Sunday, January 24, 2010

6-Lost, The Dark Tower & The Grail Quest

My last 3 posts have compared three pivotal Lost characters to the hero in Stephen King's Dark Tower epic, Roland Deschain -- The Gunslinger. This post will compare the world of Lost, as we understand it thru season 5, with the world walked by Roldan Deschain on his quest to enter "The Dark Tower". It will seek to identify the mythic journey the Lost survivors are on and in doing so will seek to find similarities between both Lost, the Dark Tower and the Quest for the Holy Grail.

My overview of Roland Deschaines and the Dark Tower
Lostpedia Dark Tower Theory
Stephen King's entry in Lostpedia
Wikipedia Dark Tower Summary

The transcendent theme of the Dark Tower stories is a hero's struggle with the morality of his actions on the journey to complete his quest. The destination of the Gunslinger is to enter the Dark Tower. For those on the Grail quest, the destination is to find the Grail. For our heros on the Island, their destination remains shrouded by the veil of Season 6. But it is vital to note that morality is not synonymous with the destination of a hero's quest. Salvation and healing my be what the hero and his world needs, but it is not necessarily the goal he initially pursues. The best example of this is the Grail Quest. You can have pious knights, lovable scoundrel archeologists, or Nazis searching for the Grail. (see: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
The destinations are disticntly seperate from the accomplishments, and the morality of the journey that those on the quest enact. The destination and goal does NOT impart a moral path for those on the journey.
As Karlfried Graf Durckheim says, "When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey."

For those looking for a destination to justify John Locke throwing a knife into a woman's back or all of the lies & machinations of Ben, they have missed the point. It doesn't matter whether the nazis or Indiana Jones get the grail. What matters is the actions they took on their journey and how those actions transformed them, and what they do with their treasure when they reach it. They may use it to save others, to heal the world's wounds, bring themselves power and domination or destruction, but they may also bring back not a relic of power, but a morality to guide a community to live justly, and they can not find that morality or the strength of will to use power wisely if their actions on their journey are not moral. This is not to say that heros have to be pure and pious, but it does mean that their struggle to find atonement is essential to their transformation and will define the outcome that their hero's journey will have on themselves and their world. Joseph Campbell in his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" notes that the transformation of the hero can be into: a warrior, a lover, a tyrant, a world redemmer or a saint.

Roland, the  does not start off to 'save the world'. Indeed the world that he knows is virtually destroyed. Every person, place or thing he valued is destroyed. His family and friends are dead. His country is overthrown and disolved in anarchy. His duty and every obligation placed on him from his position as a Gunslinger is defunct. The very fabric of reality of his world is disintegrating. Laws of nature fade, time and space disolve into entropy as reality itself dwindeles. His world is literally a "Wasteland", and he is willing to sacrifice anything to bring him one step closer to his goal of entering the Dark Tower. Roland comes upon his quest early in the his life. As his world crumbles, he finds a magic crystal ball (Merlin's Grapefruit) and within it he sees and covets the Dark Tower. The magic crystal ball is as evil as the ring of sauron and it fills the Gunslinger with obsessive, addictive and blinding desire to reach the Dark Tower.  The Dark Tower is the physical nexus of all reality in all universes, it is a focal point to wield the power of that focused energy.

But how is Gunslinger's quest for the Dark Tower similar to the Quest for the Grail. The Holy Grail is the cup that held Jesus' wine at the Last Supper and later is used to capture some of his blood from the cross. It is the physical counterpart of grace and forgiveness in Christian iconology, it represents the atonement realized by Jesus on the cross. This power for atonment is metaphorically represented by the mythical healing powers of the grail.

The Fisher King was charged by God with guarding the Holy Grail, but later incurred some form of incapacitating physicalwound as punishment for a sin of pride (usually represented by a wound which castrates him), and had to wait for someone to deliver him from his suffering. Just as the Fisher king in the Grail quest is maimed, so the land he rules is likewise denuded of its fertility. The Fisher King survives on the healing emenations from the grail but he can not use it to heal himself or his land. Indeed while he guards it, the Grail itself is concealed from him and he does not actually know where it exists. (Note: wikipedia notes that in many Fisher King stories, there are 2 kings, either a father/son or grandfather/grandson and one is represented as too wounded to leave the proximity of the grail, while the other is able to leave to gather fish to sustain themselves-perhaps some similarity between Jacob and his nehmisis, the man in black.)

