Parallels in LOST and Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” – Part 4 – Cycles and Salvation

So what happens if the characters’ free will affects ka or fate so heavily that events are unable to be corrected before the narrative reaches the point where it should end but can’t?

Things start over again, of course!

In both LOST and The Dark Tower, events unfold for one main purpose: salvation. Both are redemption stories; every character has some kind of regret in his or her past that must be atoned for. The purpose of finding the Island in LOST is for each of the castaways to work toward redeeming themselves in their eyes or others. The same goes for Roland and his companions. Their trek to the Dark Tower is one where they learn to overcome the limitations of their past.

Because such an emphasis is placed on character growth, for the narrative to be complete, every character must be saved, must evolve past whatever he or she was prior to the quest’s beginning. Because fate or ka has a finite area in which to work, sometimes salvation cannot be found, thus the sentient (or seemingly) forces at work in both series cannot get what they want, effectively negating the destined order of events. This causes this force is (read: the Tower or the Temple, depending on which series we’re talking about) to effectively reboot circumstance in order for each character to reach the desired goal. If fate goes awry because of free will, just give it another shot!

Each character is different, in that some might realize what the flaw that must be overcome is, while others (Roland and Jack Shephard, as my examples here employ) mistakenly consider themselves all but perfect, festering in their own character flaws.

A reboot happens at the end of The Dark Tower. Roland has apparently been questing to save the Dark Tower for eons, and he has never gotten it right. He’s never learned the lessons that ka wishes him to learn. So each time that he climbs the Tower, he gets put back into a place where he can hopefully do things the right way and reach his ultimate goal. He has to progress as a person to where ka wants him to be in order for this to happen. Otherwise, it’s a do-over.

Throughout the novels, Stephen King never writes about Roland really succeeding at his quest. Until the very end, readers never understand that Roland has travelled this same path multiple times. There are vague references to it, such as Roland seeing Susannah and Eddie grasping the concepts of being a Gunslinger faster than he thought possible, but never is the cyclical nature of ka pronounced as blatantly as when Roland finally climbs the Tower and is sent back to the desert where Book 1 begins. Only then does the reader get a look at ka’s effect on events.

Each repetition of his quest for the Tower, Roland has learns something about the mistakes he made in the past, so ka rewards him by giving him another chance to make things right. In the quest documented in the novels, one of his mistakes revolved around losing the Horn of Eld at the Battle of Jericho, where he is the only survivor of his original ka-tet. When he regains consciousness at the beginning of his rebooted quest, the Horn of Eld is with him, letting him know that he has taken a step in the right direction. But it might be just a step. Roland has no sure idea of where ka wants him until he gets there.

Roland might have been moving toward salvation, but without ka’s intervention, he might have never obtained redemption and the narrative would have never been completed as it was meant to. And as far as the readers know, he still hasn’t. The arc contained within the novels does not explicitly show Roland being redeemed, only that he is finally moving toward it after eons of apparent stagnation. This is a limitation of the series’ narrative because readers only get vague ideas of hope that Roland will one day fulfill ka’s wishes.

Roland’s flaw is that he always sees people as objects to be used for his own purposes; he has never really had a reason to see the good in people or that maybe ka has a purpose for them as well. Roland has no concept of balance or that there are greater forces at work than him. Ka is working on teaching him differently. While Roland has repeatedly met Jake and Eddie and Oy and Susannah on each other quest, he uses them until he has to continue to the Dark Tower alone, thus failing his quest because the others have not completed their own destinies because of his misplaced leadership.

Roland must indeed reach the Dark Tower alone, but the journey there is filled with other people. He has a problem realizing that the other people are not objects to be used as he sees fit, but as ka does. Roland must learn not to be entirely self-absorbed. By saving Jake from his initial death because of his own guilt, Roland altered what ka wanted, and so events were thrown off course. He perpetuated what ka already knew about him, directly leading into another repetition of the course. Roland’s dedication to ka is mere lip-service, and he will never be able to relax until he learns that he is not in control of his own destiny. Until he learns to quell his self-importance, ka will never allow him to rest because he is always looping back in on himself, but never entirely cognizant it is happening.

The same kind of cycles appear in LOST. Jeff Jensen has been saying for a while now that LOST is not only cycling through its narrative again, but it has been effectively mirroring itself from the halfway point. Meaning that the series finale will parallel the original pilot, at least thematically.

