So it begins.
She was the starting point, the catalyst that ignited the passion and imagination of boys who became masters of the Island, defenders of life, purveyors of death. She was evil harnessed for the protection of the Source, goodness for which there is no outlet, love for which there is no object. She was a jumble of contradictions, a loving mother who despised people, a woman with no beginnings who plotted her own end. Most of all, she was scared. Fear filled her eyes, changed the tone of her voice, for she knew her time had come, but no Protector appeared.
She protected the Source, the Light which all men seek. To fulfill her mandate she would commit any act, fabricate any falsehood, suffer any wound. The Source was well protected from the elements, fed by clean water, and not subject to natural paths of degradation. Animals had no interest in the Heart of the Island. Her sole duty, the one she feared and loved, was the protection of the living, breathing Island from the only predators that could harm the Source. Like the Man in Black, she had no name. She was adoptive mother to boys, Protector of the Source, but transcending both roles, she was custodian of the greatest myths and mysteries of the Island. We will call her the Guardian.
Guardian of Forever
The Guardian of Forever had no beginning, no history, no interests or ambitions other than the single task of guarding the history of the universe. This strange entity from the Star Trek TOS episode “City on the Edge of Forever” marks an appropriate starting place for our analysis of the Guardian of Mittelos.
Both Guardians are gatekeepers. The Guardian of Forever guards the history of every time and place, the Guardian of Mittelos watches over the treasure she believes the most important on Earth. She knows the Source, she has seen the Light. More than likely she has lived for thousands of years, since before the first pharaohs. With Claudia, we feel the urge to pose questions.
We think our questions worthy of the story, of her character, of finding a place for her in Island lore. In fact, some of us may consider her well-informed answers to our questions vital to our understanding. After all, we know who she really is. She is the gatekeeper for the kernels of mythology and axioms of human character that are the foundations for the story we watched unfold for six years. But the questions are problematic and any answers the Guardian provided would be pointless, since they would reveal no truths useful to our limited understanding.
The Guardian told Claudia, “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.” We see the exasperation in the Guardian’s face, we hear the lack of patience in her voice. Perhaps she was simply tired of providing answers. We also know that she intentionally hid information and even prevented her two young teenage Candidates from gathering the knowledge they would require if they were chosen to become the Protector of the Island. Possibly, then, her secretive nature determined her unwillingness to provide answers. We can imagine other possibilities. Perhaps the writers were lazy, we think. Or perhaps they simply didn’t give themselves enough time. Maybe if they had had just one more episode they could have laid out every truth and intricate bit of knowledge about the Island.
If we think about that possibility long enough, though, it becomes clear that one cannot pose questions and provide answers ad infinitum. At some point we have to accept axioms as they are, even if we don’t like them or understand them. One cannot explain an axiom; it just is. Perhaps some are disappointed in this approach to LOST. Others of you may have decided that this is the only reasonable attitude we can cultivate, and that the significant and rich mythology we have been given is more than sufficient to the task of understanding this cinematic masterpiece.
I find myself disagreeing with both camps. I believe some elements of the story are beyond understanding, but not because of the inherent impossibility of completing an infinite progression. More importantly, though, I believe LOST provided more stuff with which to construct durable and meaningful answers than adherents of either of these two positions have been able to grasp.
The problem with the unlimited question and answer period is not a function of diminishing returns or infinite progressions or unrequited human lust for knowledge or any other challenge due to infinities. The problem is a result of the limited capabilities of our minds. Read the words the Guardian of Forever spoke in response to Captain Kirk’s questions.
Kirk: What are you?
Guardian: I am the Guardian of Forever.
Kirk: Are you machine or being?
Guardian: I am both and neither. I am my own beginning, my own ending.
Kirk: I see no reason for answers to be couched in riddles.
Guardian: I answer as simply as your level of understanding makes possible.
