Continuing my trek through the Lost books…Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark makes its appearance on Lost in the season three episode “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” Hurley and Charlie find it while ransacking the missing Sawyer’s stash of goods found in the wreckage of Oceanic 815.
Ever since I read Lolita many years ago, I’ve wanted to read more Nabokov, but I never got around to it. Fortunately, the island has a magic box that gives you what you want (despite Ben’s revelation in last night’s episode “The Brig” that the magic box is just a metaphor) and I was served up an author I wanted.
Laughter in the Dark is thematically similar to Lolita – middle-aged man seduced by a wicked young girl ruins his own life – though in Laughter, the girl is eighteen thereby making the middle-aged man merely a tragic fool rather than a felon.
Nabokov tells the whole story in the first two paragraphs:
Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.
This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling…
Eventually Albinus is blinded in an accident and his young lover – Margot – invites her lover, Rex, to live with them, unbeknownst to Albinus. The invisible man in Albinus’ world subjects him to all forms of mockery and humiliation as he and Margot rob Albinus blind (har-har, couldn’t resist).
How right he is that there is pleasure and profit in the telling and the reading. Nabokov’s writing here is thrilling. This is a writer who seems to love his work and this time, his work is to tell the tale of some really rotten people (not unlike on Lost).
While the story is grim and often depressing, Nabokov’s style keeps things light and humorous most of the time. Give Lost another point for introducing me to a cool book that I wouldn’t otherwise have read.
Speaking of Lost…
The novel shows up in “Flashes Before Your Eyes” one of the more unusual episodes in the series’ history. It’s a Desmond episode and it’s one in which the flashbacks appear to be more than just memories. Desmond seems able to interact with his flashbacks, giving the viewer the sense that Desmond might have some ability to change the past, in a sort of dreaming time travel. We know he can see flashes of the future as well.
Many of Lost’s storylines revolve around cons, and not just those perpetrated by such con artists as Sawyer and Anthony Cooper. Laughter in the Dark is a con story as well. One in which the con works because the victim – Albinus – can’t see. In a way Desmond’s view of the future and potential parallel time streams is much like Albinus’ limited perception of the world around him.
This is not unlike the situation on the island where the Others have so much more knowledge of the survivors than the survivors have of the Others. (It also makes me wonder if there is an Other in the survivor’s midst, one that the survivors aren’t yet aware of.)
Another potential connection is Albinus’ blindness and the fact that he constantly mistakes the intentions of the other characters, most notably Margot’s. Mistaken intentions is a recurring theme on Lost and in the Lost books. Like Albinus, our survivors are definitely in the dark, able only to listen to the strange sounds of the Others that sometimes echo in the jungle, knowing only what the others want them to know.
The closest parallel between Laughter and Lost comes in the similarities between Albinus and Desmond. They are both cowards, afraid and unable to find the strength to change the course of their lives when they have the opportunity to do so. Desmond, though, is not as far gone as Albinus and it seems he has the capacity – and desire – to change the course of fate, beginning in the lucid dream of his flashbacks. We see Desmond attempting to defy fate and prove the idea of free will.
Laughter in the Dark also reminds the viewer of Desmond’s experience of spending years in the Dharma hatch prior to the Oceanic 815 crash. For years, he entered the numbers and pushed the button. Like Albinus, Desmond was unaware that he was being observed from the Pearl Station the whole time.
I often wonder how much the Others know about Desmond since he wasn’t on the plane, but then Laughter reminds me that the Others at least know of him and have probably been watching him, making me wonder how many of Desmond’s experiences could be the result of an Other con.
Thinking about Laughter in the Dark and “Flashes Before Your Eyes” has led me towards my very own Lost theory…
Last night’s episode which included Anthony Cooper’s assertion that they were in Hell (“It’s awful hot for Heaven”) along with last week’s revelation from Naomi the parachutist that everyone on 815 had died (of course Cooper may have been delusional and Naomi may be lying) adds fuel to the (hell)fire that they are all dead. This had been hinted at with several of the other Lost books, most notably The Third Policeman and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but the creators have allegedly debunked the theory.
I’m still bunking it though, because when you factor in the alternate time stream theory (reinforced by A Brief History of Time, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and A Wrinkle in Time) you’re left with the notion that in one time stream Oceanic 815 did crash and everyone did die, but when Desmond let the numbers in the hatch run down (revealed in the season two finale) somehow Oceanic 815 was pulled into another time stream (possibly accelerated) in which they crashed on the island. In their original world, they all died, but in the newly created timeline, they are alive.
“Flashes Before Your Eyes” further points in this direction, thus opening the possibility that the happy ending for the series would be for the survivors to reconcile the two time streams and get home alive. I suspect that Desmond is the key to this somehow, since he seems able to alter the various streams. In this way we see a free will/fate battle emerging (another recurring theme on the show). If free will wins, the time streams reconcile and the survivors get of the island. If fate wins, then they’re all dead. Of course I wonder if each survivor would get to choose his own path.
Regardless of what happens, the sound of “real” time will be as nothing more than the ghostly echo of laughter in the dark.
For more thoughts about last night’s “The Brig” check out…
- The House Next Door’s Lost Thursday post, in which Andrew wonders about the future of Sawyer. I hope he’s wrong. That would be like Star Wars without Han Solo. You know, like the prequel trilogy.
- Greg at Begging to Differ offers up a bunch of interesting observations and insights from “The Brig”
- BC TV/Film’s Lost analysis explores the coincidences that permeate Lost
- Holli at Watching Lost poses some questions including one about the hole the Sayid is digging
- Blog de Drew wonders when the smoke monster will be seen again
- And nothing to do with “The Brig,” Reviewing Whatever has some thoughts on Bad Twin (the metafictional Lost detective novel) and kindly even links to my review of it.
Next up on my Lost reading list is Stephen King’s On Writing.
Check out the rest of my Lost book posts here.