Posted by: Billy Marsh | June 21, 2010

Lost and The Silmarillion


After a few weeks coping with the departure of “Lost,” I’ve had some time to reflect and discuss the way the series ended without being given over to my bias for the show as the most thoughtful and interesting thing that has come across television since I’ve been a cognizant watcher. In my analysis of the show’s finale, I’ve tried to be honest with my feelings about how they wrapped up its clearly emphasized two dimensions: the characters and the island. What follows is not an attempt to get the producers and writers off the hook; instead, maybe my evaluation of how “Lost” came to a close will help viewers understand the show’s self-imposed limitations and what may have been some of the reasoning behind doing what they did. Now I offer my comments without any claim to being a “Lost” fanatic, so if what I write is ignorant from insider info, then I plead guilty as charged.

As Kim and I discussed the two and half hour finale, I was more torn between my sentimentality and my need for more answers than she was. For the record, I loved the series finale in its own right. There were many elements to it such as the identity of the sideways world, Locke vs. Jack, Jack’s sacrifice, and Hurley becoming the new Jacob/Jack that I thought couldn’t have been any more fitting. I especially applaud the show’s final minutes as Jack makes his way back to where he began in Season one/Episode one, watching the plane flying over top, Vincent lying down beside him, and the shutting of his eye–some of the best moments in t.v. entertainment I’ve ever seen, rivaling many movies. On the other hand, as I watched the credits roll, as much as I wanted to, I could not avoid the nagging sensation that I was left unsatisfied. The producers were clear that “Lost” has always ultimately been about character study, and this aspect is undeniable. The intrigue, however, is the island, which is what set it apart from being an updated version of “Gilligan’s Island”. Since the series’ inception, the question has always been: What is the island? Where did it come from? What is its purpose?, and so forth. But the show ended without delivering substantive answers to these looming questions. Instead, as the final hour approached, snippets from the producers and cast interviews focused upon how “Lost” has from the beginning been a show devoted to character study. Although I believe this point to be true of the show’s intent and origin, underneath it all “Lost” has been about intrigue and mystery. As the series progressed, it began to dip more and more into the mythological arena of storytelling, and this aspect is what I believe forced the show to end the way it did. Let me illustrate.

J. R. R. Tolkien is ultimately famous for The Lord of the Rings. Despite being a somewhat self-contained story in its own right, in LOTR one finds Tolkien’s Middle Earth as a world steeped in history, with its own mythology. Lineage, heritage, place names, and character overlap and connections streamline the entire trilogy. Even The Hobbit cannot be ignored from playing somewhat of a “prequel” role to LOTR. Because Tolkien created a mythological world, he had to give answers. Being the genius that he was, he realized that the only way to accomplish this goal satisfyingly would be to do it exhaustively, hence, The Silmarillion. This gem of a book is the mythological-historical glue for all that Tolkien wrote about Middle Earth. It serves as the primal reference point for all of the 4 “W” questions and the “How’s?”.

Christopher Tolkien, one of Tolkien’s sons, edited his father’s lifelong work and had The Silmarillion posthumously published in 1977. J. R. R. Tolkien died in 1973 never getting to see the great work perhaps closest to his heart realized. There is manuscript evidence that shows that Tolkien’s first writings having to do with Middle Earth were those pertaining to the creation of The Silmarillion dating all the way back to 1913. So think about it. The singular work that ties together the whole of Middle Earth’s mythology from its origin to its first two ages and entrance into its third age (the time period of LOTR) spanned nearly 60 years and still remained unpublished and unpolished at the author’s death.

Once the writers of “Lost” delved into the mythological aspects of the island in order to answer questions, all they did was create even more questions that required answers. For instance, questions regarding the backstories on Jacob and the Man in Black were answered, but in turn left the viewer unfulfilled since Jacob and the Man in Black were only humans and were obviously predated by others on the island. Or take the light at the center of the island. This revelation helped provide more understanding regarding the purpose of the island, but immediately led to further questions of what exactly the light was and how’d it get there? This regress would  continue to occur until you got back to the beginning, that is, to the creation of the world in which “Lost” exists. Tolkien understood this point well and it is manifest as you open The Silmarillion and find in the initial chapters Middle Earth’s own “Genesis” story.

It took Tolkien the majority of his life to complete The Silmarillion, and thankfully we now have it due to a loving and faithful son who has taken up the task of honoring his father. We can’t, however, expect the writers of “Lost” to accomplish the same exhaustive answering to all of our questions in only 6 seasons. They boxed themselves into a corner when they began to create more and more mythological qualities to the island, which created for them the insurmountable task of making all of the question marks in our heads disappear by the last epsisode. Instead, they misdirected and hit us in the hearts to take our minds off of the details of the unknown. In its finale, “Lost” did what it does best, and that is, drama. In some ways, I’m pleased with how the show ended because they tried hard in the last season to answer as much as they could knowing that they would never clear everything up. Moreover, as the show came to a close, the character portrayals reminded us why we loved it for so much more than just the intrigue. But like I said before, I’m not trying to get it off the hook for all of the questions unanswered and the mythology that was left hanging. I just think that coming at it from this angle will help us be a little bit more sympathetic towards the producers and writers regarding their self-imposed dilemma that restrained them from having the freedom of creating their own Silmarillion to cover all their bases.


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