What I find interesting about LOST’s cyclical narrative is that multiple repetitions are contained entirely within the confines of the series, where The Dark Tower is only a single run-through o f one reiteration. Also, characters in LOST appear to be aware they are looping and cycling within a single narrative, whereas Roland is ignorant of his repetition. Viewers get to see the characters’ entire road to redemption rather than a single section of the journey. Jack Shephard is a perfect example of this.

He wakes up on the Island like all of the other 815 survivors, and we immediately find out that what Jack has to work on mending. He starts ordering people around, giving directions, and going completely hands-on in saving people. Eventually, viewers find out that Jack Shephard has a problem—he has to fix things and be in control. Like Roland Deschain, Jack is the center of his own universe; he must be the one in the spotlight making things better.

This character flaw ruined Jack’s pre-Island life, leading him to need the Island for salvation. A couple of examples of this: his wife left him because he was controlling and he had daddy issues (like every other character on LOST, actually) that stemmed from feeling he had to consistently one-up his father since they worked together as premier spinal surgeons in Los Angeles (don’t we all wish our lives could be that awful?). Jack would consistently have to be the one to make things better, and in the end, his self-absorption would drive people away from him.

Viewers see this on the Island from the very beginning, as well as pre-Island via flashbacks, giving the viewers even more information about the cycles the character is going through. As he and John Locke interact more, Jack’s “man of science” rationale begins to grate on everyone on the Island. He is given the leadership role on the Island despite his saying he doesn’t want it (though for such a spotlight seeker, I think that was all lip service). And what does Jack want to do instead of help stabilize the community he is set to lead? He wants to help them get off the Island, no matter what. And he succeeds. At the end of Season 3, the castaways are rescued (at least 6 of them are), and Jack is the hero of the day.

But when he gets back home, he realizes he made a mistake. He sees that they never should have left because life is just as miserable as it was initially. So what does Jack do? He tries to fix things again, only this time by gathering the people he helped leave the Island and trying to bring them back there.

And he succeeds. And the cycle begins again. Because Jack could not learn the simple lesson of “take a step back and stop trying to fix things.”

Since Jack wasn’t able to reach salvation on his first stint on the Island, fate brought him back for a second shot at it. He was too wound up in himself and his overwhelming desire to fix things that he never realized the Island for what it really is—a place to reinvent oneself. Because of him attempting to control his own fate, he has been given a second shot. In Season 5, the viewers don’t see the “I’ve got to fix this!” Jack; we see a Jack who lets others do the work while he lets things happen as they should.

At one point, Kate mentions that he’s changed and that she liked the old Jack better, to which he responds along the lines of “No, you didn’t; you didn’t like the old me.” Jack, like Roland at the end of The Dark Tower, finally confronted his character flaw and began to deal with it like an adult.

At least for a while.

By the end of the finale, Jack is back to his old ways. He thinks that it is his job to set things right once again and basically reboot history so that their plane never crashes on the Island to begin with, proving that not only is Jack Shephard stubborn, but that he also doesn’t learn from his mistakes. The Island (or the Temple, rather) will not be pleased with Jack in Season Six. Talk about delusions of grandeur. The man has some serious self-importance issues.

So the LOST cycle is in limbo due to the hiatus, but looks like there will be the narrative’s third cycle in the final season. Jack (and I am using him as a stand-in for the rest of the cast) has now gotten to the Island once, failed to learn his lesson, left the Island, realized his mistake, went through a ridiculous amount of trouble to get back to the Island a second time, went through some deep philosophical growth, only to come back to the point where he wants to leave the Island again under his own power, effectively negating every bit of personal growth he had achieved. Season Six will represent Jack’s (and any other castaways who have yet to learn their lessons) final opportunity to fulfill their destiny and move past the…well…past, provided that the narrative is set to actually end (and I think it is) with the final episode instead of starting over yet again. I do not think the series will end with Jack’s eye opening on the beach as in the pilot because the creators have already recycled this image in the episode “316.”

