Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

The Lost Book Club: VALIS

“Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.”
-Philip K Dick, VALIS

Sound like certain members of the Oceanic 6?

I can’t even begin to say how thrilled I was to see the book that Locke pulled off Ben’s shelf to serve with his breakfast in last week’s episode of Lost, “Eggtown.” That book, VALIS by Philip K Dick, is one of my favorite novels.

Truth be told, I’ve been wondering when Dick would make an appearance on Lost. I even speculated in my post on the Season 3 finale that come Season 4, we’d see Jack reading Dick. He had, after all, turned into a bearded drug-addled nut, a description often attached to Dick, the brilliant writer responsible for the books and stories that gave us Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall, and Minority Report. A man who apparently had trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. A man who was convinced that They (with a capital T) were watching him.

VALIS tells the tale of Horselover Fat and his attempts to understand a possibly spiritual experience he has had. Dick shifts between first and third person narration “to gain much needed objectivity” while Fat remains mostly unaware that he is, in fact, the narrator. They argue their way through Gnostic Christianity, paranoid conspiracy theories, philosophy and everything else Dick can think of in this novel that attempts to make sense of the notion of God. It is at once sad, troubling and hysterically funny. Dick’s answer is found in the title: Vast Active Living Intelligence System. A paranoid science fiction writer’s vision of God as revealed to him by a pink laser.

At the end of the book, there is an appendix containing Fat’s journal entries and his conlusions. I’ve included a few of the shorter ones that pertain to themes on Lost and make me think especially about Jacob:

1. One Mind there is; but under it two principles contend.

3. He causes things to look different so it would appear time has passed.

9. He lived long ago, but he is still alive.

Okay, enough about VALIS. It’s great. Brilliant. Read it. Not just because I say so either. The Lost writers have suggested we bone up on Dick’s VALIS trilogy (h/t Brian), which also includes The Divine Invasion (okay) and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (beautiful) as well as what is sort-of a first working out of the ideas in VALIS, a posthumous little book called Radio Free Albemuth, less heady, but somehow warmer than VALIS.

So why is VALIS on Lost?

Season 4 has delved deeper into themes of madness and the fluid nature of time and VALIS is certainly a book about these things. More importantly, though, VALIS is a “theological detective story, in which God is both a missing person and the perpetrator of the ultimate crime” (according to the cover copy). Considering the seeming omniscience of the island and its ability to reach out to the characters even after they’ve left the island, I can’t help but think that VALIS – Vast Active Living Intelligence System – is the perfect way to understand the island. I think it’s that simple. The writers are telling us what the island is.

And, as with Horselover Fat, perhaps madness is the price of knowing it. Madness is another of Dick’s great themes and when I think of madness and Lost, I always come back to Hurley and his tenuous grip on reality. Perhaps someone should point out to him that, as Dick wrote in “How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” and (I think) reformulated in VALIS:

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

In the Season 3 finale Jack talked about seeing his father. That led me onto the alternate futures theory track, but after the first few episodes of Season 4, I realize that’s not the case. As to Christian Shepard… Jack has been seeing his dead father just as Hurley has been seeing dead Charley. It’s driving him crazy, and I suspect when he realizes that it’s real, he’ll get his act together and find his way back to the island. Believing in the reality of the island is the key to salvation. Jack, Hurley, Kate, and Sayid never really believed. Never showed any faith in the island. Is that why they are 2/3s of the Oceanic 6? Is that why they are back in the “real world,” a place Dick describes in VALIS as “the black iron prison?”

Go here for a list of the rest of my Lost book posts.

I now realize I even posted a quick blurb about VALIS back in October 2005 in this blog’s first month.

And, finally, some other bloggers’ thoughts on “Eggtown”:

  • Kulturblog where you’ll find lots of interesting observations
  • BB’s Fantabulous Life where BB throughly explores “Eggtown”
  • For the Record where I am reminded that there was a second book in “Eggtown” – The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares


  1. Hey, James! It’s Katy from For the Record. Thanks for for the shout out and the blog visit! I haven’t read VALIS, but after your post I think I should! Good thoughts on its application to Lost. I especially like your connecting Hurley’s experiences to the PDK quote about reality, and I think you’re right on in regard to madness being the price of knowing truth. I’m just about convinced that Hurley’s imaginary friend, Dave, is actually real. Ben’s actions are those of a madman, yet he has an air of clarity about him and he’s the only one on the island who actually knows what’s going on. After “Eggtown,” Locke is officially in the madness camp, but he too has gained intimate knowledge of the island.

    I’m looking forward to reading your other Lost Book Club posts and to checking out the rest of your site. You’ve got some great stuff on here! And it looks like we’ve got a lot in common. I’m a poet and a semi-new stay-at-home mom, with a resume of adjuncting in my former university’s English dept. & editing/writing for a non-profit organization in DFW. I’ll have to check out your novel. (Mary’s comment on Amazon is a high compliment for sure, but the book looks intriguing too!) Good luck on the next one!

  2. Very interesting post, and I can’t wait for tonight’s episode. However, I just had to chime in that 4 out of 6 is 2/3, not 3/4. It’s just the math minor in me that can’t let it go. 🙂

  3. Heather, Thanks for the math help. I’ve corrected the post. (damn fractions…)

  4. Katy, I’ve been wondering about Dave as well. I bet we’re going to see him in some mind-bending reveal before it’s all over. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words as well. I hope you will check out my book.

  5. Ever read “Man in the High Castle”? I missed VALIS, but I’ll check it out now.

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