Saturday, December 19, 2009

3 - The Gunslinger Revealed - a Review of John Locke

Is Locke Destiny's Child or Fate's Fool?

First, Merry Christmas. I managed to finally complete a very rambling musing on the importance of John Locke to the underlying mythology of Lost.
Before starting that rambling, I'd just like to say thanks to all the Lost fans and podcasters who have created a rich and vibrant community that surrounds and permeates the show Lost. I especially want to thank Matt & Leslie from "Keys to Lost" for their most excellent character studies. I think they have been the most interesting hiatus podcasts and a heck of a lot of fun. Also, my thanks to Jen & Ryan from The Transmission for their rebroadcast of the Lost Master Class and their season 3 rewatch. It really helped me appreciate the season I might have rated the lowest. I even learned to appreciate "Expose". Way to go Ryan!

Gunslinger Criteria
So here's my criteria for reviewing John Locke, Jack Shephard, James 'Sawyer' Ford (& that sneeky Ben Linus will worm his way in to before I'm done).

1st test for the gunslinger is background.
Roland was a direct decendent of Arthur Eld (King Arthur). He was a leader by birth, by the guns and loyalty he earned. He honored his father, was torn because of his mother's betrayal against his father, and accidentally kills his mother. He lived in a world where everything he valued was destroyed yet he kept faith with his duty and honor. A classic hero hears the call to adventure and answers it. He also receives assistance along the way. (In some hero's journeys, the hero suffers awfully in pursuit of his quest, in others the universe itself aligns to make his insurmountable mission achievable).

2nd test is the gunslinger's character and his growth as a hero
Key to this test, is the individual rising above their individual motivations, to develop empathy with his friends, family, community, and larger world. Going beyond empathy, to atonement (or at one-ment) to be willing to sacrifice
He is emotionally devestated and becomes a cold, bitter man. He sacrifices his friends and those he loved to his duty and his obsession with the Dark Tower. Later he earns redemntion because of the willingness of his new friends to sacrifice for him and together they encounter desperate people needing their help. Roland chooses to detour from the Dark Tower and follow the duties of a gunslinger to aid them. He risks his life and his friends willingly risk theirs. He achieves a 'grail' like quest in both the protection of the 'Rose', and his attainment of the tower. He is an arch type hero in many ways continuing a cosmological cycle of 'rebirth' through his protecting of the universe (at least for this cycle) but goes beyond the run of the mill hero in that, when he attains the Dark Tower, he does not seek dominion of it and it's power, but passes through every level to reach the top and is reborn to continue the cycle again. A very karma (or ka) like turning of the wheel. And very buddha like, as it is hinted that he improves his choices (and the outcome) with every cycle. I personally see a resemblance to the movie "Ground Hog Day" where Bill Murray is condemned to repeat the same day over and over until. At first it is a living hell, but he eventually sees it as a blessing and tries to both improve himself and everyone he touches in that day. So to be a Lost 'gunslinger' one has to be a significant hero with potential 'game-changing' scope for his hero's path.

3rd test is the gunslinger's quest
Roland's mthyic quest, his hero's journey has many layers. He becomes his own man, perseveres through the failures that afflict him, finds redemtion, earns loyalty from his friends, discovers understanding of his world, conquers the threats to it. After his afflictions and failure (very Job like in their magnitude and scope) he redeems himself of the bitter life he lives through the love, loyalty and sacrifice of his friends to his cause. This is the essense of his successful quest. It is this redemntion and love which leads to his friends joining together to work to the successful protection of Stephen King, protecting The Rose, conquering the minions of the Crimson King attacking the beams and wins through to the Dark Tower itself. His final victory is relenquishing the power of the tower to pass through it. When he does so, he receives the 'gift' of rebirth and the opportunity to improve himself and the world through his choices. Like the game-changing hero, Roland does not dwell in his success. Like Moses, he reaches the 'promissed land' but does not assert a personal soveignty to his success, bequething the success of his quest to those who he once was willing to sacrifice to reach his end.

John Locke (see my summary of major events in John's life (comming soon) or Lostpedia's excellent summary)

Summary of Gunslinger Qualifications:
--Locke believes in fate (ka) and his destiny. He has doubts but overcomes them. He has sacrificed his friends (Boone) and taken actions that harm others (destroying their chances to escape the island) in pursuit of his destiny. He has murdered (Naomi).
--Locke has a mystical connection to the Island, he has been miraculously healed, he receives visions, he is acknowledged as a leader.
--He has also risked his life to help others and eventually surrenders his place on the island, leaving it to save his friends from death by time travel. He willingly takes action that will result in his death, as a sacrifice demanded by the island.
--He appears to have either conquered death, traveled from the past into the future past his own death, or someone is impersonated John.

