Personal bias ever surfacing (Ascendancy in the Malazan series)

See my eyes rolling in consternation again.

I enjoy reading Larry’s reviews, no matter what he reviews. Then he links a forum I’ve never seen and I check there from time to time to read other points of view on his reviews of Erikson’s books. Guess who’s posting also in that place? Werthead. There’s no place on the internet even vaguely related to fantasy and SF where you don’t see him strutting about.

Which is actually a good thing. He spends quite a bit of time everywhere evangelizing about the genre, and you can’t have enough of that. We should be grateful. There’s nothing negative about answering questions and making people aware of this or that less known writer or book. Nothing negative at least till what he’s spreading is somewhat accurate and honest, but there are certain instances that are not, and so he goes on spreading some twisted and inaccurate interpretations that can’t be in any way useful.

This is a recurring habit of him with Erikson in particular, it seems he can’t write a comment without putting some venom or spite in it. It just can’t be helped. I point your attention in particular to this reply he writes. Someone asks some specific questions about Malazan and he’s kind enough to answer. The reply he writes is actually good and to the point, helpful. Only he had to let some of that venom of him seep through, and so we get this:

People ‘Ascend’ when they become unstoppably badass. That’s about the only criteria that can be found. When they become powerful enough they will ascend to become Ascendants, who are effectively demigods.

That’s exactly the moment when my eyes went rolling, especially because this is a recurring bad habit of those who try to diminish Erikson as a writer by drawing a parallel between his series and role-playing games. I don’t need to discuss the association because I’ve done it already in the past, the point here is that, no matter how you see it or personal opinion about Erikson as a writer, what he says there is simply inaccurate and WRONG. Yes, there’s always this argument that says I don’t qualify to comment since I haven’t read the whole series yet, but now I’ve read some 3400 pages, I guess I should have an idea about how this thing works.

In those pages I read there are plenty of cases of individuals becoming ascendants. We see the process in various instances. Yet I can’t remember A SINGLE ONE that went in the way Werthead described it. Not only there’s not a pattern like the one he described, but there’s not even a single case that went like that.

If one has to define a pattern (and a pattern is not easy to find here for deliberate reasons), it’s one that is the exact opposite of “becoming badass”. In most cases people in the books “ascend” after they went through some extreme suffering, or suffering that can be interpreted in some symbolic way. Saying this would still be imprecise and limited, but THIS is the only generalized criteria that one could honestly deduct.

When I think about this I remember these words by Erikson that I quoted recently for something entirely different: the flaw is one of sequence.” Indeed. People become badass AFTER they become ascendants, as a consequence. They do not become ascendants BECAUSE they are badass. This happens because ascendancy is in general the process of creation of myth in the malazan world. This process includes different typologies because it’s here that Erikson deals with the entire spectrum of myth, from pragmatic and concrete gods, to religious beliefs. What in the beginning seems to have the most disparate origin is then shown to have a shared one. And this is a rather broad and deep theme that is already expanded and explored from various perspectives in each book.

This process draws directly not from the fantasy genre and its canon (even if these are used to play some tricks), but from REALITY. The process of creation of myths and gods is, in the Malazan world as in our real one, entirely symbolic. The meaning as a sign. Or a sign that evokes meaning. This is why it’s possible in the Malazan world that gods appear disguised or take the place of other gods to deceive and twist followers. This kind of “game of thrones” is a game of ambivalence of meaning. It’s a disguise of power, through meaning. Take for example this revelatory part with Heboric from House of Chains:

Then another voice spoke, louder, more imperious: ‘What god now owns your
hands, old man? Tell me! Even their ghosts are not here -who is holding on to you? Tell
‘There are no gods,’ a third voice cut in, this one female.
‘So you say!’ came yet another, filled with spite. ‘In your empty, barren, miserable
‘Gods are born of belief, and belief is dead. We murdered it, with our vast
intelligence. You were too primitive—’
‘Killing gods is not hard. The easiest murder of all. Nor is it a measure of intelligence.
Not even of civilization. Indeed, the indifference with which such death-blows are
delivered is its own form of ignorance.’
‘More like forgetfulness. After all, it’s not the gods that are important, it is the
stepping outside of oneself that gifts a mortal with virtue—’
‘Kneel before Order? You blind fool—’
‘Order? I was speaking of compassion—’

The only gap between the Malazan world and ours is that Erikson makes the process concrete and tangible. In the same way, for example, in Lost the players make the rules (and make them real) as they go, here the representation of a god makes it real. “Meaning” that dresses itself as tangible power. Meaning that transforms itself into magic. Accepting and embracing meaning makes it real and part of the factual world.

