The Keep

I read F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep on a whim. The book was listed on Lostpedia’s list of literary works in Lost as a book not specifically mentioned, but with similar themes. I work next door to a library and had extra time over lunch one day. For some reason, The Keep stuck in my head, so I decided to check it out.

I have no actual information on how much the work influenced the Lost creators. With that said, it is hard to imagine that the creators didn’t read the book. In one sentence, the book was about two immortal entities loosely based on good and evil that battle with a defined set of rules, including one rule that keeps the evil entity trapped in a confined space from which he cannot escape without the help of other people. Sound vaguely familiar?

As to the book itself, I had mixed emotions. I liked the first 100 pages and the last 100 pages. In between, the author tricked us into thinking it was vampire fiction complete with a corny love story to boot. Wilson tells a story with a fantastic beginning and end, but it almost felt like he realized that the two would combine into only 200 pages, so he had to add an insufferable middle part. He has a great ability to tell a meta-story, but most of the middle that focused on the love story and the emotions of the characters was utterly unbelievable.

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For the record: a keep is the central defense tower of a castle and often refers to a fortress that is not quite big enough to be considered a full castle. Learn something new every day.

The book takes place in World War II. A group of Nazi soldiers have occupied a keep strategically placed in the Dinu Pass in Romania. The keep is bizarre – Klaus Woermann, the officer in charge, notices immediately that there are no birds in the keep. The temperature seemingly drops as soon as one crosses the threshold into the structure. Thousands of strange crosses adorn the walls. Nazi intelligence reports say that the keep is abandoned, but that isn’t exactly true. When the soldiers arrive, they meet a caretaker who is paid by an unknown benefactor to take care of the keep. The caretaker strongly advises the Nazis against staying the night there because it only seems safe during the day.

That would make for a short book though, so the Nazis inevitably stay. On their first night there, one unsuspecting soldier finds a hidden room that he thinks contains gold. He removes a stone and goes into an even colder room…and his head is ripped off by an unknown entity. A black smoke(!) leaves the room and kills one Nazi soldier each night.

The SS comes to help, led by Major Eric Kaempffer. The killings don’t stop, but eventually they track down a crippled professor named Theodor Cuza (who is confined to a wheelchair) and his daughter Magda, two local specialists in Romanian history. The black smoke approaches to kill the two, but Professor Cuza is able to communicate with the entity in Old Slavonic. The entity claims that he is Molasar, a feudal lord who was loyal to Vlad the Impaler. Which makes him a vampire.

The SS soldiers keep trying to rape Magda so Woermann sends her to stay at the inn in town. This works out for Molasar, who turns Cuza’s hatred of Nazis against him. Molasar uses Cuza as a tool to kill the Nazis by promising him that he will kill Hitler. He also cons Cuza into being loyal to him by restoring his legs(!). Meanwhile, a strange man named Glenn shows up at the inn after a long journey from Portugal.

And then there’s the ridiculous middle section. Cuza turns evil under the power of Molasar, Glenn falls in love with Magda, and so on. We’ll skip ahead to the ending for Lost purposes.

It turns out that Glenn is actually named Glaeken. Molasar’s real name is Rasalom. They are far older than Molasar even really let on – they are leftover entities from the First Age of Man thousands and thousands of years ago, when there was a large battle between demigods. Glaeken sort of represents good, but he says it isn’t really that simple. He even kills to get his way earlier in the novel, so we know he can’t be completely good.

Glaeken describes Rasalom as a creature that feeds off of human misery. He isn’t exactly evil per se but just being around him makes one feel cold. Since Nazis have taken over Europe, there is a lot of misery out there to feed off of if Rasalom escapes the keep.

Fortunately, it isn’t that easy. Glaeken actually built the keep himself so Rasalom can’t leave. There is a talisman buried in the keep that is the same shape as the crosses on the wall – according to their rules, as long as it stays in the keep Rasalom can’t leave. Nor can he touch the talisman. This is where Cuza comes in; Rasalom has conned him into digging for the talisman and taking it outside the walls of the keep.

In the climatic scene, Cuza and Magda have a standoff. She doesn’t let him leave the keep with the talisman. We learn that Glaeken built the keep because he was scared to kill Rasalom. He feared that with Rasalom gone, his immortality will end, since there is no purpose for him. Finally, Glaeken realizes what he needs to do: he throws caution to the wind and kills Rasalom. Fortunately for him, he survives and falls in love with Magda.

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The Keep pretty much plays out like season six of Lost, with Jacob in the role of Glaeken and the Man in Black in the role of Rasalom. Like season six, we spend a lot of time wondering who is really good and evil. With the Man in Black and Rasalom, we just kind of know that they are evil…but then there are doubts because it is hard to tell who to believe.

The Man in Black and Rasalom just want to escape their confinement. Rasalom needs human help to carry the talisman away. The Man in Black needs help first to kill Jacob and then get the rest of the candidates out of the picture.

Obviously the biggest takeaway from the book is the light it sheds on who Jacob and the Man in Black actually are. The Lost creators were intent on telling their stories through symbolism, so we don’t actually have a huge grasp on their nature. Since we aren’t really sure the relationship between the show and The Keep, I won’t speculate too much, but here are a few interesting quotes from Glaeken that give us something to think about:

  • “Rasalom did not build the keep as he said. Nor was he hiding in it. The keep was built to trap and hold him…forever…Now, if he ever gets loose in the world—“
  • “He gains his greatest strength from the destruction of everything that is good in a person. The corruption of the values of a single decent human being enriches him more than a thousand murders. It’s a feast for Rasalom!”
  • On the subject of free will and why Glaeken didn’t stop Cuza: “Because it was his battle, not mine….Rasalom has done a masterful job on him, destroying his character by tiny increments, peeling away layer after layer of all the things he believed in, leaving only the base, venal aspects of his nature….And in the end, evil must be faced alone.”
  • On what would happen if Rasalom escaped the keep: “Once free, Rasalom will make Hitler seem a suitable playmate for whatever children you might have planned on having:”
  • “The keep was built to an ancient design, the images of the hilt placed in a specific pattern in the walls to cut Rasalom off from the world, to contain his power, to seal him in.”
  • In response to Magda’s question about Rasalom’s past: “He was a man…once. But he gave himself over to a dark power and was forever changed by it.”
  • In response to Magda’s question about which power Glaeken serves: “It’s not so simple as that [a Power of Good]. We merely called it Light. Rasalom was a necromancer of his time, a brilliant adept to the Dark Power. I didn’t exactly choose [to be champion of Light]. And I can’t say the Power I serve is all that good, or all that light. I was…conscripted, you might say.”

That’s a lot of information to take in. I’ll let you think about those quotes and draw your own conclusions.

For more of my book reviews, check out my Literature of Lost series.

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