But in season 5 he takes command over Ben and the Others, and dramatically brings about the death of Jacob.

--While Locke does not have the pedigree of Roland (unless Anthony Cooper is not his father-perhaps Jacob himself, or another?) he has suffered loss, both emotional and physical.
--Locke has grown as a leader, but has done terrible things. But then again so had Roland. Locke did seem to undergo a transformation after Ben 'moves' the island by turning the wheel, and is willing to leave the island in order to protect it. He even willingly sacrifices his own life.
--We have yet to learn how John is alive on the Island. I find it plausible that somewhere in all the time jumping and implosion of the Swan Hatch, that he could have journyed into the future, past his death. If so, his redeemtion will rest on the knowledge that his path leads eventually to his death and being dumped from a cargo box at the foot of the statue. Whether John is redeemed, or is a mysterious impersonator, or if John Locke's fate will also be 'reset' will be discovered in Season 6.

--Locke as a mthylogogical hereo. I think the strongest case for John Locke as "the gunslinger" depends on whether Locke (or any Lost character) transforms from a leader and heroic figure to a full blown mythological hero. Of course to have such a hero, we will need to have the successful completion of a mythic quest and while I believe everyone might agree that 'monumental' deeds are occuring, we have little or no idea where they will lead. Rather than make guesses (you'd have to start by asking if Locke is even still alive and if not just who is impersonating him and how) I wanted to just highlight some portentious events which point to John Locke as a tranformative figure.
-->>When Richard appears to a young Locke and gives him the 'buddha test', he layous out: A brass compass, A baseball glove, An old book whose cover bears the title "Book of Laws", A vial of granules, A comic book, Mystery Tales issue 40 from April 1956 (right before Locke's birth), bearing the subtitle "What was the secret of the mysterious 'HIDDEN LAND!'" and A wood-handled knife. While all the items may have signficance, I believe the Book of Laws and the knife are the key artifacts.

Joseph Cambell in his book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" in his chapter on the 'Transformations of the Hero' describes 'the supreme hero' as one who does not

  • "merely continues the dynamics of the cosmogonic round, but he who reopens the eye-so that through all the comings and goings, delights and agonies of the world parorama, the One Presense will be seen again. This requires deper wisdom than the other (the hero who just continues the cycle-here he describes a hero who brings to all a method for that age to glimpse and particpate in the mysteries of the 'One Presense'), and results ina pattern not of action but of signficant representation. The symbol of the first is the virtuous sword (perhaps represented by the KNIFE), of the second, the scepter of dominion, or the book of the law. The characteristic adventure of the first is the wining of the bride--the bride is life. The adventures of the second is the going to the father--the father is the invisible unknown."
This more complex father quest is not just one of personal discovery or of one man's passage from son to father, but is symbolic of the quest to encompass the unknown and translate the experience of it in a way which can be imparted to others. So this hero does not succeed by the sword (to free life or overcome a tyrant) but by the book of laws. The book of laws representing the knowledge to be brought back to all people so that they might share in it. This hero brings back the experience and life sustaining mysteries and passes them on.

The universal path of the hero, or as Campbell calls it, the hero's journey, can be seen in the diagram below and in greater detail at the Wikipidia site describing Campbell's Monomyth (universal hero myth):

A wonderful website dedicated to Bill Moyer's discussions with Joseph Campbell and the resulting transcript, "The Power of Myth", including a video of their conversation can be found at:

The significance of this for Lost is summed up by Mr. Eko relating to John Locke the story of Josiah in "What Kate did" when he gives John the bible with the deleted Swan orientation film. In this example Josiah resestablishes the importance of God in Isreal using the Bible (Old Testemant/Book of Laws) and not any kingly powers or resources. The task that I believe the Island and Richard Alpert are looking to accomplish is as profound as Moses going forth to the mountain to bring back the Ten Commandments, crossing the desert and leading the Hebrews to Isreal.

I believe the quest to discover the unknown father relates to this myth as well as alluding to possibility that Anthony Cooper was not John's real father. So many of Lost's characters have 'daddy issues'. I believe Jacob is the 'unknown father' of more than one character. I personally believe Jacob is the father of: John Locke and Ben Linus and am on the fence about Jack Shephard and James Ford.

Ben sarcasticlly sums up Locke's role while they are in the statue's foot confronting Jacob. Ben caustically confronts Jacob by saying that while he has served him unwavingly for all these years, he has never been acknowledged. Richard has always been the go-between between Jacob and Ben, bringing him all of those lists. And whenever Ben asked to see Jacob he was told he'd have to be patient, while John Locke is immediately brought forth as if he was Moses.

