Parallels in LOST and Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” – Part 3 – Course Correction and Ka

In both LOST and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, there are higher powers at play than simply the characters themselves. Jack Shephard and Ben Linus are nowhere near as important as they each think themselves to be, nor is Roland Deschain able to decide whether or not he continues his quest toward the Dark Tower. In all cases, all decisions come down to the discretion of a higher power. LOST fans are very much aware of the Island’s penchant for “course correction,” and The Dark Tower universe hinges entirely on the concept of ka. At its most elementary, this higher power could be termed fate or destiny, but that really doesn’t even hint at the true complexity of the phenomena.

Ka is defined loosely as a destiny-like power in The Dark Tower. It’s not quite destiny in that it seems to be a semi-sentient force with a will of its own. Destiny is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the power or agency by which, according to various systems of philosophy and popular belief, all events, or certain particular events, are unalterably predetermined.” Ka differs from traditional thoughts on destiny because it is not “unalterable.” While ka might wish something to happen, it is not simply set to occur. If Roland (or anyone, for that matter) goes against what ka wishes to happen, then ka will alter how events play out until things go the way it wills, but there are no predetermined roles for people to play or how events will unfold. On the otehr hand, destiny (according to the OED) is a linear, unyielding progression of fate.

LOST, too, has a non-linear representation of fate. This universe simply refers to things that went fatedly awry as “course correction.” The interesting thing about LOST’s course correction is that neither viewers nor characters are sure of where the correction is coming from, where in The Dark Tower, Roland (and really all people) are aware of ka’s thumb in every pie. Its source will likely be explained in Season 6 (my theory: the Temple), but for now, it is one of the great mysteries of the Island. And again, one that directly parallels Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

LOST’s most prominent focus for course correction is Desmond Hume. We learn that he is the only Islander special enough to be Daniel Faraday’s constant, though we never fully understand the ramifications of the revelation. We learn that he (for reasons we have not yet been told) possesses a unique affinity to space-time. But more importantly, we learn that despite this affinity, Desmond Hume is still a slave to the Island’s course correction, making him a direct parallel to Roland Deschain and showing that despite any character’s proximity to the Island’s source of power, there is still something greater at work.

Desmond’s arc during Season 3 predominantly dealt with his being unable to save Charlie Pace from death. Desmond would see Charlie die in a clairvoyant flash, and he could take steps to prevent his vision from coming true. Unfortunately for Charlie, each time Desmond saved his life, fate (or rather, the entity that controls fate) would course correct and invariably put Charlie in equal or greater danger further down the road. Desmond continues to get flashes of Charlie’s eventual death with increasing frequency, and eventually comes to the realization that, in the end, he cannot not save Charlie. Charlie’s path always led to death. When Desmond realized this and stopped trying to fight the unavoidable, LOST’s narrative was able to once again move toward its resolution, but through events that were not intended to be part of the main course of history.

You see, the narrative arc in LOST must go from Point A to Point Z. There are a finite number of episodes in the series as determined by the execs at ABC and the creators. As of this writing, there are 18 more hours until Point Z airs and the series ends with either a bang or a whimper (or a “well, huh” like Battlestar Galactica did). Now, the Pilot episode is Point A. The series finale is Point Z. However, as the show progresses and the story evolves, there does not there have to exist a mere 24 points within the range of A to Z. And that’s where course correction comes in.

Since Charlie Pace’s death was integral to the narrative being completed as evidenced by the amount of course correction used to finally culminate it, then the event would exist as a static point in the series. For the sake of this example, let’s call it Point M. When Desmond prevented Charlie from dying to the electrical strike, Point M could no longer progress into Point N. The course correction, then, created a new narrative point that did not and could not have existed before: Point M1. The interesting part of this line of thought is that Point M1 cannot lead directly into Point N like the original plot would have. Events changed. And Desmond tried multiple times to prevent Charlie’s death, never allowing the narrative to reach Point N as was originally intended, so he repeatedly created various other Point M’s. Eventually, Point M4 (just as an example) was fulfilled and Charlie died. The narrative, however, still cannot go into Point N or even Point N1 because other “fated” events were changed, thus destroying the original narrative entirely.

Still following me? Okay.

So even though the original event never occurred, the intended outcome of the event eventually did—Charlie died. This led to even more course correction. Point M4 needed to get back on the original track because the fated outcome of the series is not the analogous Z4. It was simply Point Z. So Charlie’s death was not only impacted by the successive events, they were created by it, making the characters in LOST have experiences they were never intended to have, yet had to have in order to get linear time back on course. Point M4 would work toward getting back to Point Z through Point N4 then O3 then P2 and finally back to the original timeline of events with Point Q, but all of these corrected points diverge from the original timeline and exist only because fate and destiny on LOST are not unalterable.

This same narrative structure exists as a major component of The Dark Tower, only it takes Roland much longer to accept than it does Desmond. In the first novel of The Dark Tower series, Roland finds Jake Chambers alone at a way-station in the desert and takes the child under his protection; he eventually finds out that the boy arrived there through being murdered in another world. By the end of the book, Roland has to make a choice: he can either save Jake from falling to his death, or he can let Jake die and finally catch up to the man he has been chasing since the first line of the novel and get closer to his goal of reaching The Dark Tower itself. He chooses to let Jake die, and he catches his enemy, and progresses his quest to the Dark Tower.

