Lost in The Turn of the Screw

Turn of the screw

**Caution: may contain Lost spoilers**

Is it possible that Lost is just a ghost story? I know I don’t normally write about TV, but this post is actually about fiction! It doesn’t take much for me to have an excuse to read and I love references. References that tie things together. My stomach jumps around all juicy-like when I read about a book in another book or see a character carrying around a particular book in a movie. I figure if I can see or hear the title of the book, it must bear some importance to the plot, theme or be symbolic.

In season two of Lost, the orientation video for the Swan station is located behind The Turn of the Screw, a novella by Henry James. Therefore, it must be significant! For the purpose of brevity I will not give background on the TV show nor the book.

It took me a while to get through it because, frankly, Henry James’s writing is full of long complex sentences, something we don’t see much these days, sadly. I finally finished it a couple of nights ago and the first word out of my mouth as I closed the book was, “what???”. My face was all crumpled up in confusion and I was speaking to the dimly lit room occupied by myself and a sleeping Dave and a probably equally as confused Dante.

That’s the same reaction I had when I started watching Lost! So I guess the book was appropriate in that sense, but I’d like to think that there was more to this reference. If you read up on The Turn of the Screw you’ll see that it was most likely simply intended as a ghost story. Is it possible that the reference to the novella was intended to hint at Lost as a ghost story as well? Or is it possible that the book was referenced only to make interesting connections with other characters in the series?

According to the Lostpedia, The Turn of the Screw was adapted into film under the title, The Others. Similarities do exist between The Others in Lost and the others in the book. The ghosts of the former governess and valet, both who died mysteriously, are clearly “the others” from the novella. Like in Lost, they are only hinted at in the beginning, they are silent and fleeting, and not many have actually seen them which calls into question whether they actually exist.

Of course, we later learn in the TV show that The Others definitely do exist, but the similarities continue. They were on the island first and are actively involved in haunting the survivors of the plane crash to keep them from encroaching on their territory just as the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw actively come between the governess and the children because the ghosts were there first and maintain a claim to the children.

The character, Miles, is also another connection worth examining. Miles is one of the young children observed by the ghost of his former caretaker. At the end of the book, we are left with doubt as to whether he is actually aware of the apparition, but James hints heavily throughout that the boy is aware based on his strange behavior. In addition, the governess is convinced the boy knows of the visits and she acts as a sort of narrator in the way she convinces the reader of the same. Miles Straume is the Lost character who is able to communicate with the dead through some sort of connection with the spiritual world.

If I thought about it more I’m sure there would be more to specifics to examine, but that is enough to show to support some reason for the reference. I do still question, though, are the writers of Lost trying to hint at something to come? They have already stated that not all will be revealed at the end of the show. If we don’t discover all the mysteries of the island, are we to conclude that it is simply some kind of ghost island that exists in another dimension, but can appear in this one for the purpose of haunting? Or perhaps the purpose is to stake some kind of claim of which we’re not yet aware. Maybe the book was not intended to tell us anything of the overarching theme, but rather to be nothing more than a fun reference to a piece of old literature someone felt was influential.

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3 thoughts on “Lost in The Turn of the Screw

  1. I completely agree there is significance to The Turn of The Screw on Lost, but I would say that it is one piece of the greater pie. The books the writers choose to highlight in the show are varied but in my mind connected (I have yet to hammer this out more). Did you notice on the first episode of this new season that Desmond on the plane was reading what looked to be either the Satanic Verses or Haroun and the Sea of Stories both by Salman Rushdie? I couldn’t put a finger on it but either seem significant.

    You raise a really interesting theory on the idea of haunting. I’m still left wondering why? Why these people.

    Oh Lost! So many questions.

  2. I think the plausibility of Lost as a ghost story is pretty well demolished by season five. I don’t know how much to talk about given the fact that you’re referencing season 2.

  3. I actually haven’t started watching this most recent season yet (I plan to soon!), but I have seen all of season five so feel free to discuss it. I’ll change the spoiler message to reflect that.

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