Whereas the Gunslinger's quest has a very dark, originating motivation that results more from an evil 'infection', strengthened by Roland's desire; the Grail quest's leader, Galahand (an illegitamate son who mistakenly kills his father Lancelot) has a different motivation. Galahad’s motivation to seek the grail comes from his conviction that succeeding at the quest is the only way to preserve his legacy and to fulfill his destiny is to do something amazing. (A motivation I'm sure John Locke can relate to). While positive, it is not exactly the selfless, pious and virtuous motivation sometimes alluded to, for it is also motivated by desire, although a desire to do good, to cleave to the light.

The success of both quests are more a result of the transformation of the heros on their journey rather than their success in getting to point x, their quest's destination.

The Grail, according to Joseph Cambell in The Power of Myth, reprsents the "spirital path that is between parirs of opposites, between fear and desire, between good and evil." Perhaps between black and white, between faith and science. "The Grail becomes symbolic of an authentic life that is lived in terms of its own volition,...between the pairs of opposites of good and evil, light and dark...Every act has both good and evil results...The best we can do is lean toward the light, toward the harmonious relationships that come from compassion with suffering, from understanding the other person. This is what the Grail is about." This is also how the Gunslinger succeeds in his quest. He leans toward the light and risks all to help others, diverting from his quest, but in doing so he creates 'harmonious relationships' with his companions who become gunslingers in their own right and through their shared trials and sufferings become a ka'tet (brotherhood of fate) and join his quest, willingly risking their lives to advance Roland's quest, and together they achieve what was not Roland's quest, the salvation of his wasted world.

The mythic journey represented in the the metaphorical grail quest (and the gunslinger's quest) is to lead an authentic life of creation, where your actions spring from your heart and not from fear or desire or obligations. Indeed, the entire quest fails (the first time) when Perceivil meets the Grail King (Fisher King) and surpresses what he wishes to say (merely "what ails you") because of his knightly obligations. (Hurley in Some Like it Hoth, also notes how many problems could be averted if people just commuincated better). Guineivere, the mother of Galahand, one of the Grail Knights clearly defines what the journey of his quest must accomplish. “You’ll waste your life if you don’t accomplish something new, something entirely your own.” (Erskine 192). A wonderful adaption of the Grail Quest is found in the movie "The Fisher King" by Terry Gilliam and it a summary of it's themes can be found in Wikipedia.

Joesph Cambell notes in The Power of Myth "The theme of the Grail romance is that of the land, the country, the whold territory of concern has been laid waste. It is called a wasteland. And what is the nature of the wasteland? It is a land where evreybody is living an inauthentic life, doing as other people do, doing what you're told, (or what your fear or where your desires move you) with no courage for your own life. That is the wasteland, this is the box that we are locked into and must escape.

That is what T.S. Eliot meant in his poem THE WASTE LAND.  "I've never done a thing I wanted to in all of my life. I've done as I was told."

This just about sums up John Locke's life (As well as Jack & Kate & Sawyer). Once John is reacquainted with 'his father' Anthony Cooper, he is no longer in control over his own life. His desire for his father's approval and fear that his life is worthless unless affirmed by dad, destroys his life and he ends up in a box, as so fittingly represented by his dead-end job at Hurley's box factory. "Don't tell me what I can't do!" is a common refrain on Lost. Locke is as firmly enchained by his desire and fear as Roland Deschain is locked onto his merciless path, his ka, his destiny to wander in the wasteland in search of his Dark Tower. For Locke (Jack and Sawyer), transformation is only really possible when he deals with his own 'daddy issues'.

Joseph Campbell argues that "the impulses of nature are what give authenticity to life, not the rules coming from a supernatureal authority". Moral values are worthy to be followed not because they emenate from a pope-like figure, but because when they are enacted from compassion they help individuals and society's form harmonious relationships strengthened by the power of love and forgiveness. They result in measurably better people, living better lives. So blindly following Jacob's little pieces of paper will result in some very unhappy and unhealthy people (see Ben). So while most of our Losties are running on fear and desire (at least when they arrive on the Island), the Others are blindly following the orders of Jacob, as delivered in little pieces of paper to Ben.

In the Dark Tower, Roland the Gunslinger transforms through the shared compassion for and from his companions. He overcomes the desire for the Dark Tower enough to love his companions and their return of his love leads to the healing of Roland's soul and eventual salvation for his world. In the Grail quest, a simpleminded knight named Percival, referred to in the one adaption of the Grail Quest, as "The Fool", healed the wounds of the Fisher King with kindness to the king, asking him why he suffers and giving him a cup of water to drink. The king realizes the cup is the grail and is baffled that the boy found it, as demonstrated in the closing exchange: "I've sent my brightest and bravest men to search for this. How did you find it?" The Fool laughed and said "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty." \

The Gunslinger's quest succeeds in large part, because he 'detours' from directly following his quest in order to help people who desperately need help. The Gunslinger's destination is The Dark Tower, but it is his path, his journey which brings salvation to his world and atonement for himeself.

