I first read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce (the full story is online – just follow the link) a few years ago while searching for a short story to teach on a Friday during summer school. Recently, it showed up on the Lost episode “The Long Con” as one of the books that John Locke is seen organizing in the hatch.
“Owl Creek” tells the tale of the Confederate saboteur Peyton Farquhar’s execution by Union soldiers during the US Civil War. The story begins with Farquhar about to be hanged from the Owl Creek Bridge. He is pushed over the bridge, but the rope breaks and he falls into the river, where he dodges bullets and swims to safety.
He makes his way through a forest that grows increasingly primeval and sinister the closer he gets to home. As he reaches his house, he feels a terrible pain in the back of his neck, the rope breaks, and Farquhar hangs dead from Owl Creek Bridge, the entire story of his escape a flight of imagination occurring in the space between falling from the bridge and the rope snapping his neck.
Great story, beautifully imagined and written, but why is it referenced in Lost?
It seems to me that “Owl Creek Bridge” is something of a suggestion to the viewer that perhaps the survivors of Oceanic 815 are not really survivors, but are experiencing the final moments just before their deaths. This theory has been discredited by the show’s writers, but apparently The Third Policeman (another Lost book, which I’ve not yet read) also suggests this interpretation.
One thing that stood out in rereading “Owl Creek Bridge” was this description of the forest as Farquhar runs from the Yankee troops:
The black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which–once, twice, and again–he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.
Anyone addicted to Lost will certainly be intrigued by this passage particularly the reference to mysterious voices in the woods, which often occur on the show just before strange things happen. There is also the hint of a suggestion that Farquhar has entered another world, perhaps some kind of parallel dimension existing just on the edge of death.
I don’t think the survivors of Oceanic 815 are in their final seconds of life; I think that’s a bit too easy, but I do wonder if they are in some kind of alternate or psychically created world, or at least one in which psychic manipulation occurs.
If you haven’t read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” check it out because it really is a great story. Also read Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Secret Miracle,” a similar story, though one that hasn’t (yet) shown up on Lost.
For more of my Lost book posts, check out The Lost Book Club.