incorporate in the Star Trek cosmos. It also made sense because Lost has included physics and time theory as major plot elements, and multiverse (multiple universe) theory is a popular idea in science and science fiction today. With only one episode in the new season aired, it may be premature to settle on multiverse theory as the answer to the contradictory plot lines, but let’s stick with it for a moment.

A few days later, two things occurred to me. The first came almost word for word: “They’ve done flashbacks, they’ve done flashforwards, now they’re flashing sideways between parallel universes—it may be that the “changed” universe was created by the explosion. I think this is the case if for no other reason than that Juliette, the person closest to the explosion’s epicenter in our Lost-prime universe, somehow knows that their attempt to remake history worked. She cannot explain, however, because she dies (though we might yet find her alive in the alternate universe). The second thing that occurred to me was that the “Lost flashback sound” had changed. There was still a sound there. It was a little bit similar. But it was mostly different. This new sound is the auditory marker indicating the show’s transition between the two contradictory plotlines. It is the “Lost flashsideways sound.” And the introduction of this sound with the traditional sound absent from the first episdoe makes me think these two universes are going to be with us for a while.

Now the only reason I’m even writing this is because of my passion for C. S. Lewis. I wrote a chapter for a book on Lost in 2005 in which I argue that the best way to approach the show is to avoid doing the very thing I’m doing in this essay: trying to figure it out. I’m a big believer in what the poet Keats called “Negative Capability”—that is, the ability to live with and revel in mystery without demanding immediate answers. When J. J. Abrams guest edited an issue of Wired magazine last summer, he made this very point about the show. I have said all along that the secret to Lost is to stop trying to figure things out and just go along for the ride. A writer for USA Today called it my “Zen approach to Lost.” Okay, so name dropping aside, why then am I now trying to figure something out after only one episode in season six has aired? It’s because of C. S. Lewis.

I can’t prove this point, especially considering that multiverse theory is well known through other avenues, but the idea of flashing sideways may have come to the makers of Lost through a book by C. S. Lewis which most people don’t even know exists.

Lewis wrote three books which could be fit into the category of science-fiction. They have been referred to as “The Space Trilogy,” “The Ransom Trilogy,” and the “Science-Fiction Trilogy.” But there was a fourth book, an unfinished one (originally meant to be the second book in the series). We have to begin, though, near the end of the first book, Out of the Silent Planet. In the novel, the hero Ransom travels to Mars and learns that space is not at all empty but is filled with spiritual beings called eldila. After his return home, Ransom tells Lewis-as-narrator that the eldila will no longer allow people to travel into space beyond the orbit of the moon. In the last sentence of the novel, Ransom concludes that, with this door shut, “the way to the planets lies through the past; if there is to be any more space-travelling, it will have to be time-travelling as well…!” 

The second book in the trilogy is Perelandra. In this story, space travel does occur with no definite explanation given as to why the door of space has been opened again (though there are some hints in the final book of the series). However, Lewis’s first attempt at a sequel to Out of the Silent Planet intended to stay true to the ending of that novel. This unfinished sequel was discovered in manuscript form by Walter Hooper who met Lewis in the last year of Lewis’s life and agreed to be his secretary for a short time. Hooper has since served Lewis scholars and fans through the careful editing and publication of numerous never before seen Lewis texts, one of the most interesting of which is the fragment of a novel to which Hooper gave the title, The Dark Tower

The fragment is clearly a sequel to Out of the Silent Planet. Ransom is named in the second paragraph of the text as having been “the hero, or victim, of one of the strangest adventures that had ever befallen a mortal man” (Dark Tower 17). Keep in mind that, though I call The Dark Tower an unpublished, incomplete, fragment of a novel, it has been available to readers in several forms since the 70’s. Avid Lewis fans, the kind who might sneak his name into a hugely popular television show (which, I must grant, constantly alludes to numerous authors, scientists, philosophers and their various works), have read The Dark Tower and desperately wish Lewis had finished it.

