Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

The Lost Book Club: The Turn of the Screw

Good, as in God, the style of Henry, or if I might call him so, Mr. James, author of The Turn of the Screw, who in the late nineteenth century wrote the thin ghost story, is torturous, as a stretching on the rack. One might imagine, if so inclined as to imagine such a horror, a horror beyond compare, the voice of Shatner, William Shatner reading each phrase, set off with a preponderance of punctuation in the form of commas, commas that precede every unnecessary phrase, like a water torture of Chinese design and implementation, dripping prose into one’s mind in an effort to present a story, a tale, of ghosts and other mysteries.

Woof. It’ll drive you nuts but perhaps that’s the point.

An unnamed narrator has been appointed to take care of two young children at an English country estate called Bly. The owner, a gentleman in London, has inherited the children and wants nothing to do with them so he hires a governess who promptly falls in love with the beautiful, innocent, angelic children.

Then she starts seeing ghosts. The apparitions are the former governess and her lover both of whom died under mysterious circumstances. No one else sees them, but it’s clear the children, Miles and Flora, are somehow involved.

At times I wondered if the narrator was seeing things that weren’t there, which caused me to question her sanity, but her spot on descriptions of the former servants whom she never met, led to me suspect that the ghosts were real.

The spirits seem to be engaged in some kind of communion with the kids, but it is unclear (intentionally so, I think) whether they are controlling the children or if the children are summoning them.

Applying this to Lost, the most obvious parallel becomes the story of Michael and his young son, Walt. When Walt’s mother dies and his step-father wants nothing more to do with him (apparently because Walt seems to exhibit some kind of psychic abilities) Michael comes to Australia to take Walt back to the US, which is why they are on the plane. While stranded on the island Michael comes to idealize Walt in much the same that the narrator of The Turn of the Screw comes to idealize her charges.

As with Miles and Flora, there may be more to Walt than meets the eye. Strange things seem to happen around him as if his thoughts alter reality. There are suggestions of this throughout the series, both on the island and in flashback. At times certain characters see ghosts, and Walt himself has been seen in places it’s impossible for him to be. Michael does not know it, but it seems that Walt (or his spirit anyway) is what led Shannon to her death.

Astral projection? Shaping reality? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s clear that Walt has some kind of profound power that no one – not even Walt – understands.

At one point in The Turn of the Screw, the narrator describes a day spent playing with the kids on the grounds as a day in which she lived in a world of their creation. One wonders how much of the world of Lost might be a world of Walt’s creation in the form of some kind of psychic projection. There are suggestions that this might be the case as well as the ominous pronouncement in the season two finale that the Others do not want Walt because he turned out to be more than they bargained for when they kidnapped him at the end of season one.

The Turn of the Screw, like Lost, is very vague about what is actually occurring. In both stories the living see the dead, there are children who appear innocent but who possibly harbor tremendous powers, and there are adults who are driven to the brink of sanity in an effort to save those children.

Reading Turn of the Screw makes me think of Walt and raises a question about how his presence on the island affects the lives of the other survivors. Is Walt a cause of their problems or is he, like them, a victim of other unknown forces either natural or supernatural. I think Walt is probably controlling, perhaps unintentionally, some of the strange things that happen on the island.

Check out my other Lost book posts at The Lost Book Club.


  1. Some consider this the first great mystery novel. I think the unreliable narrators (don’t forget the original frame of the man who tells the story) are exactly the point. Horror is in the eye of the beholder.

  2. Unreliable narrators. Yes, I found the governess to be a little unrealiable and now that you mention it, the other two Lost books I’ve read for my little project could also be considered to have somewhat unreliable narration. Of course, radically different perspectives on the same set of events is one of the things that makes Lost so fascinating. Hmmmmm…..

  3. With the arrival of the ghost-buster in the current season, I’ve become convinced that “The Turn of the Screw” is somehow the key to unlocking the mystery of the island.

  4. And that ghostbuster’s name is Miles. Very Interesting.

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