Ille Qui Nos Omnes Servabit:
The Cultural Significance of Jacob in Lost
by Pearson Moore
The only person he ever loved killed his mother.
She did not return his love. The centre of her world, the focal point of all her attention and affection, was his brother. She demanded goodness, honesty, and devotion, but relegated him to the recesses of her heart. She awarded him second place in a game that could have only one winner. He was not good enough. He was the loser.
He should have grown up bitter, angry, eager for vengeance. People are "greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish." It was what his brother believed. It was what the woman taught both of them. Instead, he became the world's most determined optimist. Emperors came and went, power shifted from Rome to Mecca to Madrid to London, but this one man, protecting the Light of the world, never gave in to pessimism. "People are good," he preached. Human beings made mistakes, but these were not the signs of a weak and sinful species, but rather the proof that humankind reached for something better. Humans sinned only because they were endowed with the free will to make progress on their own terms.
He represented the best of the human tradition. He grew up in adversity, faced a world always on the brink, but rather than becoming defeated and cruel, he chose to see in others the Light he was sworn to protect. Such was the quiet greatness of the world's most devoted leader, Jacob, Protector of the Island.
She was not their mother. She was a murderer.
Jacob referred to her as "Mother", and this is the appellation preferred by Lostpedia and most Lost analysts. I favour the title of "Guardian", or "adoptive mother", at least because this was her true role, but more importantly because the boys never belonged to her. The idea of belonging is crucial to LOST, and I am going to explore the concept in essays later this year.
The Guardian murdered the boys' mother, Claudia. She had been Protector of the Island perhaps since the days of Tunis, when Egypt was a hope centuries in the future and the Phoenicians who would found Carthage had not yet even set sail. We will never know the length of her reign as Protector. Moments before her death, Claudia posed the question, but the Guardian cut her off. "Every question I answer will simply lead to another question," she said. Perhaps she had arrived only years before. Possibly she was the historical Queen Elissa of Carthage, who became enamoured of the hero of Troy, Aeneas. When Aeneas left her bed to found Rome, the great Roman poet, Virgil, would have us believe she fell on Aeneas' sword. Perhaps instead she became so disenchanted with the ways of humankind that she exiled herself on the island near Carthage, where she found new purpose in the shadow of the statue.
The Guardian murdered Claudia. She felt she had to commit the deed. Her logic was unassailable. After all, the Island needed a Protector. She had grown tired of the responsibility, but she could not simply walk away. Therefore, she needed a reliable replacement. Humans were untrustworthy, so she would have to raise the replacement herself, from infancy. Claudia's womb would provide the replacement the Guardian required.
The Guardian made sure pregnant Claudia was on the Roman ship she had chosen, and gave the master of the vessel a map to his final destination, putting him on a course to intercept the Island. We know this because we know the story behind every shipwreck and plane crash on the Island. The crash of Oceanic Flight 815 was not an accident. The Elizabeth did not happen upon the Island by chance. Magnus Hanso steered the Black Rock according to an itinerary devised by Jacob. Crashes were not accident, but destiny--a fate dictated by the Island itself. Every Protector honoured the custom of seeking replacement Candidates; the task was implicit in the job description. The Island demanded no less.
She raised the boys to feel contempt for humanity. Humans, she told them, were greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish. "They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt... and it always ends the same." Since human beings were base, predictable, and dangerous, nothing good could result from any interaction with them.
It's the oldest game in the world. "Archeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Five thousand years old."
The game always has two players. "Two players. Two sides. One is light... one is dark." The game had much greater significance than an afternoon diversion at the shore of the sea. Although senet apparently involved chance--in the throwing of painted bones--the game's designers did not believe in luck. Every event in life and death was determined by fate. The game revealed one's connection to the gods.
The Boy in Black (BIB) was the Guardian's choice to become Protector. We know this from the context of Jacob's conversation with her many years later at the Source.
GUARDIAN: It has to be you, Jacob.
JACOB: No, it doesn't. You wanted it to be him. But now I'm all you have.
GUARDIAN: It was always supposed to be you, Jacob. I see that now. And one day, you'll see it, too...
The Guardian's response reveals her deception. Her first statement is a lie. The second statement is key: "I see that now." That is to say, until now she didn't see the truth of Jacob's destiny as Protector. She saw some other truth prior to this moment. That truth, of course, was that the BIB was destined to replace her as Protector. This had been her plan all along.
The BIB was resourceful, inquisitive, creative. He had the ability to understand the full truth as revealed in fragmented observation and incomplete information. He was crafty, cunning, and yet dependable. Such were the requisite qualities of the one who would guard the most important treasure on earth. These were not characteristics inherent to the position, but they were the ones recognised by the Guardian as effective. They were the qualities she believed herself to possess; that the Boy in Black evinced them could only mean he was destined to the leadership function.
