Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Jack’s Last Battle: Some Final Thoughts on Lost and C. S. Lewis
This past week saw the series finales of two of my long running favorite shows, Lost and 24. Without them I will probably get more work done. So here are some final thoughts of these two (usually) brilliant and revolutionary shows.
To deal with Lost first, I have long cherished the fact that they included C. S. Lewis in the guise of Charlotte Staples Lewis among the great philosophers such as Locke, Rousseau, and Hume to be named on the show. So I was particularly intrigued by the fact that they chose to pull off an ending reminiscent of how Lewis ended the Chronicles of Narnia with the Last Battle. Lewis famously (or infamously) had almost all the major human characters from the series killed off in a train accident and taken off to Aslan's kingdom where they all live happily ever after. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a series of kid's books. Most infamously of all, Lewis has Susan left behind, because she had abandoned "belief" in Narnia for her adult cares, mainly nylon stockings. Many have argued that nylons were meant as code for sex and that Lewis was telling kids that if they have pre-marital sex they will go to hell.
Anyone familiar with Lewis' wider body of work, not just Narnia, would tell you that, for Lewis, it really is about the small things, such as nylons, to such an extent that if Lewis had written that Susan was not going to be saved because of her sex life, sex is really code for all the petty vain things, like nylons, that are really at the heart of the matter. In Lewis' theology it is always the small sins that are important and which damn us. The big sins are merely the end result of all the small sins. For this reason, it is of little importance that, in Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund betrays his siblings to the White Witch. The real issue at hand was Edmund's pride and jealously, present from the beginning of the story. A chastened humble Edmund is a savable Edmund, regardless of the consequences of his misdeeds. On the contrary, having to live with the consequences serves all the more as a chastisement to cure the original sin. The real problem with sex is not the act itself. The real issues (at least potentially) at hand are the pride that led one to think they are above conventional morality, the desire, not so much for physical pleasure, but to be part of the inner circle of people in the "know" and the rebellion against conventional morals. As Lewis points out in his essay, the Inner Ring:
Freud would say, no doubt, that the whole thing is a subterfuge of the sexual impulse. I wonder whether the shoe is not sometimes on the other foot. I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number of people who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.
A person could easily come to regret a sexual action, in of itself, and repent. It is not so simple to repent from the pride that led to it. Without facing the issue of pride there can be no meaningful repentance for sex and the deed will be repeated and worse things will follow.
The major mystery with Lost in the final season was what to make of the alternative parallel universe, populated by versions of the main characters, that came into existence, seemingly after Juliet Burke set off a nuclear bomb on the Island at the end of season five. I was hoping for Desmond Hume to bring back John Locke from the alternative universe to save the Island from the smoke monster, who had taken the form of Locke. (Hats off to Terry O'Quinn for the range he showed over the series, playing the noble John Locke with his struggles with faith in the Island for four seasons, the smoke monster pretending to be Locke for one season, and the utterly satanic yet chillingly charming smoke monster this last season. Whatever qualms I may have with the quality of the writing of this show at times, I cannot stress enough how talented a cast of actors Lost had.) The alternative universe Locke would be followed by the rest of the people in the alternative universe, who sacrifice themselves and the happier existences of the alternative universe to cross back over and save the Island.
I was always far more of a John Locke fan than a Jack Shephard fan. Shephard might be important as the political leader of the survivors, establishing a community, but it was Locke, who confronted the big questions of meaning and the purpose of the Island. I certainly could not care less about the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle. I would compare the relationship between Shephard and Locke to the relationship, I once discussed, between Peter and Ender Wiggin in the Ender series. Instead of letting this play out, the writers decided to let Jack take on what should have been Locke's role as the faith leader to save the Island.
To top it all off, in the end the alternative universe ends up playing no role in the final conflict with the smoke monster. It is a gateway world where all the characters who died during the show along with the characters who survived but will one day die have been gathered together to fix their relationships before moving on together. The "Jew" Benjamin Linus is even given a truly moving repentance scene that Lewis would surely have approved of. Linus asks Locke for forgiveness for trying to kill him; the sin he focuses on is not murder, but the jealously that drove him to it. That being said, this gathering together was a cope out that dodged the major issues and failed to give six seasons of mystery the ending it deserved. Whatever else you can say about what Lewis did to Narnia in the Last Battle, and it certainly is the most difficult of the seven books, at least his narrative made sense.