Some may understand this as an unnecessary affront. But if we consider the type of question we might wish to pose, we begin to understand the nature of the problem. We might, for instance, ask the woman about the duration of her stay on the Island. She could tell us, but the answer provides no additional insight. Whether she had been on the Island for ten months or ten millennia is irrelevant because we know the Protector lives forever, provided she is not killed in certain ways. The questions that might have relevance are the ones we could not understand. What is the nature of the Source? As I have explained in other parts of this book, the Source is not subject to our probings. The Source is the mythological floor of the grand six-year parable. No interrogative we ever pose is going to elucidate any bit of information beyond the knowledge we have been given. If you are of like mind in analysis, a second difficulty arises. I consider that the Source is nothing less than humanity’s connection to the Divine. If so, there can be no way to explain the Source in linguistic terms. Stated simply, there are no words. The Source is at the very interface of a world that exceeds human capacities for understanding.
There is an important sense in which LOST provides more answers than even the most demanding fan of the show has requested (or demanded!). LOST provides a fertile ground for both questions and answers. If we look at the problem of a mythical being from this point of view, there is no distinction between question and answer; they are two sides of the same fascinating little coin.
Edith Keeler was framed by Harlan Ellison as a statement: Edith Keeler must die. Mention Edith Keeler to any Trekkie and you will receive in return a thoughtful nod and verbal acknowledgement of the grandeur of the name. Keeler’s name (http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Edith_Keeler) bears greater significance than any character other than James T. Kirk or Mr. Spock. It is as meaningful as the Kobayashi Maru (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobayashi_Maru) has become to more casual moviegoers.
I will not divulge Edith Keeler’s significance here. Hers is a story best experienced as originally performed, in Star Trek TOS 1.28, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” The fifty minutes required to take in the episode are time well spent. Many believe “The City on the Edge of Forever” is the best hour of science fiction ever to appear on television.
The significance to us is that the problem of Edith Keeler could be posed as a question with no change regarding the philosophical power of the problem: Must Edith Keeler die?
Whether we render the philosophical conundrum as question or answer matters not. Even though the original 1967 teleplay stated that Keeler had to die, the debate rages on, among Trekkies, science fiction enthusiasts, and philosophers. Damon and Carleton weighed in on the question; Eloise Hawking was used as the spokesperson for their position on the matter. Their conclusion was simple: No, Edith Keeler did not have to die. As Eloise Hawking told us, the universe tends to course-correct. That is to say, there is nothing inherent or inevitable about any particular action that might be taken. If the universe is tending toward a certain course of events, nothing we do will be successful in forcing the universe to follow some other route more to our liking.
In the same way, Darleton could have couched their questions as answers. It wouldn’t matter in the end, because we would consider every answer to be a question subject to our consideration and debate.
Was the Guardian’s bifurcation (“polarisation” was the word Darleton used) into Good Jacob and Bad Boy in Black inevitable? Must good always be accompanied by evil? Was the Boy in Black evil at all? Upon becoming the Smoke Monster was the Man in Black evil, or was he merely carrying out the evil that Jacob had commissioned by throwing him into the Source? Was Jacob as evil as the Man in Black? Does evil come only in deep black, or is it flavoured in gradations of grey and even white? Was the Guardian fully human? Did she commit evil acts (lying, killing) only to preserve the Source, or did she have other motivations?
These are some of the questions arising naturally out of 6.15 “Across the Sea.” They could be rendered as answers: The Guardian imparted only good character elements to Jacob and only bad character elements to the Boy in Black. Good is always accompanied by evil because good and evil are relative terms without objective value or meaning.
Rendered as statements, we immediately turn the ideas into questions anyway, and we go about the business of supporting an alternative answer. We know Jacob could not possibly have received only good character elements because he answered his “mother’s” death with something worse than death; since he sought greater punishment than warranted by the crime, Jacob was evil. Therefore the Guardian imparted both good and evil elements to Jacob. Another person might chime in with the position that anything the Guardian did in this matter was irrelevant; either by genetic pre-disposition or by character, Jacob was the person he was. Yet a third participant in the discussion may opine that the whole question of good and evil was never raised by LOST and that the debate is therefore irrelevant.
At the foundational level of the Source and the Guardian, LOST examined the core values of our humanity. There can be no objective, universally embraced set of answers at this level. All we can hope for is what we received: Ideas about the human condition that stimulate thoughtful exploration, response, and debate.
