I saved Stephen King’s On Writing, which was referenced in the Lost episode “Every Man for Himself” for the end of the season. When school gets out, I’ll start plugging away more seriously on my next novel, and I figured that perhaps King might offer some inspiration if not a swift kick in the proverbial pants.
King begins with a series of snapshots of his childhood and young adulthood leading up to the publication of Carrie. This is the memoir section of the book wherein King relates the tales of his wonder years interspersed with commentary about how these things led him to becoming the writer he became. From there, he shares advice and wisdom gleaned from a lifetime of writing. Some of it useful, some of it entertaining.
The most vivid portion is the end. This is the project he was working on when he was hit by a van while walking along a Maine highway back in 1999. He was very nearly killed and spent months in and out of surgery and in rehab learning to walk again. The end of the book, fittingly titled “On Living,” describes how getting back into writing helped him through that event. It’s powerfully written and terrifying in the way that reality often is.
On the whole, I can’t say I learned much that I didn’t know about the craft – that section of the book is thin and frequently not much more than an arrow pointing to Strunk & White – but what I got was a wide open sense of anything being possible. That kick in the pants to get me going this summer when I will have the time (starting next week) to finish the next book. Indeed, King himself describes the book as a permission slip:
…you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up.
King’s unabashed belief in the literal magic of writing is a sentiment that I share, and probably the one thing, that more than anything else keeps me banging out these words despite the fact that so few wind up reading them. It is still worthwhile and as much my work as the things that pay the bills.
The optimism and inspiration are the best parts of On Writing.
This magic is also where On Writing connects to Lost when King explains what writng is.
Telepathy, of course.
He explains that the writer sends his thoughts out across time and space to readers scattered around the world and existing in different times. King points out that he is writing in 1999, but that the book won’t be released until 2000 so all readers are at least a few years down the timestream from him. Here king gets at the permanence of writing and suggests the great dialogs that have gone on in print for thousands of years much like (I think) Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose who described libararies as great silent conversations.
To illustrate his point, King sets up a little thought experiment and this is where King’s telepathic powers manifest themselves on Lost island:
Look, here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot stub which it is constantly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.
Do we see the same thing? We’d have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do.
He then argues that most readers of that paragraph will fixate on the ‘8’ on the rabbit’s back, and it’s this thought that creates the telepathy. It’s this image that the writer has projected into the reader’s mind. I agree; it’s what jumps out and creates the sense of mystery that will keep me wanting more. Aside from the fact that it’s one of the numbers, I want to know why it’s there.
I’m sure Sawyer did too.
In “Every Man for Himself” – an episode that also references Of Mice and Men (“Tell me about the rabbits, George”) much more explicitly than it does On Writing – Ben has Sawyer strapped to a table. He appears to have just come out of surgery. Ben shows him a rabbit in a cage and proceeds to give the cage the kind of shaking that kills babies. The rabbit dies. Ben tells Sawyer that the rabbit had a pacemaker just like the one he’s had implanted in Sawyer, which will explode if Sawyer’s heart rate goes too high as it might if he were to try to escape or sleep with Kate. It’s a clever scene, but what stands out is the blue ‘8’ stenciled on the rabbit’s back. Later, Ben tells Sawyer about the rabbits, or at least rabbit-8 when he confides that there were no pacemakers; instead, it was an elaborate con designed to break Sawyer’s will.
Referencing King’s thoughts about writing and telepathy appears at first to be a clever and subtle reminder of the apparent, though unexplained, role of telepathy on the show. More interesting, though, is the way it begins to lay the groundwork for seeing Lost as a show about time travel, which I think it is. I’m not sure we’ll see characters time traveling as in Back to the Future, but I think we will see (and have already seen) their consciences and thoughts projected through the timestream, which is really what King was talking about so I’m chalking On Writing up to being yet another literary hint about alternate or parallel or shifted timestreams on Lost.
There’s something else, too, aside from the fact that this bit of On Writing is another rabbitcentric literary reference joining Of Mice and Men, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and Watership Down (all of which makes me wonder when Donnie Darko, a time travel film laden with rabbit symbolism will show up on Lost) and that’s The Stand.
I’ve never read The Stand, and it hasn’t shown up on Lost, but I do know that the show’s creators have said that it is an influence on the show. This is interesting because in On Writing, King devotes some time to describing the problems he had in completing that novel. He said there were too many characters, too many storylines. In the end the solution was to blow a bunch of them up.
Sound familiar? That would resolve many of the storylines and propel the other ones towards conclusion. As season 3 of Lost closes out in tonight’s “Through the Looking Glass” with the survivors hoarding dynamite and making plans to “blow the Others to hell,” I can’t but think that this sounds an awful lot like King’s recollection of how he moved The Stand to conclusion.
I suspect some storylines will end tonight and what remains will be the situation that propels Lost to its ultimate conclusion in 2010. Hell, I’m predicting mass doom.
Be sure to check out:
- Pearls Before Swan for more thoughts about On Writing. (h/t as well since this is how I learned that rabbit-8 was referencing On Writing)
- Mark at Scribes & Scoundrels also has a theory about the season finale: mass doom… or mass rescue?