The BIB would require an opposing force. Human beings were untrustworthy, and as much as the Guardian placed her hope in the boy, he was as human as anyone else. He possessed the guile for leadership, but he would need a companion very different in outlook and character. The companion would provide unvarnished truth to balance the BIB's dreams and schemes. Eventually this companion would prevent the BIB from rendering decisions based entirely in selfish desire. Protecting the Light required unselfish devotion, and no single human being could be trusted to act without self-interest.
The Guardian devised a game. She would be the boys' sole source of affection and affirmation. She would make Jacob completely dependent on her.
GUARDIAN: Do you love me, Jacob?
GUARDIAN: Then tell me what happened.
In this conversation she was seizing an opportunity. She had no interest in what had occurred on the beach between the two boys. She did have enormous interest in ensuring Jacob's psychological attachment to honesty. So she made honesty a condition of Jacob's love of her. If he loved her, he had to tell her the truth. She didn't love Jacob. She was forcing him into the role she expected him to play. She was playing a game.
Being Mama's boy, Jacob would fight tooth-and-nail to explain to the BIB the course he felt the Guardian would have advocated. Since the BIB was attached to the Guardian in his own way, Jacob's arguments would make their mark, and the BIB would be shamed into a more appropriate course of action.
Such was the game the Guardian placed in motion from the earliest days of the boys' youth.
The Rules Change
Boys will be boys, and these two boys were no different from any other in that respect. Every teenager discovers truths that indicate a priority different from those a parent tries to establish. The BIB discovered the truth that "Mother" was not their mother at all, and he pleaded with his brother to leave the vile woman.
The BIB's discovery didn't affect Jacob to the core, as it had affected his brother. But Jacob's confrontation with the Guardian over the BIB's discovery revealed two beliefs that would eventually separate him from her.
JACOB: He said you killed our mother... Is that true?
GUARDIAN: Yes... If I had let her live, she would have taken you back to her people; and those people are bad, Jacob--very bad. I-I couldn't let you become one of them. I needed you to stay good.
JACOB: Am I good, Mother?
GUARDIAN: Yes, of course you are.
JACOB: Then, why do you love him more than me?
GUARDIAN: I love you in--in different ways.
Jacob believed himself to be good because this was the truth the Guardian had expressed again and again. But she had an odd way of phrasing the truth. Here, trying to keep Jacob in her good graces, she said, "I needed you to stay good." Was "being good" a temporary state? Why did the Guardian favour the BIB? Was he "better" than Jacob in some way? If the BIB was "better", was Jacob good at all, or was the Guardian only telling him what he wished to believe? She lied about being their mother; couldn't she be lying about other important matters?
The second matter causing his consternation was the nature of humankind itself. The Guardian said people were "bad... very bad". If Jacob wished to believe he was good, he was basing his belief entirely on the authenticity of the Guardian's word. In the "Mother" deception she had already proven herself untrustworthy. Jacob needed a second validation of his innate goodness. He did not achieve that validation through the Guardian or by making wonderful tapestries for her. He found validation of his worth in others.
MAN IN BLACK: Why do you watch us, Jacob?
JACOB: ... because I wanna know if Mother's right.
MAN IN BLACK: Oh, you mean my people. You wanna know if they're bad. That woman may be insane, but she's most definitely right about that.
JACOB: I don't know. They don't seem so bad to me.
MAN IN BLACK: That's easy for you to say. Looking down on us from above. Trust me, I've lived among them for 30 years. They're greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish.
Jacob and the MIB had very different agendas. The MIB wanted to get off the Island, and used the Romans as "a means to an end". Jacob sought validation of his goodness. He ignored selfish deeds and evil words, choosing instead to see in the Romans only good and noble acts and intentions. Believing in the goodness of humanity, Jacob was able to validate his own goodness. In doing so he found spiritual reconciliation with the only person he had ever loved. Paradoxically it was that reconciliation that caused him to all the more vigorously oppose the Guardian's ideology.
Hundreds of years later, Jacob and the MIB were opposed at the spiritual core of their persons. To the MIB's constant refrain of the long litany of human failings, Jacob would reply that human beings were on a trajectory aimed at perfection. "It only ends once," Jacob said. "Anything that happens before that is just progress."
The Torch is Passed
The Guardian realised almost too late that she had made a grave miscalculation. The MIB would eventually murder her, she knew. That was not the grave error; she would even thank the MIB for killing her. The mistake she made was in placing her hope in the MIB and not in Jacob. Jacob would have to become Protector, even though he had spent a lifetime living in the MIB's shadow. Jacob had been loyal, submissive, and honest. The MIB was focussed on the impossible objective of leaving the Island. He would be unable to leave until she made him Protector, but she knew, from thirty years of hearing the pronouncement from the MIB's own lips, that he would use the power of his office to leave the Island forever. He would become the worst among the people she despised. She couldn't allow that; her power had to devolve to Jacob.