Roland never forgives himself for making the decision to let Jake die, so when he is given the opportunity to prevent it from happening in Book 2, he travels to Jake’s home world and stops him from ever being murdered in the first place. Because of this, Jake will never end up at the way-station. This creates a paradox wherein both Jake and Roland experience their minds being split between two separate realities. This is where ka comes in, course correction. Roland and his companions had to complete a ritual to draw Jake entirely into the one world in which he is supposed to exist to set their minds correct, but the side effect of doing so is that Roland inadvertently and unknowingly fathers a bastard child ka never intended for him to have and nullifies Jake’s intended death in Book 1. Ka must then not only find a place for Roland’s son Mordred to exist, but also a way for fate to turn out the way it should.

It is only later in the series that Roland learns that he made the wrong decision by attempting to protect Jake from his death. Jake Chambers, like Charlie Pace, was doomed to die, and Roland, like Desmond, had to stop protecting him and let it happen. Because ka willed it. When he was killed in his own world and ended up meeting Roland, everything was hunky-dory, going as planned. When Roland had the opportunity to let him drop, he was supposed to. It was Jake’s fate to be killed to further Roland’s quest to the Dark Tower. That was the only way that Point A would get to Point Z. When Roland saved him from his initial death, ka had to begin correcting its course, leading to The Dark Tower’s unintended transgression away from Point Z. The only way to get everything back in the right direction was to have Roland father Mordred, confront him at the end of the series, and perpetuate events which leads to Jake’s true and intended death in Maine. Roland not letting Jake die altered the plans that ka held for him and caused ka to have to devise an all new set of events to get Roland prepared to reach the Dark Tower. Had Jake died in Book 1, the novels would have been entirely different. Roland and his companions would have had entirely different experiences had ka not had to compensate.

Ka manufactured Jake’s true death in place of the fictionalized character of Stephen King, allowing Roland to finally reach the Dark Tower because the fictional author was not injured or killed as would have happened if Jake had not been there, and thus King was able to write the end of the series. This would have been a point similar to my example of LOST’s Point M4 in that it would have never existed on a linear narrative arc, but course correction insisted that it was the best way to get to the end originally designated. By not Jake not dying when he was intended, Roland, like Desmond, altered destiny’s course, but not its destination. Never its destination.

The Dark Tower’s narrative structure runs as a cycle (or, as Patrick McAleer noted at this year’s Popular Culture Association conference, a spiral), with the end of the series looping back directly to where the first one began. Unlike LOST (which will presumably complete its narrative arc at the end of Season Six), The Dark Tower could not reach Point Z by the time events lead there. It is made clear to the reader when The Dark Tower finishes that its course correction has yet to be completed, and it has been unable to be completed countless times. Ka places Roland Deschain back at a point where his decisions will (hopefully) lead him where ka wants everything to end. It is implied that the cycle the novels cover teaches Roland a lesson which he has been unable to learn in repetitions past.

In my next (and final) installment of LOST and The Dark Tower parallels, I intend to look at the occurrence of cyclical narrative and how it seems to appear in both series as a mechanism to further characters’ salvation.

Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Woah. The parallels between Desmond/Charlie and Roland/Jake are very striking. Great catch.

  2. Ixobelle

    um. oh shit, I just popped by for one sec and can see I hjave a lot of catching up to do. I love(d) the whole Dark Tower series, and love Lost as well. I think I just found a good chunk of stuff to print for the plane trip!

    <3

  3. Ixobelle

    okay, so I couldn't wait, and read them already.

    You make some good points, but I'm not sure I'm entirely in the boat with you about Widmore. Charles Widmore may very well be a good guy in the end; it's open enough at this point that he could swing either way. For all we know, charles is our Roland, trying to find his way back on course to the Temple/Tower after having left the island.

    I see the correlations you're drawing with Desmond, but I'm not sure I can get all the way behind it… the Point M4 stuff is a bit too convoluted, too, I think. I see what you're saying with course correction in relation to Ka, but you get kind of bogged down there in the middle. The example of Jake dying/not dying, and having him and Roland suffering thru splits until everything can 'mesh back up' with Jake being pulled through the door of the haunted house is enough to drive that point home… I think you go a bit too deep into it, but it is a hard subject to tackle.

    In the end, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Lost wraps right back around to jack opening his eyes on the beach. At this point, I almost think that's the only way they COULD end it.

    awesome series of posts, I look forward to #4

  4. Beej

    I can really see where your thoughts on Widmore come in. I'm not sure what to really believe about him yet because my way of watching the show is kind of biased because I'm so sympathetic toward Ben. I don't know if I would really call anyone a good guy at this point, but I wouldn't be shocked at all for Widmore to actually be the altruistic one in the end. I just don't see enough evidence at the point where we are to make that claim.

    And yeah, writing about Desmond/Roland was convoluted in my head, and this was the best way I could really get it out.

    I really hope that LOST doesn't have Jack opening his eye back on the beach again. I feel that would be a cop out for that series (which will hopefully be explained in the final section of this series which I will post momentarily) because of how we've already seen that repetition of a cycle when he made it back to the Island in Season 5. I hope they do something we've not seen.

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