Les Regles du Jeu
The Protector was bound by the rules. She had wide latitude in protecting the Island. She was immortal. The only thing that could end her life, that we know of, was a ferromagnetic knife thrust into her chest or abdomen. With her touch, she had the power to grant immortality. Her Candidates could not take their own lives, and they had limited or full immunity from death by natural causes. All of this power was directed toward a single end: She had to protect the Light.
The Guardian was tired of Protector duties. She looked worn out, and she was. She probably stayed at her post for centuries, perhaps thousands of years. When the Man in Black thrust the pugio into her abdomen, the greatest sensation she experienced was gratitude. "Thank you," she told him. It was as if an enormous burden had been lifted from her. The responsibility of guarding the Light was no longer hers.
Why hadn't she just walked away, centuries ago? I believe she did. She walked away, but found she could not leave. She brought ships to the Island and found out about limited access to and from Mittelos. But even when she had the master of the vessel point the ship on the narrow course with proper bearing, she could not leave. The ship and its crew could make their way out, but she was captive to the invisible sphere engulfing the Island.
She tried killing herself. We know how that ended. She could try to poison herself, but she'd just vomit the poison back up. She could try to jump from a high cliff, but the vegetation below would break her fall. She could swim far out in the ocean, inhale sea water, lose consciousness and think herself successful, only to wake minutes later on the beach, coughing the water out of her lungs. If she cut off her arm she'd see blood spurting everywhere, and she'd again think herself successful as she lost consciousness, only to wake hours later, her arm restored, her ruddy complexion a proof that she had lost no blood.
I have to believe she was more determined than this. After several Groundhog's Day-style suicide attempts she must have understood that engineering her own death was pointless. She would have recruited others to design her demise. I wonder if she felt shock at living after an arrow pierced her chest? She couldn’t die in that manner.
"The land and the king are one," was not an empty phrase on Mittelos. Without a Protector there could be no Light. Therefore, there has always been a Protector. Until she designated Candidates or had selected a replacement, the Protector could neither leave nor die. So the Island decreed. So it was.
She would not have waited long—no more than a few centuries, I imagine—before a shipwreck appeared, with survivors. The survivors were of no direct use to her. People were greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish. But she needed a replacement. Ideally it would be someone bright, able and willing to do anything to protect the Source, and completely malleable to her will and her understanding of the world.
Probably she would have helped the sailor rebuild his vessel. When they were finished, she would have given him a heavy sack full of jingling yellow metal coins. “That’s twelve minas of gold,” she might have said. “Go out and get me a woman in her last month with child. I’ll give you twelve more.”
Perhaps she relied entirely on the caprices of wind and wave to bring her the perfect, untainted bundle of human flesh she required to teach and bend to her will. I doubt it. Claudia showed up on the beach because of human greed—and because the Guardian had been plotting Claudia’s arrival for centuries.
Birth and Childhood
Jacob represented all that is good.
We know this because the woman who stole him told us so. The woman who told us human beings—people—would hurt Jacob and his brother, "because they're people, Jacob, and that's what people do." The woman who said all people are the same: "They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt." The woman who wished to prevent corruption by smashing the skull of the boys' birth mother and wiping out an entire village of peaceful Roman peasants.
Jacob represented all that is good.
If you believe this, you are obliged to believe as Jacob's mentor taught him: That you, dear reader, are a blight on this earth, not worthy of drawing your next breath.
H. F. Harlow’s Island
Sixty years ago H.F. Harlow conducted studies in motherhood and childhood development. He was interested in determining the aspects of childhood conducive to normal development. The prevailing theory in the 1950s was that parents' most important contribution was material support: food, clothing, shelter. Dr. Harlow was sceptical. He separated rhesus monkeys from their mothers and gave them either terry cloth or wire "mothers". The terry cloth mothers had no food to offer, while the wire mothers were fitted with milk bottles. When the monkeys were dropped into strange environments with terry cloth mothers, they clung close to the soft figurines. When they were put into new environments with the wire mothers, they sat in the middle of the room, crying, or ran frantically around the room, looking for "mother." Dr. Harlow established in several sets of experiments that psychological comfort was more important to the infant monkeys than even the best milk. The monkeys forced to grow up without real mothers were easily frightened, incapable of interacting with other monkeys, and generally disturbed and unhappy for the rest of their lives. When asked which condition of childhood provided for the best development of well-rounded children, Dr. Harlow gave a simple, one-word response: Love.