"Nam non accipimus hoc quasi vulgarem potionem, sed ut ille sit quasi unus mecum," she said. "Because we don't accept this as a simple potion, but so that he shall be as one with me." Jacob chanted the same invocation when he passed the torch to Jack. As educated as Jack was, Latin was not a part of any curriculum he had followed. When the time came for Hurley to become Protector, Jack simplified the ritual to two words: "Drink this." It lacked European charm, but the command remained effective.
Jacob approached the responsibility of protectorship with sober appreciation and indefatigable effort. He sought the perfect Candidate, and to find her, he would have to coerce people in her vicinity to help him achieve the goal of bringing her to the Island. He would have to speak languages. Many languages. He brought people to the Island and learned their native tongues. Perhaps he lived off the Island for months or years at a time, possibly putting Candidates in charge of protecting the Source in his absence. He became fluent in modern Russian, English, and Korean. Since he sought out the largest populations from which to draw Candidates, he almost certainly became proficient in French, Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, Swahili, and a dozen other languages.
The early attempts must have sought a Robert Conway.
But Mittelos was significantly more complicated than the James Hilton vision of Shangri-La in Lost Horizon. Jacob could bring accomplished statesmen, business people, and philosophers to the Island, but they must have shown no sign of being adaptable to the requirements of Island life, to say nothing of the absolute requirement of unswerving allegiance to the final objective. Who in the civilised world would choose to spend her days on an Island threatened at all times by a ruthless, destructive, deceptive, unopposable man bent on leaving the Island at any cost?
The Black Rock
Jacob initiated a new strategy at some point in the late nineteenth century. He revealed the strategy to the Final Four (Hurley, Kate, Jack, and Sawyer). "I didn't pluck any of you out of a happy existence. You were all flawed. I chose you because you were like me. You were all alone. You were all looking for something that you couldn't find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you." Those who lacked something important, who needed a purpose beyond the ones life had presented, were the people most likely to accept a centuries-long challenge.
Jacob must have thought long and hard. I don't mean over a period of days or weeks. I mean over periods of time that would consume the longest of lives. He needed Candidates ready to leave the world and commit themselves to a task greater than any person.
The answer must have become clear only in the years of the American Civil War. Slavery was disappearing around the world. The last major hold-out was the United States, with over six million slaves treated worse than animals. Here were six million possibilities, six million souls who would do anything to find a place in paradise. Jacob must have been crushed to learn of the Emancipation Proclamation, followed by the Union victory. Humanity had been served, yes, but the largest remaining pool of potential Candidates had just been taken away from him.
But the world was full of individuals willing to skirt international law for personal gain. One such selfish thug was Alvar Hanso's great-grandfather, Magnus Hanso. Young Alvar would learn from his father the craft of selling arms at hugely inflated prices to combatants in time of war. They were the Krupps of the twentieth century. He and his father came from a long line of Hansos happy in their ability to extract personal fortunes from the human need to inflict suffering on other human beings. Magnus had no difficulty at all in the enlightened nineteenth century finding powerful men who thought nothing of enslaving other men. The Royal Navy reject was the eager supplier of their criminal lusts.
Jacob did not think out the problem, perhaps because he knew he was running out of time. Eventually dark souls of Hanso's ilk would be imprisoned or would move on to other means of illicit profit. Getting Hanso to sail along a route taking his ship to the Island was not difficult. But Jacob showed no forethought regarding the disposition of crew and slaves after their shipwreck. The Smoke Monster killed all of them, with the exception of the one man he thought he might be able to persuade to carry out his bidding. But Richard was too weak for candidacy. If he could not execute a plan engineered by the Smoke Monster, he would not be able to outwit the man, either.
Richard was not the first person Jacob brought to the Island.
RICHARD: Before you brought my ship, there were others?
JACOB: Yes, many.
RICHARD: What happened to them?
JACOB: They're all dead.
We don't know the mechanism of death, but it seems certain that many--perhaps hundreds over the millennia--suffered the same fate as Richard's peers on the Black Rock. Richard witnessed many gruesome murders. Jacob's rationale for allowing this bloodshed seemed to be the first thought in Richard's mind.
RICHARD: But if you brought them here, why didn't you help them?
JACOB: Because I wanted them to help themselves. To know the difference between right and wrong without me having to tell them. It's all meaningless if I have to force them to do anything. Why should I have to step in?