Jacob has been the 'lawgiver'/manipulator/controller on the island in a way similar to the Crimson King in The Dark Tower. He acts through intermediaries and might be imprisoned in the statue (or the Cabin). Jacob's death is as necessary as the Crimson King's or even of Christ. Because the father can be either good or evil, nurturing or an repressive ogre. The figure of the unknown father needs to be overcome (or slain) to release life giving energies he controls and to allow the possibility of the tyrant/lawgiver being replaced by 'a book of laws' so that all people may share in the energy/mystery formerlly controlled solely by the father/tyrant.

I believe Ben himself reveals the central theme in Lost when he (as Henry Gale) quotes from The Brothers Karamazov in "The Whole Truth" (Locke gives Henry/Ben the book in the previous epsisode "Maternity Leave").
GALE: [reading from the book] Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honor those whom they have slain. [to Jack] So what's the difference between a martyr and a prophet?
JACK: Either way, it sounds like you end up dead.

Not only does Ben portend the mythological sacrifice of the Island's prophet, Jacob, but he reveals the key to the mythical task at hand. False prophets are killed by the people because they don't have a connection to god/the one presense and are motivated by personal ambition. Real prophets are also ussually killed, but by the rulers who are threatened by the message they bring to the people which threatens their control. Real prophets know that their lives will be sacrificed and become martyrs in order to convey their message to the people. Their message will live on after their death. The martyr's hero's journey is to bring the message to the people even though he will not live to share in it's benefits. Like Locke accepting Christian Shepard "that's why they call it a sacrifice" when he relates Richard Alpert's message to him that he must die in order for the island to be saved. (Yes and we know that John Locke/or impersonator is the originator of that message)

If we look at the surround text from Ben's quote.

"And even though your light was shining, yet you see men were not saved by it, hold firm and doubt not the power of the heavenly light. Believe that if they were not saved, they will be saved hereafter. And if they are not saved hereafter, then their sons will be saved, for your light will not die even when you are dead. The righteous man departs, but his light remains. Men are always saved after the death of the deliverer. Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honour those whom they have slain. You are working for the whole, are acting for the future. "

This text describes much of John Locke's life, John believes but can see no proof that what he believes has any affect...he must continue on faith alone and know that the light will shine after his death and then will save the world. John has doubted in the past but with his going down the well (a very common mythical representation) he cements his belief and even in his failed mission to recruit the Oceanic 6 to return, is willing to take his own life as the price necessary fulfill his quest.

Indeed, I believe The Brothers Karamazov may have remarkable correlation to the characters and plot in Lost. The Theories link in Lostpedia ties John, Jack, James/Sawyer & Ben to the 4 brothers and examines all of their responsibilities for the death of their father. Indeed just like Lost, the Brothers Karamazov explores ethical themes of morality, free will/destiny, faith/doubt.

Ok, so why am I comparing Lost to The Dark Tower, and not The Brothers Karamazov when I've just stated that understanding the Brothers Karamazov reveals what are potentially cruicial themes, character summaries and plot? Well for one thing I find The Dark Tower exciting and The Brothers Karamazov boring and dry.(full text online)

But, there are 3 reasons.

The first is that regardless of whether or not Jacob is the biological father of any Lost characters, he is most definately the symbolic father figure and in a mythic sense, clearly represents the 'unknown father' that must be vanquished or overcome. So, in this sense, The Brothers Karamazov is just like so many other literary works (except more so) expressing themes and interrelationships reflected in Lost.

The 2nd reason is because of the character, "The Man in Black" is a wild card that potentially will turn all of these literary allusions on their heads. This completely mysterious guy is the key to Lost and once we find out who he is, all else will be revealed. It is quite possible that there is a Long Con (or eternal scam for those who have discovered the anagram for Ames Central-- the store Kate and Tom shoplift the new kids on the block lunchbox) going on and either he is behind it or he is subverting it (which might make him the gunslinger-he certainly has a Clint Eastwood steely glint in his eyes).

The 3rd reason is quite simply because The Brothers Karamazov described 19th century Russia and Lost is most definitely describing a different era, not only our current culture, but a unique interpretation of that culture as interpreted through a 'Twilight Zone' lens. And it is this lens which I think points to similarities with The Dark Tower.

So my bottom line is I think John Locke has a very good chance of being the 'gunslinger' (assuming he is indeed alive and well on the Island, next to his dead and decaying body--or unless he gets reset and a little more help from his 'friends').

Finally, Merry Christmas & take it easy, it ain't all half-badd
mr badd

1 comment:

  1. Goodd read, Mr. Badd! I'd be interested in hearing your updated views on this theory, now that the nature of the Man in Black has been more clearly revealed to us.