I believe Lost involves a similar quest and healing theme that will result from the transformation of the heros. Perhaps some Lostie, like Hurley will likewise overcome his fear and desires to act from his core, and of his own volition to communicate some simple message which will lead to a couple of improvments that will bring monumental changes to the story of the Losties. Perhaps they will also detour from their goal of getting off the island, and in the process find transformation to allow them to get past their fears to communicate with the others on the Island. And so might the Losties find salvation in their journey.

Well this post has gotten pretty long, so I am going to take a break. As you can probably see I have been very inspired by the various "Lost Supper" photos to tie in the Grail Quest with my review of the Dark Tower and Lost. I am very excited as we have only 8 more days to wait for some 'freakin answers'!

take it easy
it ain't all half bad
mr badd

p.s. Just some grail teasers to tantelize you til the next post.
After Galahad, Perceivl and Bors gain the grail, they entrust it to Percevil's sister and take it aboard a ship to the Island of Sarras.

Juliet's Mark Lostpedia Theories As part of his commuting Juliet's death sentence in "Stranger in a Strange Land", Ben orders Juliet to be marked instead. Jack asks Juliet to show him the mark and she reveals a strange symbol branded onto her lower back. The symbol looks somewhat like an upside-down cross (with the top line longer than the others), with two (or four) lines facing away from the center on the horizontal line. But instead of marking Juliet as a traitor and a killer, I believe it marks her as a protector of the Island. This mark is almost identical to the mark the protectors of the Holy Grail wear in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Grail quest had 4 participants, 3 knights and Percevil's sister. The Dark Tower quest also has 4 key participants.

Maybe the theme of the Grail quest and the Fisher King can be better interpreted throughTerry Gilliam's movie "Fisher King".
(Tagline: 'A Modern Day Tale About the Search for Love, Sanity, Ethel Merman and the Holy Grail.)
Here both key characters have representions as the wounded Fisher King as well as the knights and as they transform and find compassion for each other, they both find atonement and the ability to heal the other.

"A central theme of the film, playing on the grail motif, is grace and forgiveness. For example, Jack's signature line in his potential sitcom is "forgive me," which after the shooting becomes a tormenting echo of his arrogance when he hears it repeated by the actor who took his place in the sitcom. Parry is seeking the Holy Grail, which held the wine of the Last Supper and, at the crucifixion, its theological equivalent, the blood of Christ - the physical counterpart of grace and forgiveness in Christian iconology. The Red Knight figment that Parry sees around New York represents his memories of the night his wife was killed; the dangling red drapes of the Red Knight's costume imitate the spray from the shot hitting his wife, and the flames recall the gun blast. In Wolfram Von Eschenbach's epic Parsival, the Red Knight was killed by Parsival (Parry) who then took his armor for himself. When Parsival introduces himself to King Arthur's court, Arthur names Parsival the new Red Knight."

Perhaps this brings a new light to the 'Red Shirt' worn by Juliet in the Incident. Will she re-emerge as 'The Red Knight' and protector of the Grail/Island?

Or perhaps Juliet will just end up like Desmond after the Swan Hatch imploded, running around the island naked, til Hurley loans her a shirt (Now there's a true moral test for a hero!?!)


  1. How sure are you that the Lost people have put this much thought into Lost? I ask because I just got done reading the Entertainment Weekly article about Lost and one of the things they said was that the love triangle of Jack-Kate-Sawyer would be featured this year again. Why? Are there fans that love it? Also, I've read The Dark Tower books and I don't remember any love triange. I loved those books and I love your Lost theories.

  2. Thanks for the comment denisem!
    You are spot on regarding the love triangle aspect. No love triangle in the Dark Tower Series ka'tet unless you count the multiple personalities of Suzzanah:-) (Although there was a very important love triangle that set the stage for the gunslinger...between Roland's mother, father and Martin/Man in Black) and Lost appears to have lots of love triangle making complications for our losties (Jack, Kate, James/Sawyer, Jin, Claire, Juliet all had parents who had affairs and marital problems--and many of the other Losties have enough uncertainty about their parants and backgrounds to make it hard to know who's related to who). But I do think Lindelof and Cuse have put a tremendous effort into Lost and while I don't have any real conviction that a absolute parallel between the Dark Tower and Lost will be revealed, I am confident that after watching Season 6 I'll want to watch all the other seasons again with a completely new incite. Thanks again, glad you like the blog.