The Dark Tower begins with the problem of time travel—on its very first page. But almost as quickly it rejects the possibility of traveling forward or backward through time (in this way it is dissimilar to Lost) and takes up the possibility of traveling sideways in time—into other dimensions with parallel earths. Upon looking through a machine called a Chronoscope, the characters in the book first think they are looking at their Earth’s own past. Eventually they realize they are looking at some “Othertime” (42) which includes versions of the buildings around them and even versions of themselves. It’s a parallel universe. I don’t know when multiverse theory became a subject of physics or even became popular, but it amazes me that Lewis was writing about this concept in the late 1930’s! The book includes the idea that time can have “lateral fluctuations” (86), where parallel times not only exist but can be brought close enough to each other in order for people to move sideways across times.

What Lewis does in The Dark Tower is not quite the same as is happening in Lost in the opening of season six, and only a single episode of the new season has aired at the time of this writing. But two overt Lewis references in previous seasons of Lost (each connected in some way to the theme of space-time) make me wonder if the Lewis fan among the Lost writers or creators is continuing to influence the show with ideas garnered from the man most famous for Narnia. There may even be a little more proof.

While reviewing The Dark Tower for this essay, I stumbled across two passages which made me wonder about potential connections between the book and the other J. J. Abrams show, Fringe. The strange coincidence here is that the mid-season finale of Fringe aired just two days after the first new Lost episode of 2010. Though I have watched Fringe for two seasons, I may never have seen these connections without this latest episode, and certainly wouldn’t have seen them without first making the connections in Lost in the same week. 

In the latest episode of Fringe, two parallel earths are in danger of colliding. This process begins when a building from the other earth is brought into ours. Everyone in the building(s) is killed by being merged into their parallel selves. The heroes of the story quickly realize that the process is going to repeat itself in reverse—that the total mass between the two universes must be kept in balance and therefore a building from our side is about to be sucked into the other side. Our heroes race to figure out which building is going to disappear in order to evacuate the people in it before they disappear, fuse into their counterparts in the parallel world, and die. Now this very concept appears in The Dark Tower

But could it be the other way around? Not that we happen to have reached a time that contains replicas of our own, but that it’s the replicas that are bringing the times together—a sort of gravitation. You see, if two times contained exactly the same distribution of matter, they would become simply the same time…and if they contained some identical distributions they might approach…I don’t know. (60)

Two times with near equal distributions of matter being drawn together. The similarities are not perfect, but they’re striking.

I noted above that the heroes in this last episode of Fringe have to find the place where the two universes are going to collide. Only one person is capable of doing this: the lead character, Olivia Dunham. As a child, she was the subject of experiments by scientists who wanted to create people capable of seeing into the parallel universe. Fear appears to be the psychological state that awakens the ability—little “Olive” was made to be afraid. Something very similar happens in The Dark Tower: a scientist makes a little girl aware of Othertime and her Othertime counterpart. He then treats the girl with “the greatest severity. Having thus produced in its mind a strong wish to change places with the Othertimer, he juxtaposed them, while the latter was asleep, and simply ordered the this-time child to escape him if it could. The experiment succeeded” (90). The children do not exchange bodies, only minds—and this happens to others in The Dark Tower. There is a similar exchange in Fringe. At the end of the episode, Olivia Dunham looks at her partner Peter Bishop and, using her gift, sees that he is actually from the other earth. His father Walter, the man who experimented on the child Olivia, stole him from the other side when his own version of Peter died as a young boy.

So here’s what I don’t know: I don’t know if J. J. Abrams is a Lewis fan or if he has a writer or writers who are Lewis fans working on both Lost and Fringe at the same time. But here’s what we do know: there are two incontrovertible references to C. S. Lewis in Lost. There are parallels between The Dark Tower and two of J. J. Abrams’s television shows (granted we also know that multiverse theory is popular in science and in science fiction). Nevertheless, my question is this: are the parallels between The Dark Tower and these two shows accidental, or inspired by Lewis’s little known fragment of a book? 

 

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