Looking at Lost: The Literary Connections

Sure, Lost may be regarded as one of TV’s most well-written shows, but it should also probably be crowned television’s most well-read as well. For a show that’s mostly known for its confounding mysteries and flawed characters, its packed in more literary allusions than almost any other show in TV history. Sure, some of these references have been blatantly obvious (such as Sawyer reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down early in the show’s run), but many more have gone under the radar and been left up to viewers to discover. Here are our favorites (there are way too many to include every reference):

Desmond's Odyssey. via Flickr

The Odyssey by Homer
In one of the most famous epics of all time, Greek poet Homer tells the story of Greek warrior Odysseus. After fighting in the Trojan War, Odysseus embarks on an epic journey across the Mediterranean to return home to Ithaca, and his patient wife, Penelope. In the process, he gets shipwrecked, encounters mythic monsters, and is manipulated by the Gods of Mount Olympus. Similarly, Lost tells the story of a man named Desmond (oDYSseus/DESmond?), who embarks on a journey, only to get shipwrecked, encounter monsters, and be manipulated by Jacob and the Man In Black in a long attempt to get home to his patient wife, Penny. Coincidence? (While I’d love to pretend I thought of this, it was actually TIME’s James Poniewozik who made the connection for me in this great article about Lost‘s cultural significance)

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Carroll’s psychedelic tale about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole has been widely interpreted in pop culture. Its veiled references to drugs, history and politics, and mathematics are all steeped in urban legend. Lost has used Alice extensively throughout the shows run, evening naming two of its episodes “White Rabbit” and “Through the Looking Glass.” In the aforementioned season three finale, we also see Dharma’s underwater Looking Glass station for the first time. The station’s logo? A rabbit with a watch – another direct reference to the novel, in a scene where Alice first encounters the White Rabbit looking at his timepiece. Along with these references and many more, the show’s manipulation of space and time is a theme that Carroll constantly explores in his work.

The Bible – by ummm…
I almost didn’t include this because pretty much every great piece of art and literature has in some way been influenced by it (even when they advocate otherwise). However, since its been referenced so many times, it’s probably necessary to include. Besides the obvious episode titles (“The 23rd Psalm,” “Exodus,” “Fire + Water”, etc.), character names (Adam, Eve, Jacob, or the blatant Christian Shephard), Lost has also used biblical imagery continuously throughout the show. During season 6, young Jacob even appeared to the Man in Black with his arms outstretched and bleeding (“The Substitute”). Hmm, wonder who that could be referring to…

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
For a while, many people thought that the Island was merely another version of “Narnia” or “Oz.” That’s been pretty clearly disproven over the years, but he connections to C.S. Lewis’ seminal saga are still interesting nonetheless. The most obvious link? Doomed anthropologist Charlotte Staples Lewis…or should I call her “C.S. Lewis?” Also, of all the Dharma Initiative stations that we’ve seen over the years, one is unique from the rest in its site off the island. The Lamp Post station, run by Eloise Hawking, is a direct reference to the lamp-post in Narnia that marks the point which links the imaginary and real worlds together. In Lost, the Lamp Post is the real world location that tracks the Island’s position (imaginary world?).

Island by Adolus Huxley
This one is a little more obscure. In the first part of Huxley’s novel about a cynical journalist who gets stranded on an island, the protagonist is “Lying there like a corpse in the dead leaves, his hair mattered, his face grotesquely smudged and bruised, his clothes in rags and muddy, Will Farnaby awoke with a start.” Sound familiar? It’s exactly how the first episode began, with our cynical protagonist, Jack, in the middle of the jungle. I know what you’re thinking…but unfortunatley, I don’t know if Amazon’s express delivery will get you the book (and last chapter) before Sunday’s finale.

Lost's Lamp Post. via Lost-Media

Finally, Lost has been riddled with different philosophical references over time: David Hume (Desmond Hume), Rousseau, John Locke, Anthony Cooper (historically, he was John Locke’s philosophical mentor, in Lost he was John Locke’s father), Jeremy Bentham,  and even Zen-master Dogen.

For a show that has posed so many questions over the past six years, it’s a good thing we know its creators are well-read. Whoever said TV rots your brain? They were clearly lost. And while we may all be looking for some final answers and closure from Sunday’s finale, if history is any indicator, we’ll likely be asking questions for hundreds of years to come…ok, that may be an exaggeration.


Contact the author at mksmogger@gmail.com.

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4 responses to “Looking at Lost: The Literary Connections

  1. Agreed, too many to mention, but I like the following: Mark Twain, who wrote The Prince and the Pauper (a nature vs. nurture tale for sure), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (time travel, anyone?), and created the character of Tom Sawyer. How about Kate (Jane) Austen? Didn’t Sense and Sensibility deal with the conflict between reason (Jack) and emotion (Sawyer)?

  2. Not to mention the near-excessive use of Philosophers’ names in the cast: John Locke, Hume, Rousseau…

  3. Don’t forget the references to The Wizard of Oz. Remember Ben first identified himself as Henry Gale (Dorothy’s Uncle’s name) and claimed he came to the island in a hot air balloon. Ben’s (and Locke’s, too, coincidentally) mother’s name was Emily (Auntie Em). There were other references, I think, but they are escaping me at the moment.

  4. It has been so refreshing to see television have such depth and intelligence. Even more so considering just how popular the show have become worldwide. Even some of the better crime dramas suffer from formulaic plot twists. I am really happy I found this article. It is reaffirming to a lot of thoughts I have had along my Lost journey. I am wondering now if this band I love ‘Previously On Lost’ who recap episodes in their music also play on these themes. I guessing they do but I excited to look deeper. Man what a bitter sweet weekend. Here is the band too they are worth the click.

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