LOST is known for making all sorts of allusions: from Star Wars
to Peter Pan
to The Wizard of Oz
, to obscure novels like The Third Policeman
, the writers seem to enjoy referencing all sorts of literary and film culture.
This much is known. But then I thought, what if they are building upon mythic culture? Is that so absurd? Given the writers' obvious knowledge of obscure (and not so obscure) cultural references, science fiction, and children's literature, I thought that it might be worthwhile looking at the show through the lense of Indo-European mythology.
In Indo-European studies, it is believed that society can be broken down into three functions: religous, governing, and producing. In other words, priests, warriors, and farmers. How does this apply to LOST?
DUMEZIL'S INDO-EUROPEAN FUNCTION SYSTEM:
2 FUNCTION: order: the king and land-goddess
3 FUNCTION: producers (Those dealing with food or fertility)
- 1 FUNCTION: magical-religious
- Locke: magical function
- Mr. Eko: religious function
- Hurley, Sun and Jin, Claire, etc. In most schemes, this would include most of society, and so most of the other survivors are relegated here, with a few (like those listed) given prominence in the show.
But not only do the characters fit a type of Dumezilian system common to Indo-European myth and culture, but they also evoke certain mythic archetypes within those cultures.
- Locke: shaman-turned-magician
Eko: the priest
Early in the show--and thus in the culture of the Survivors--Locke acted as a shaman for the people. He understood the island, communicated with it, and would use various hallucinagenic substances in order to produce visions in others (and possibly himself). Later, with the arrival of Mr. Eko, there has been a tension: Eko is a priest, and is more interested in order (he is building a church), while Locke is more ecstatic in his practice. Locke's role has become more of the magician--one who works with or studies arcane powers (such as his fascination with the hatch and discovering its secrets)--than that of the shaman, which is a more public role.
- Jack: king
Though a doctor, and thus normally 3rd function, Jack has taken on the 2nd function of order. He organized the tribe, sought shelter for them, and has become a natural leader--a role which puts him in friction with Locke, whose emphasis on the Island and not the survivors echos the occasional tension between the 1st and 2nd functions with regard to Order vs. Chaotic, self-serving knowledge, or even may echo a tension between Odhinn (Locke) and Jack (Tyr). Secondly, Jack is also attempting to form an army to do battle with the Others, thus fulfilling the king's role as primary warrior. Finally, that his last name is Shepherd is likely not a coincidence.
- Ana-Lucia: War Goddess
Her history as an LA cop, her ruthlessness, and her guns mark her as a war goddess, a figure mostly popular with the Celts, but also found in Norse figures like Freya, or Greek figures like Athena. Her name is an unintentional echo for one of the names of the Morrigan, namely Ana, one of the triplets of Irish battle goddesses. Her black hair is also evocative of the ravens associated with the Morrigan. The war goddess was often, at least in Celtic tradition, also the goddess of sovereignty. When Jack asks Ana-Lucia about forming an army, he is enacting a process whereby she not only acts as war goddess, but also helps him secure the sovereignty of the island.
- Sawyer: The Strife-bringer
Like Loki or Bricriu, Sawyer's main motive seems to be sewing discord amongst the survivors. However, unlike Loki, there is little evidence yet that he is willing to make a deal with the Others, as Loki does with the giants. Also, his name obviously invokes that of one of American literature's best known tricksters, Tom Sawyer.
- Sayid: the smith
Though lacking a physical deformity like the typical Western IE smith (Volcan, Wayland/Volund), Sayid has other elements that link him to the Smith. First, his character is the resource for building and rebuilding machines (mostly radio transmitters, computers, etc.). Secondly, like the Norse Volund, he is capable of incredible violence when he attempts revenge (such as his torturing of Sawyer or "Henry"). Third, as an Iraqi, he has an outsider status (such as a lame man would) but is considered useful to society and thus is given an elevated position within it.
- The Others: Demons
The Others are a mirror of many adversarial and elder figures in Indo-European mythology: like the Titans, Giants, and Fomorians, the Others were there before the Survivors, and they are antagonistic to these Survivors. They dwell underground, and abduct or kill various survivors, and sometimes infiltrate the survivors as spies.
- The Hatch: Sidhe
The hatches act as an Otherworld--they are underground, have sophisticated, unknown technologies, and are home to both Survivors and Others, just as the sidhe could house both Good (Seelie) and Bad (Unseelie) fairies.
- Walt: the Abducted
Like Persephone, Mabon, Pryderi, and other abducted children of mythology, Walt was taken by the Others, who know what possible powers he has. Naturally, the Survivors want him back.
Other characters are not so easily placed, of course: Hurley is more of a comic figure; Kate has elements similar to Artemis, but not enough for a full identification; Charlie is difficult to place.
The Finale, I suppose, will enact Ragnarok, not necessarily with the death of the survivors, but with the destruction of the Island, as well as the Others. Of course, it could take a different turn, who knows?
Additions are welcome