'Literary Lost' Concerns Itself with, Quite Literally, Novel Television

Works like this do the Lost series a favor by enriching what’s on screen, digging out the hidden and the obvious allusions.

Literary Lost: Viewing Television Through the Lens of Literature

Publisher: Continuum
Length: 167 pages
Author: Sarah Clarke Stuart
Price: $19.95
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2011-01

Lost wore its literary references on its sleeve, making sure viewers saw the spines, covers and symbols of dozens of books over its six season run. Sawyer (Josh Holloway) built a library from dead passengers' luggage, Ben (Michael Emerson) quoted Steinbeck and read Joyce, and Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) had a thing for Dickens. Books were referenced in episodes titles, characters' names, and locations on the island. From there it was just a quick jump to Wikipedia or the local library to begin connecting the dots.

The series' writers relied heavily on well-worn references to books like Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, eternal references that everyone knows even if they haven't read the books. The strange worlds populated by little girls who chase rabbits or wizards and aren't all they claim to be loom large in the consciousness of people everywhere. In Lost they refer to specific characters and incidents, but often these references are about tone, feeling or sentiment as much as they are about plot.

The creators of the show made much of the fact that they viewed each season as a single chapter in the overall "novel" of the show, and despite nay sayers’ concerns, executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were insistent that they knew how the series would end almost from the beginning. Even talk of the mechanics of the show, the piecing together of the narrative, was done in terms normally ascribed to books.

In this clever and concise book, author Sarah Clarke Stuart explores the close relationship of the series with nearly 100 different works of literature ranging from ancient works like Gilgamesh to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Some books are related to the show either through their direct reference or appearance on the show, such as Of Mice and Men and Watership Down, while others are only thematically related, such as Stephen King's Dark Tower series.

Stuart argues that Lost serves as a kind of reader's advisory for its viewers, directing them to books both popular and classic that explore themes similar to the show. “Canonical works of fiction appear on screen to underscore an episode’s thematic concerns [and] invite...discussion,” she writes. This is probably the series’ greatest legacy, that each episode was picked apart and analyzed by fans at home in their living rooms, in chat rooms or in articles such as Entertainment Weekly’s online “Doc Jensen” column. Clarke’s take is that Lost served not only as appointment television for its viewers, but as an inspiration to seek out the books it referenced, the exact opposite effect a television show is suppose to have.

Stuart thankfully ignores the temptation to critique the show or log complaints about plot holes, unanswered questions or the ending, instead sticking to straight analysis. Works like this do the series a favor by enriching what’s on screen, digging out the hidden and the obvious allusions that renew interest in the show and invite repeat viewings long after its ending.

All stories contain elements from other works, Clarke says, but more than other shows, Lost is a synthesis of all its external influences and sources, especially books. It was a conscious decision on the part of the creators to show the parts that made the series whole. Because the series ended in 2010, Stuart is able to view the series and its literary cousins as one complete piece, something other books about the show are sorely lacking. The internet is obviously a great tool for digging through both academic and fan analysis, but for lovers of books and the show, this book is a great starting point that will help avoid the rabbit hole of the online world.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.