‘It is believed,’ he said slowly, ‘by the bonecasters, that to create an
icon of a spirit or a god is to capture its essence within that icon. Even the laying of
stones prescribes confinement. Just as a hut can measure out the limits of power for a
mortal, so too are spirits and gods sealed into a chosen place of earth or stone or
wood… or an object. In this way power is chained, and so becomes manageable.’

‘Do your bonecasters also believe that power begins as a thing devoid of shape, and thus
beyond control? And that to carve out an icon – or make a circle of stones – actually
forces order upon that power?’

Understanding this leads to understanding how ascendancy works, and define a pattern if we really want one. In most cases, people don’t become ascendants, but they get picked by a god. In most cases (all) without their consent. The relationship is not a simple one, because it’s reciprocate influence, and in order to use powers, the gods are subject to influence from the outside.

How does a god choose an ascendant? Through symbols and convenience. Again I say that “combat proficiency” never came to play in the choice in all the examples I’ve seen. What comes to play and defines the choice is “likeness”, “kinship”. Gods pick their ascendants through symbolic analogies. Through some kind of reflection between themselves and those they choose. Some kind of abstract link. This is why for example the Crippled God (Chained One) picks his followers among those who suffered and were chained in ways similar to his (in the same way in Lost the black smoke tries to find allies by exploiting some affinity with them). Gods make ascendants through affinity of spirit, or in some twisted interpretation of it. And this is why Heboric himself, cripple and blind, also is chosen. A man who only felt miserable and whose only escape from suffering was through drug. Are you telling me that his transition to ascendancy happens through badassness? Come on.

I don’t think Erikson would have any interest in creating a magic system or a pantheon established on arbitrary assumptions. What Erikson puts in his books is definitely “fantasy”, but always grounded on something real and true. The fantastic element is purely of transformation. Metaphoric. But in the end, it needs to connect back to something true and real in order to be relevant and meaningful. Which all makes me think about Brandon Sanderson “bragging” for his The Stormlight Archive series how “there are thirty magic systems in this world, depending on how you count them”. Which is cool, but just “fluff” (as Dan Abnett would define it) if these magic systems are not used as narrative devices with some purpose. Thirty magic systems, or sixty, or one, or zero. Who cares? It’s what you do with them and why, to matter. What they represent, what is the message. It’s a book that you’re writing, not a role-playing gaming system.

Which is the point.

Lost: worth it?

I spent lots of words to interpret the finale, but I didn’t answer the most basic question: did I like it or not? Now that is over, was it worth all this time?

Yes. But I don’t intend to ever re-watch another episode. It’s since the finale of Season 5 that the plot has progressively fallen apart and crumbled. I’ve already said that I started to enjoy the show only from Season 2 when the mythology was being flashed out and hint at the possibility of it not being a fraud, but in the end it’s the mythology that got dumped in favor of empathy with characters, letting just the emotion to drive the show to conclusion. I have zero interest to rewatch it because I consider it a closed experience. I enjoyed it, but the show exhausted its meaning for me. Evangelion, for example, I always gladly rewatch because every time I discover something new, some nuance, or it gets me thinking. This happens because I believe it taps into something “true”. Lost also taps into something true, but in a kind of superficial way that doesn’t make it flourish. Lost exploits more than makes thrive. And in the end I don’t enjoy much its “carrot on a stick” model that ultimately lead to something entirely different than what it promised.

Maybe with the exclusion of the finale: I think the finale was probably the most honest and truthful part of the show. But it was also optimist to the point that for me felt too gratifying. And I always distrust gratification.

Lost: explained – Step into the light

I spent some time reading official and unofficial interpretations of the finale and there’s a lot of ambiguity and derailed interpretations that are starting to be shared by the majority. I cling with the interpretation I’ve given because it’s coherent with what we’ve been shown, while all other interpretations I’m reading have various crucial lapses of logic.

At the end the only way to find the “best” interpretation is to pick the one that is the least contradictory, and that’s what I was doing.

Let’s begin.

First there’s Jeff Jensen again, who followed one of those hyperlinks no one bothers to follow, and discovered something meaningful and that reinforces my theory that most of the mysteries in Lost have to be seen and interpreted in a symbolic way, and not literally as many are wont to do.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Haroun is a self-aware fairy tale about a young hero (whose name means ”Aaron”) who has an adventure in a realm that happens to be the source of all stories.

