Island

Once again I’ve fallen behind on my Literature of Lost series, partly because I’ve been busy and partly because I’ve been stuck reading Aldous Huxley’s Island. I was excited for this book, as I was a big fan of Brave New World in high school. Island was Huxley’s last novel and serves as a sort of Utopian answer to the bleak futuristic society portrayed in the much more popular Brave New World.

Island isn’t as popular for two reasons. One, cynicism sells more than optimism. And two, it’s just not as good. The book has a promising story, but nothing really happens. Nine-tenths of the book consists of a foreigner learning about the culture of the forbidden island of Pala through conversations with its inhabitants. There is the start of a promising storyline, but it is quickly pushed to the backburner as Huxley is more concerned with describing his ideal society. Huxley’s ideas are interesting, but the book itself wasn’t all that entertaining.

The book doesn’t show up in Lost, but is referenced in the season two finale Live Together, Die Alone when the Others kidnap Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley. They take the four to a dock which has the words Pala Ferry emblazoned over the top of it. We later learn that the DHARMA Initiative once ran a ferry called the Pala Ferry back and forth between Hydra Island three times a day.

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Will Farnaby wakes with a start in the jungle on a mysterious island, just like a certain Lost protagonist we know.

We quickly learn that this is the forbidden island of Pala and Will isn’t as innocent as he seems. He purposely crashed onto the island to usurp the powers that be on behalf of an oil company.

Strangely, the inhabitants of the forbidden island welcome him with open arms and take him in while his broken leg heals. This was the biggest stretch for me. Pala is on the verge of an impending conflict with the neighboring island of Rendang, run by the military dictator Colonel Dipa. Dipa claims that Pala is part of “Greater Rendang” – shades of Hitler’s speeches on the eve of World War II. Palanese citizens already seem to be on edge and Will acknowledges that very few visitors ever make it to the island. With this background, I just didn’t buy that they would take Will in that easily.

The head of state in Pala is called the Raja and a 17-year old boy named Murugan will take over the position when he comes of age in the near future. He is sympathetic to Colonel Dipa’s cause and seems ready to open Pala up to Rendang and the oil companies. The Palanese council seems well aware of this and opposes it. Yet for some reason, they take this stranger in to the supposedly forbidden island and let him do whatever he wants.

Anyway, through a series of conversations with the natives, Will learns about the island and comes to love it. Will is a cynical Christian and seems to hate everything about Western political and religious beliefs. Pala’s book of beliefs, the cleverly titled Notes on What’s What, came about from a previous Raja’s discussion with a free-spirited Scottish doctor named Andrew MacPhail. As a result, Palanese culture is at its root a combination of hippie culture, Eastern religions and Western science, so it really speaks to Will.

Pala is a utopia. Love, yoga, hallucinogenics, birth control, communal family life, science, and open communication are some of the many hallmarks of life on the island. None of this is particularly important for Lost, except the parts I mention below, so it’s not really necessary to go into them. I’ll leave those to you enterprising readers that wish to compare Huxley’s thoughts on the ideal society with his life experiences.

In the end, Will joins forces with the Palanese. I thought this was strange, perhaps because I’m not as cynical as Will was. I found the Palanese to be a little too sure of themselves for my liking. But whatever the reason, Will loves their ideal society and “sees” things for the first time towards the end, when he takes the moksha-medicine, a hallucinogenic drug.

He chooses not to betray the confidences of his new friends, but it doesn’t matter. As the book closes, Colonel Dipa rolls in with Murugan and proclaims Pala to be part of Greater Rendang. Nobody on Pala has any weapons, so we are left to assume that the forbidden life is over.

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The society on Pala has many similarities with the Others and the DHARMA Initiative on the Lost Island. The book was conveniently placed at the end of season two to get us thinking about the Others before season three got underway. With the benefit of retrospect, we see that themes and events from Pala pop up in seasons three through six.

The most obvious example is the forbidden nature of Pala itself. Like the Island in Lost, Pala is home to a select few and those select few would like to keep it that way. Both groups think that outsiders would endanger their current way of life. And in both cases they are right. Colonel Dipa and the soldiers from Rendang mean to destroy the Palanese way of life to allow for oil interests and capitalism to predominate. Similarly, Ben Linus fears Charles Widmore will retake the Island and change the Others’ way of life.

Much of the thinking of Pala residents was similar to what we found out about the DHARMA Initiative in season five. Palanese scientists have set up various stations throughout Pala to study different areas of science – similar to the DHARMA stations on the Island. Both seem to be intent on fusion Eastern religions and sensibilities (yoga, dharma, namaste, etc.) with Western science. The people of Pala are into yoga, kama sutra-like things, and what we would now call alternative medicine. Yet they also were ahead of their time with birth control, psychology, and physical sciences. They were able to do so because of their Utopian society and the fact that everyone could get on board with their sometimes controversial plans.

The DHARMA Initiative had similar goals, but their methodology was backwards. They had stations to study zoology, psychology, medicine, etc. in an attempt to create a Utopian society. They eventually failed because they spent too much time fighting the Others. Pala succeeded in creating a Utopian society, but it too failed because they didn’t spend enough time on defense. Both failures lead us to question whether a Utopian society truly is viable.

The Western science and Eastern religion also later plays into the Temple Others in season six. Like Deep River, this gives us a sense of what the Temple Others may have been like. Perhaps the Others were trying to build a utopia of their own. Certainly many of the goals of the Palanese were similar to the goals of the Others.

There were two other quick, cute similarities between the two books that don’t really fit in elsewhere. First, Jack waking up on the Island is definitely a nod to Will Farnaby waking up on Pala. Both are disheveled and struggle to regain their bearings amidst an unknown jungle. Second, Dr. Andrew MacPhail is originally brought by the Island to relieve the then Raja’s cancerous tumor, similar to why Ben Linus brought Jack to the Others’ camp.

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This was one of my least favorite books in the Literature of Lost. Like many of my own blog posts, the idea was good but the execution was poor. Too often it was like reading a list of what Huxley wanted in a Utopian society. There is nothing wrong with this if you are a social psychologist, but for someone whose only Huxley experience was Brave New World, it was a bit of a disappointment.

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