I wonder if Richard accepted this explanation. Perhaps in his confused, dehydrated state he was not yet able to process thoughts clearly. I want to believe he would have followed up with questions aimed at a more enlightening response. If he had been a bit more clear-headed, perhaps he would have thought to ask, "How could they have proven their knowledge of right and wrong when the Monster killed them before they even had a chance to speak?"
The paramount objective, at least in Jacob's mind, was to prevent the Smoke Monster's escape. Temple Master Dogen had it right: The Man in Black "is evil incarnate." In fact, the entire Island could be thought of as a prison cell, holding the most violent, destructive person in the world. Jacob lifted a bottle of wine. "Think of this wine as what you keep calling hell," he told Richard. "There's many other names for it too: malevolence, evil, darkness. And here it is, swirling around in the bottle, unable to get out because if it did, it would spread. The cork," he said, holding the device in his hand, "is this island and it's the only thing keeping the darkness where it belongs."
This is as good a place as any to stop for a few moments to consider Jacob's callous behaviour. He sought flawed people, but he wanted them to know the difference between right and wrong. He wanted people who could stand up to the Smoke Monster, but the only way they would be able to do so was through Jacob's protective touch. He touched no one on the Black Rock; consequently every man and woman on board was immediately killed. Richard survived only because he was in a state amenable to the MIB's coercion, exacerbated by three days in jungle heat without water. In the centuries before the Black Rock surely hundreds more had died due to Jacob's lack of foresight. More important to the story of LOST, they died because of Jacob's lack of compassion.
He could not bring people back from the dead, even if his brother apparently enjoyed this privilege, though probably in only the most limiting of circumstances. He could not absolve sins, confer grace, or perform any other function we might associate with divine prerogative. He could touch people, elevating them to Candidate status, in this way calling upon them the Island's full protection.
Suicide and death from the elements (even an unrestrained fall from twelve thousand metres) could not touch the Candidates. The greatest benefit of candidacy had more meaning than the prevention of accidental death: The Smoke Monster could not touch them, either.
Few enjoyed the Jacobian privilege of candidacy. The Others had to labour on their own. Even their penultimate leader, Benjamin Linus, had never been touched by Jacob. Perhaps they lived only due to Jacob's neglect and the opportunity his high-minded philosophy provided to the MIB. By leaving the Others to find their own way to survive, he neglected to realise that his brother was manipulating Ben and probably many of the Others.
Possibly the consequence of greatest moment deriving of Jacob's peculiar way of looking at the world was the efficacy of Candidates over the centuries. A lesser man than Jack Shephard would have taken Jacob at his word: The Island is a prison cell, nothing more. It is just a cork. Having figured out how to kill the Smoke Monster, such a Protector would have made a mistake of Biblical dimension.
KATE: You killed the Smoke Monster, now let's go home.
JACK: Yeah [Grinning]. You're right.
SAWYER: It's Miller Time! There's beer on the boat. C'mon!
Serving as prison to the MIB was nothing more than an accident of history. The true purpose of the Island was much greater than anything Jacob understood, even after two thousand years of walking sandy shore and jungle path. His lack of understanding must have misled dozens or even hundreds over the centuries. There must have been instances in which people went to heroic lengths, thinking they were fulfilling divine mandate, but instead were pursuing entirely the wrong goal, or making the Island situation worse than it had to be.
Ille Qui Nos Omnes Servabit
Second-guessing Jacob is easy. In the end, though, his plan succeeded, and in positive ways he could not have foreseen. With meticulous planning over several decades he brought wounded, sometimes deceitful, selfish people to the Island. They overcame their tendencies toward self-fulfillment and became the best leaders Jacob had ever seen. Many of them, like Charlie, Sayid, and Locke, sacrificed their own lives for the good of the Island.
Jacob's survival over such a span of centuries was testament to his courage, resolve, and humanity. The guardian he loved as mother killed the woman who gave birth to him. His brother hated him, and plotted unceasingly to kill him. No one understood him, cared about his problems, or even wanted to be around him. Other than Richard, he had no friends, and even Richard doubted him. Everyone, with the exception of the Man in Black, feared him. He lived in that reality without complaint for two thousand years. But he was not content with mere survival. He enjoyed life, found the silver lining in every dark cloud, and saw goodness in every person he met. Jacob was the model of a purpose-driven, optimistic, happy life.
We point to his failings, but would that everyone had his failings, and his greatness. He made a place in his heart, even for murderers like Kate Austen and James Ford. Even for a murderer like the Guardian, the one he loved as mother. He carried all of us in his wounded heart. Ille qui nos omnes servabit. Indeed. For two thousand years he did just that. With Charlie, Sayid, Locke, and his brother, Jack Shephard, he did not fear the final sacrifice. Requiescat in pacem, frater noster.
Ille Qui Nos Omnes Servabit: