On the Road is Kerouac’s most well-known book and probably the most widely read work of the beat movement. It is largely autobiographical and tells the story of a number of road trips that Keroauc made with his friend, and sometimes nemesis, Neal Cassady across the US in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Kerouac narrates as Sal Paradise and invents names for his friends: Cassady becomes Dean Moriarty, Allen Ginsburg becomes Carlo Marx and William S Burroughs appears as Old Bull Lee.
It’s a wonderfully rambling book about seeking a greater something that eludes easy description but that could potentially be found in jazz, sex, marijuana, eastern religion, poetry, beauty, Mexico, the West, and just generally getting lost in the great American landscape. By the end, Sal is no longer certain he believes in the things he sought or that they are even attainable. It’s ultimately a tale of pursuing unattainable dreams, youthful idealism defeated by age and the unceasing encroachments of the “real world.”
I realize as I’m writing this that there are echoes of On The Road throughout Lost. The book itself does not appear, but it is referenced in the alias used by Ben Linus in “The Shape of Things to Come” and shown on his fake passport in “The Economist.” The alias is Dean Moriarty, described in On the Road as “the holy con-man with the shining mind.” If that’s not Ben Linus, I don’t know what is.
Ben’s first alias was Henry Gale (a reference to the wizard in The Wizard of Oz), a name that seemed appropriate for the mastermind behind the mysterious Others. As of Season 4, however, Ben is no longer in charge. He has lost his island and his home. He is a wanderer in an unfriendly world, and much like Kerouac’s anti-hero, Dean Moriarty, he is seemingly forever on the road. It is worth noting here, that by the end of Season 4, it is the character named Jack to whom Ben turns when he needs to return to the island, to go on the road, as it were seeking those elusive things that the island provides. I suspect Season 5 will be something of an on the road season.
It must be mentioned, especially in the context of Ben Linus, that the name Moriarty also suggests a certain character from Sherlock Holmes (via Lostpedia):
Alternatively, “Moriarty” evokes Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis and widely considered fiction’s first “supervillain,” creating the archetype of the brilliant criminal mastermind.
Brilliant criminal mastermind? That sounds like Ben Linus. Unless Ben really is the “good guy” as he has claimed since Season 2.
As I think about this, I can’t help but wonder if another Kerouac novel might show up sometime. Wouldn’t The Dharma Bums be a perfect addition to The Lost Book Club. It’s a better book than On the Road as well.
Be sure to check out the rest of my Lost Book Club posts.