Walker Percy’s Lancelot is no knight in shining armor. He is a southern liberal lawyer, but a better drunk, and a member of New Orleans’ faded aristocracy. In 1976 he discovers his wife’s infidelity and sets out to launch a sort of new revolution in which chivalry will return to replace the amoral and permissive culture that surrounds him. He seeks a holy grail, but this Lancelot’s grail is evil itself. He wants to know that evil truly exists. His curiosity sends him on a grisly quest for revenge.
Lancelot’s story is told in the first person as he relates his inward journey towards violence and revenge to a friend and former classmate, who is either a priest or a psychologist, or perhaps both. The friend is visiting Lancelot in a mental hospital were he has been for the past year. Lancelot describes the events surrounding his discovery of his wife’s affair, but he also recounts the older, more romantic years of their early relationship. All of this is threaded through with his musings on the state of moral decay in the United States.
It’s an interesting journey into the mind of a man whose sanity is questionable at best, whose calm manner makes him all the more frightening. At times humorous, at times unsettling, always interesting, Lancelot explores the cultural fabric of late twentieth century America from the viewpoint of a dark knight. It also has the best last two lines of any book I’ve read in a long time. I won’t give it away; just read it yourself.
In terms of ABC’s Lost, Lancelot fits in with several of the other books we’ve read in terms of presenting the reader with a very unreliable narrator (h/t to Jessica for getting me thinking about unreliable narration, a characteristic of many of the Lost books we’ve read so far). He’s in a mental institution and though he speaks rationally, his talk of starting a new world, and a third revolution is rather delusional at best.
Lancelot appears in the episode “Maternity Leave.” Sawyer is reading the book when Kate comes to ask him for a gun. She is about to go one her own quest along with Claire to try to discover what happened to Claire when she was kidnapped by the Others while pregnant so that the Others could take her baby.
The most general connection between Lancelot and Lost I found was Lancelot’s idea of starting some kind of new world order in which he will be something of an Adam in search of his Eve. Now, we don’t yet know much about the Hanso Foundation on Lost, but I do wonder if their research is aimed at something similar. Is this why the Others want to take the children from the survivors as well as collecting the survivors whom they claim are “the good ones?” Of course, I’m assuming that the Hanso Foundation and the Others are the same or at least related.
The other connection lies in Lancelot’s incarceration in a mental hospital. Lost‘s Hurley, as we see in flashback a few episodes later in “Dave,” spent time in a mental hospital, though at this point we don’t know why. One thing we do know, though, is that he had an imaginary friend, someone that the viewers of Lost did not realize was imaginary until the end of the episode. My wife questions whether or not Lancelot’s friend to whom he relates the story is really there. I wonder about that as well.
For more of my Lost book posts, check out The Lost Book Club.