Jacob and his brother grew up without their mother. The woman who adopted them—or, more accurately, took on the job of raising them in the proper hatred of human beings—was not a soft and cuddly terry cloth adoptive guardian. She was more like the wire monkey, giving food, clothing, and shelter. Is it any wonder that, when left alone, Jacob and his brother more often than not ended up beating each other to a pulp? They had no concept of love, no remembrance of love, no certainty of worth and belonging that comes of a mother's embrace. No one showed them love, and they were not loved. They belonged to neither mother nor father, and not once did they feel even a parent's touch. They belonged to no one, not even to the woman who stole them. They did belong, but to an entity they both wished to reject: the Island.
The Island was more important than the boys. They had to be blindfolded as the woman led them to the heart of Mittelos because the Island had greater value than their sense of wonder, their autonomy, even their very lives. Most of all, the woman could not allow them to figure out where the Light originated, because she could not trust them.
She taught Jacob her version of "love." When the boy returned to the cave without his brother, the woman asked where the boy in black was. Jacob didn't know. "Do you love me, Jacob?" she asked. When he responded "yes," she said, "Then tell me what happened." Love, to the Island-Protector, didn't mean giving Jacob a hug. It meant quizzing him, shaming him into ratting out his brother.
What most disturbed her was the tendency of her chosen Boy in Black, the one who would someday replace her as Protector of the Island, to stare out at the ocean, to think on it, to wonder what might be found across the sea. This was most dangerous, because the boy was otherwise precisely what she had longed for. He used deception and cunning and loved to stalk prey—the very qualities the Guardian held most dear. The boy who preferred dark tunics was "special" in every way that she was special.
They had no personal freedom. Volition was not among the aspects of human life cultivated by the woman, and she rigorously sought out any sign of dangerous independent thought in either of them.
The Guardian was no mother. “Mother” has become the almost universally used name for this character. But because she murdered the boys’ real mother, because she treated the boys in a manner unbefitting even the most callous and unfeeling of any mother I have ever seen in literature, because she was anything but a mother to these boys, I have never referred to her as “Mother.”
Duty Over Devotion
Duty to the Heart of the Island outweighed every consideration, even devotion toward the Man in Black, whom she had favoured to inherit her responsibility. Her feelings for the man she had raised as her son were evident. But he and the Roman shipwreck survivors were meddling with the underground water and the Light that suffused it above and below.
MAN IN BLACK: I began to think--what if the light underneath the island--what if I could get to it from someplace else? Figuring out how to reach it took a very long time.
MOTHER: The people with you, they saw this, too?
MAN IN BLACK: Yes, they have some very interesting ideas about what to do with it.
MOTHER: Do with it? You don't have any idea wh—
MAN IN BLACK: I have no idea because you wouldn't tell me, Mother.
Her adoptive son was attempting to use the Source. It was precisely the type of danger to the Source that she had sworn to prevent.
The Guardian’s destruction of the Roman village and the murder of its inhabitants again invites mythological questions. Was the Guardian also a Smoke Monster? If so, did she become a Smoke Monster in the same way as the Man in Black? These again are pre-Source or sub-foundational questions that have no relevance to the story. We will never be able to make a determination regarding the status of the Island prior to the arrival of Claudia on the Island.
The Guardian is only partially myth. The more important part of her character is conveyed through her humanity. I am not entirely convinced that she is even human; perhaps she is not even genetically human. But even such a distant deviation would not prove problematic to the story. Mr. Spock is only half human, but we see generous evidences of his humanity in every episode of Star Trek. Even if the Damon and Carleton someday confess that the Guardian was a space alien, it nevertheless remains true that she felt happiness and dread and sadness and anger and every other human emotion. She was compassionate to a degree—at least to the extent that she genuinely regretted having to inflict pain on other human beings. In the ways that truly matter, she evinced every characteristic of human beings.
The hypothesis I find most attractive is simple: The Guardian, like the Man in Black, lost her humanity in the millennia preceding the boys’ arrival. Whether she became a Smoke Monster we can never know. Certainly she receive power equal in magnitude to that of the Smoke Monster. Perhaps it was in the acquisition of this power that she also surrendered any claim to the completeness of her humanity.