I have a feeling that Season Six will be Point Z of the narrative (instead of a loop back to the beginning like The Dark Tower) because of the cycles viewers have seen in the series so far. Were LOST documenting a single leg of the 815 survivors’ journey to redemption, I think that it be much more drawn out and continuous, and there would be fewer cycles within the show itself. The show’s structure is intentionally segmented into different arcs despite its serialization, whereas The Dark Tower is a single narrative across seven volumes. The show itself would be a single cycle like The Dark Tower if the end of the series were to perfectly parallel the beginning. But because there is a definitive beginning and ending set, viewers get to see the whole arc rather than simply one section of it and being told there is something larger at work. While that aspect works very well for The Dark Tower because of the scope of the narrative itself (even though it is based around redemption, the story primarily deals with the ending/protecting of all existence), I feel that LOST is far more character-driven. The story and mythology only exist to facilitate the characters’ redemption.

Where in The Dark Tower, the Tower utilizes Roland’s salvation to save itself, LOST’s arc makes Jack and Jin and Kate and all of the castaways’ personal salvation more important than the Island itself. The quest is not to get to the place where salvation will occur, but to actually perpetrate that salvation once there. While there is the narrative arc where Ben and Jack try to protect the Island from people like Charles Widmore like The Dark Tower told about Roland protecting the Tower from the Crimson King, that narrative cold not exist if not for the characters’ story of reaching salvation.

Both series utilize the same mechanics to different ends, but there is enough shared between them that makes me realize that it cannot be mere coincidence. While The Dark Tower has yet to be added to the ABC.com official library for LOST, the creators use the phrase “our hero” when referring to Stephen King. And given that LOST is something of a television phenomenon, I can think of no better way to honor one’s hero than to have striking parallels to his opus. While the characters are entirely different, the scope of both shows works in much the same way, utilizing the same devices and mechanisms to deliver the impressive narrative. The genius in the way these series parallel one another is not necessarily in the specific ways of how they do it, but in that they are so imperceptively linked that it takes a deeper look at them to see the similarities.

So that’s my look at The Dark Tower through the lens of LOST. Or is that the other way around? I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I have writing it. Approaching this topic really made me appreciate the breadth and scope that really make both of these epics tick. And I hope that Season Six doesn’t throw every idea I’ve had here out of the water, allowing me to expand some of the ideas presented here into a paper or two. But if it does, then oh well. Half the fun of theorizing about LOST is being proven completely wrong when the developers (or other, more observant fans) completely pull the rug out from under you.

Comments

  1. Phil

    Really good series…Personally, I cringe when I hear the LOST/Dark Tower comparison – if only because of the way the Dark Tower meandered toward an ending.

    I'm a big fan of King, and I'm curious to hear what kind of comparisons you draw between LOST and The Stand. The writers have said that there is always a copy of The Stand in the writer's room. I see a lot of parallels between Dark Tower and LOST, but when I try to describe the show to someone who hasn't watched it, my first question is "Have you read The Stand?" I think I do so because, since Season 2, we've been hearing, "We're the good guys" from one side or another. The events of late Season 5 really drive it home for me. Jacob and his enemy are such close representations of Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg in terms of their light and dark nature. Obviously this is a much longer topic to discuss, but I figured I'd bring it up and see what you thought.

  2. Beej

    I feel the exact opposite, actually, about "The Dark Tower." I felt that it was the beginning of the series which kind of wandered and then finally found feet and rushed to a conclusion.

    To be honest, I really haven't even thought through anything regarding "The Stand" and LOST. I see the existential fight between good and evil on the surface and parallels in how neither faction really knows if they're on the correct side, but past that, I'm at a loss. I've just not spent any time thinking of the two together.

    One aspect that I think warrants much deeper inspection (next year's PCA paper, perhaps?) is the way communities are formed and governed. There are unique communities set up in LOST and "The Stand" where traditional forms of government are tried, at least superficially, but approach failure because of human nature. The Dharma Initiative and Flagg's Las Vegas come to mind as the strict, rules-driven place, while the Denver Free Zone has a lot of parallels in leadership with Stuart Redman and Jack Shephard both not really wanting the responsibility of leading, but having to take it anyway.

    There's more I'm sure, but that's just off the top of my head. I need to think about this a lot more…

    Thanks, Phil!

  3. Trey

    Hey there! I came across your blog through a google search. Found it very interesting and your posts are comprehensive.

  4. Phil

    I think that's a very interesting point (about societies) and I also find it really interesting that both the DI and Flagg's Vegas were undone by the addition of "outsiders." Again, really enjoyed your LOST series – it's always nice to read stuff from an educated mind pertaining to my favorite show. 🙂

  5. Ben Miller

    My wife lovs LOST, I never really got into it. After reading this, I'm willing to give it another shot. You have presented the material very well. Thanks!

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