VALIS

This weekend I read VALIS – a book you’ve probably never heard of, and a book I had never head of until very recently.

I found out about it when it was referenced on the TV show LOST, which I actually like and can actually understand. If you don’t understand LOST, then you won’t understand this book.

The book arrives in the programme when Ben Linus is held captive by the survivors of Oceanic 815. While imprisoned, John Locke delivers this book to Ben. When Ben replies he’s already read it, Locke responds: “… read it again, you might catch something you missed the first time around.” Two episodes later there is a scene where Ben is reading the book and the camera zooms in upon the cover until it fills the screen.

This sort of thing, on a programme like LOST, was not unintentional. The writers clearly want fans of the show to read certain things that will help them understand what’s going on at a level above the narrative.

But more about LOST later.

This book is a science fiction text about madness, pain, deception, death, obsessive delusory states of mind, cruelty, solitude, imprisonment, and it’s a joy to read. So sayeth the review from the Washington Post on the back.

It was published in 1981, and the story revolves around the first person narrator, that is, Philip K. Dick, and the character he has given to himself, called Horselover Fat. The book describes theories around the possibilities of a true God, who is information, and who rules over the ‘creator deity’ who is stupid and blind and insane, and is who we might refer to as God, but who is only really deluded into thinking he is. After receiving a message from this Godhead, who is referred to as both Zebra and VALIS, Fat looses faith in the reality of time, believing instead that conscious entities are living at the same time. He, for example is living at once in the time of the early Christians, the Romans, California in the late 1970s, and a future time where humans live alongside Gods who have three eyes and who rule over our “God” who’s ‘design project’ for want of a better expression, was our universe.

The main character of this book is insane.

What’s most exciting though, to me, is that the author was insane when he wrote it. In March of 1974 he had what he describes as a ‘moment of revelation’ or ‘theophany’. Other people might describe this as an epiphany. Others still might describe it as a breakdown.

Either way, he became obsessed with metaphysical and theological issues which is what formed the basis of most of his later work, specifically, and most saliently, in the novel VALIS.

I was reading down the list of other titles that they print in the front of cheap novels and he’s written books with some cracker titles. There’s Confessions of a Crap Artist, Humptey Dumptey in Oakland, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and my personal favourite “The man whose teeth were all exactly alike”.

More popularly though, he is responsible for the films Blade Runner and Total Recall. Which are both based on his stories.

So he’s no one’s chump. We’re in good company here.

Onto LOST:

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, but at some point towards the end of reading this book, LOST made sense. The metaphysics all fell into place, the idea of gnosticly oriented lead character (Locke) who finds himself on a mission that he can’t explain to those around him and who are in doubt of his experiences; the mysteries of the island and it’s mysterious powers. Also, the way the Others blindly follow Jacob’s instructions in much the same way as the rock-star and his wife follow the girl Sophia in the novel seemed to make a whole lot more sense to me.

Also pertinent to me were the subtleties built into the mis-en-scene of LOST. With LOST, nothing ever appears on the screen by accident. Everything is imbued with meaning. I have understood this about this programme right from the start. All the characters are named after famous philosophers, scientists, psychoanalysts, and mathematicians. I never for a moment thought that this was accidental.

I wanted to verify this so I turned to the infinite wisdom of Google. It was then I realised that I wasn’t the first to suggest that VALIS had had more than a mild influence over the writers of this programme. I came across a most fantastic summary of the similarities in both the themes and in the narratives of LOST and VALIS called “VALIS Revisited”. This is a page that anyone who has ever attempted to understand LOST should read – after they’ve also read VALIS that is. :)

What this website says is so crucial to understanding the similarities between the two texts that I have decided to paste the conclusion of the website article below:

The similarities between Valis and Lost, in terms of plot, reference and themes are too many to put this down to coincidence, and the conspicuous insertion of Valis in two episodes of the show point to this novel being a key influence on the writers. Time travel and the concept of having a “constant”, a mysterious deity, a messianic figure, the Fibonacci numbers, immortals, the ability of a higher power to inflict or cure disease, are all central concepts that the two share. It is my belief that these mutual themes point to Jacob being an extra-terrestrial deity, like the one featured in Valis. The substance contained beneath the Orchid station, which is referred to as “exotic matter”, I think is from another planet, where Jacob and Richard Alpert both originated from, before they came to our planet many thousands of years ago. Locke is the reincarnated messiah that The Others are searching for, and his destiny is to save mankind. Like Christ, he will sacrifice ! his own life, and will be reborn. There is an undetected presence of a superior alien mind, Jacob, a divine figure, among us on Earth, and the arrival of a Locke, the messiah, is key to maintaining stability. Once Locke obtains the higher knowledge of Jacob/God, he will have the ability to save not only the inhabitants of the island, but also all of mankind. The events taking place on the island I think are farther reaching and more intensely spiritual than we realize, and could have global implications. The task of the messiah is to ensure that the secrets of the island, the extra-terrestrial god that resides there, and the source of infinite energy that can allow travel through time and space remain the knowledge of a select few. Were Widmore or anyone else to attempt to mine the island and exploit its ancient alien power source, results would be catastrophic. Mankind is not equipped to deal with the higher, infinite knowledge that the unleashing of the power would be! stow upon us, and the outcome would be that we would all succumb to the time sickness and our minds, driven insane, would short circuit and our race would become extinct.

I’ve also found this awesome website which lists all the literature that characters are seen with in the show, or which the show references or alludes to in some way.

Next on my list of LOST related literature is going to be Everything That Rises Must Converge. It’s by Flannery O’Connor and it’s the book Jacob is reading as Locke falls out of the office building window – the accident that leaves him paralysed until he gets to the island. Who knows what mysteries I will uncover once I’ve knocked that puppy out.

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One Response to “VALIS”

  1. Good review of Valis and its influence on Lost. I’ll have to make time to read it before the series finale. Glad the Lost book list site was helpful for you.

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