The Guardian, for Darleton, is the introduction of the non-mechanistic, non-mythological human element into the story. In her interactions over the years with Jacob and the boy she never named, she was confronted with choices. Her daily decision to put the Source first, above even the most essential needs of the boys, had consequences antithetical to her primary objective. Her lies and manipulations served as immediate but short-lived protection for the Source because those same deceits were a constant affront to the dignity and humanity of the boys she had raised as her own. The Boy in Black left her, never to return. Even the disturbed mama’s boy, Jacob, agreed to stay with her, but only “for a while.” Her deceptions served to convince both men of the need for independent thought, and forced them to rely on their own resources for the acquisition of information. Deceit, fueled by her lack of trust, removed any basis for a shared trust, and therefore undermined every other aspect of their relationship. It is in these conflicts over trust, faith, devotion, love, desire, assertion of control, and lust for power that we see LOST shine most brightly.
She burned the Roman village to the ground, filled in the deep well, and killed every one of the inhabitants. Descendants of the survivors of the shipwreck, they had survived peacefully on the Island for forty years until the Guardian recognised the opportune moment to kill them and use their deaths to further her nefarious plans.
Her intention, thought out for centuries, was to so enrage Jacob's brother that he would release her from the millennia of captivity she had endured on the Island. Perhaps in her youth—maybe before she lost her own humanity—she had dreamed of returning to her people. Maybe she had nurtured this dream even after she became something less than human. But after so many millennia, she too must have been praying at the statue of Tawaret, begging her or any deity who would listen, to send a child she could teach in the ways of the Island and then leave—by boat or by death—so she could end her unhappy existence and hateful responsibility to protect the Light.
Hers was not the first death reckoned a release. Kevin Inman sought precisely the same escape from his lonely responsibilities at the Swan Station. His hatch mate, Stuart Radzinsky, found the situation underground so depressing that he believed his only choice was suicide. Richard Alpert, after serving Jacob for at least two lifetimes, wished only to escape the immortality he had gained.
These instances of unhappiness constitute a common thread with multiple shared elements. All of these characters were performing repetitive, sometimes boring tasks over long periods of time. All of them were to some degree immune from the vagaries of life in the greater world, insulated from dangers and accidents.
We might draw from our own experience to fashion a hypothesis uniting these deaths and suicides under the cause of boredom. But boredom is not one of the themes of LOST. I doubt, too, that the tasks were so odious or so boring as to have become the cause of a wish as profound as murder or death. Rather, I believe the Guardian’s planned death, Radzinsky’s suicide, and Inman’s wish to leave the Island were directly related to Jack’s proclamation in Episode 1.05: “If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”
By isolating themselves from human civilisation, the Guardian, Inman, Radzinsky, and Richard (isolated in that he did not share in human mortality) were alone. Though not physically dead, they were dead to the rest of humanity. “If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.” The significance is not that by violating some tenet of civility we will be doomed to die without our loved ones surrounding us. The meaning is much simpler: If we do not cultivate friendships, we will die. Jack’s words, in light of the Guardian’s lonely existence and her outright refusal of companionship and disdain for anything human, meant simply that human life is impossible without friendship. Friendship, in the form of the idea of the Constant, was a major theme in LOST. Without each other, we are dead. Without each other, we are Lost.
In her loneliness and in her perverse and sad preference for an unhappy solitude, in her contempt for human society, the Guardian was the instigator of a two-thousand-year legacy of distrust, murder, deception, loneliness, and death.
“Let me help,” Captain Kirk said to Edith Keeler as they strolled the shops on Main Street. “A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over ‘I love you.’”
Jack Shephard, if he were still alive, would be nodding, noting his firm agreement with Captain Kirk. Let me help, because by helping I come to share in your troubles and challenges, I come to share in your life. By sharing in your life, I find my own life. And by sharing all things together, we find ourselves, and each other, and we are no longer Lost.
February 6, 2011
Sugar and Spice, But Everything Gneiss: The Cultural Ambiguity of the Guardian in Lost by Pearson Moore
Posted by DarkUFO at 2/07/2011 02:58:00 am 0 CommentsPearson Moore