Haroun fights a monstrous, shape-shifting Man In Black who seeks to destroy the ”sea of stories.” The villain is a crazed, control freak man of science/political tyrant who wants to put a cork in the wellspring of meaning itself and then spike the Sea of Story with a toxin of ”anti-story,” or meaninglessness.

Haroun saves the day, and for his trouble, the administrators who manage the fantastical realm give him a happy ending. Haroun is slightly troubled by this; he feels this ”happy ending” business is terribly contrived. Yet he accepts the gift anyway, and appreciates it more and more as the benefits roll in. Love. Hope. Forgiveness. Empowerment. Redemption. Reconciliation. Restoration. In the end (and this is just my interpretation), Haroun decides to worry less about the origin of this windfall — an inexplicable palette drop loaded with yummy, nourishing soul food — and instead decides to worry more about living a life worthy of these eternal values. The mechanism of the delivery may have been contrived, but the values themselves are truthful and real.

This works way too well to not be acceptable. It wraps completely what happened in the whole series, comparing mysteries and everything else as “devices” in order to enjoy a finality.

It only leaves to interpretation the Purgatory part, that is now the most controversial and the one whose interpretations I see as inconsistent. Including the one given by Jeff Jensen (I’ll continue to use Jeff Jensen as a template since he spells things out clearly and his interpretation is the one most widespread).

In particular the object of discord is the interpretation of what happens to Ben at the end.

The widespread interpretation I criticize:

We begin with Benjamin Linus. I was surprised and moved to learn that the bug-eyed devil got a ticket to the castaways’ afterlife rocket launch, that he was even considered a member of this spiritual clan. How very ”love thy enemy.”

Here I agree. These are the people that Ben got connected the most with. But accepting this, means that the second part is wrong. Which “ticket” to get is NOT a choice. This, and just this, is the clan he gets to be with. He doesn’t get another. In his life Ben connected with THESE people.

Ben chose to stay in the Sideways world instead of joining the castaways in their communal upload into the Source. He said he still had some things he needed to work out for himself. I’ve heard that some fans didn’t like the implications of Ben’s decision. If souls are allowed to kick around Purgatory for eternity and figure themselves out, then doesn’t the Sideways world effectively cheapen the Island story? If our redemption issues can be processed easily and painlessly in the cushy limbo of our own blue heaven, then what does it matter what manner of evil that we commit or suffering we endure in the world of matter?

Yes, you can stay and ”figure things out,” but this introspection doesn’t change who you are. Or rather, were. You don’t get to craft a flattering interpretation of yourself. You don’t get to accumulate more experience to improve your chances at heavenly election. You only get one life to live, and the opportunity that the Sideways world provides is the chance to puzzle together and come to grips with the person you became while you lived it.

The second paragraph shares the same explanation I’ve given: you don’t get a second chance in Purgatory. What matters is the “first” life and whatever you’ve experienced/learned there. Purgatory only represents consequence of your life, but you don’t get to fix mistakes and become a better person in Purgatory so that you can too aspire to paradise. What is done is done. Do we agree up to this point?

Agreeing with this means that the beginning of the first paragraph is WRONG. Ben doesn’t choose to stay in the Sideways world.

So everything lies in the interpretation of Ben’s statement: “I have some things that I still need to work out. I think I’ll stay here a while.”

People doing wishful thinking have straightly assumed that it means that Ben decides to stay out in the Purgatory and awaken Danielle and daughter or something like that, and it’s with them that he’ll do the afterlife rocket launch into bright light. I don’t swallow this interpretation because it contradicts every other premise.

First: Ben lost his chance to bond with other people. He wasn’t able to create real bonds in his life, if not maybe with Hurley in the island time span we don’t get to see. Danielle and her daughter represent missed opportunities.

Second: the Purgatory is a construct. It is fake wishland. It’s just a preparatory set-up so that the “soul cluster” can meet and move on together. Its function is merely of “acceptance”. Letting go what you thought was meaningful. Its function is merely revelatory and transitory. Meaning that Ben can’t go out and get a second chance because Danielle and her daughter are also fake constructs. Wishful thinking. They are furniture. In the same way the plane not crashing was solely a symbolic event they decided to put at the basis of their Purgatory construct. In the same way Jack’s son was also wishful thinking and furniture. In Purgatory you don’t craft a better life for yourself or get to fix your mistakes. Purgatory is made to reveal and accept what you’ve been and just that.

This is again reinforced by the fact that every slightly meaningful role is taken by someone who appeared in the show. We get to see a cameo of basically every character because this sideways reality was effectively built by those who end up in the church, with everyone else being merely a construct:

The Sideways world is a manifestation of the castaway soul cluster’s collective yearning. They wanted a world where they never crashed on The Island. They wanted a world where The Island had no sway over their lives. Ergo, their purgatory paradise reflects that yearning.

I have also seen The Island as a symbol for a world with objective meaning. Truth is ”out there;” it can be sought and found, even if it ultimately requires individual interpretation. The destroyed Island in Sidewaysabad is a symbol for subjective, meaning-challenged world where the only things that are truly real — the Island-world souls of the castaways — are literally submerged and lost in the murky depths of their Sideways avatars.

This still doesn’t explain what Ben says and why he decides to not join everyone else in the church.

My interpretation of his words and intent: Ben is outside, sitting alone and looking miserable. He is exactly like Scrooge in the Dickens’ Christmas tale. He gets to see people happy and understands how miserable he was. Ben wasn’t able to connect enough with Danielle or his daughter to be there with them. He lost his chance and now he’s alone.

It’s fairly silly to expect him to go out and awaken them. First because it’s too late to bond with them now, secondly because everything out there isn’t real. And trying to awaken Danielle is like trying to awaken furniture. Ben understands this. He will ultimately follow the others into the light (the last thing Hurely tells Ben is “I’ll see you”, nodding with his head toward the inside of the church), but he’ll still feel missing something.

He’s screwed and looks miserable. It’s a sad ending.

Also: this can be used as a parallel for another meaningful message the show tries to reveal. Remember the scene when Jack fills the plastic bottle with water to transfer the guardian role to Hurley (and plausibly grant him immortality and other undisclosed powers)? Well, the pragmatist in us would say that it couldn’t work. Because Jack didn’t say the magic words. In the exact same way the pragmatist in you pretends that Ben doesn’t share his companions’ destination in the bright light, simply because he’s sitting outside.

The point, and something that the show tried hard to prove, is that the “rules” can be made along the way. They are arbitrary customs so that we can make ourselves understood. They are conceits. They can be this and that, but it doesn’t matter in the end. If you cling to the rules you cling to the part that doesn’t matter. Magic words or not, in or out the church. A word represents meaning, but the meaning isn’t the word. Those are the same aspects of life that you are supposed to “let go”. Same for the hardcore explanations for every mystery: they aren’t the point. Clinging to strict rules is about clinging to the delusion of an imaginary world. Like Jack clinging to the idea that his son is “real”.

Lost: explained (short version) – A character driven drama

My yesterday’s post was too long and even a bit too vague, so I’ll use a forum post to illustrate better my point of view on the mysteries of the series and why I say that we were given all the answers that we needed to understand it fully.

JeffL: Sure, I have a ton of imagination, probably too much for my own good. But if they wanted me to make up all the answers to the fundamental questions, they could have just have one season and then a panel that says “OK, we gave you the template, now you come up with all the stories and what happens next.”

It’s really not that.

It’s a mix of laziness and it being not the point. If you want to fill the gaps you can try, but the message of the show is that it’s not the point. It shouldn’t matter. The mystery stays unresolved because it’s the nature of the mystery, and not because an answer has been denied. Things remain “abstract” like they can be in a dream. The mechanics of a dream do not follow logic, because they are symbolic. And a lot of mysteries in Lost aren’t to be “resolved” because their purpose is entirely symbolic. Or better: things need to be interpreted, not explained.

Trying to solve or understand a dream through the sheer logic of what happens in that dream is the very best way to miss its meaning.

But the MIB/Smokey story line was set up by the writers, and people like Jacob spoke as if they knew what the horror of him leaving the island would be. Yet – we’re given no real indications of why it would be so bad. The only thing MIB ever expressed was frustration that his un-mom lied to him, that there was an entire world out there, and he wanted to see it but he was told by his un-mom and then his brother, no, you can’t leave and see the rest of the world.

MiB (in smoke form) represents hate and vengeance. When Jacob sends his dead brother in the magic pool, he unleashes/shapes an “evil” part of the island that absorbs MiB’s original goals and twists them. The magic pool worked in that case like a sort of amplifier of the last bad thoughts stuck in that body. Even here the menace is entirely abstract because it is symbolic. There is no need or way to detail what concretely happens if the smoke monster is unleashed on the rest of world. It’s just a symbolic threat.

Jacob was himself a flawed protector because of his deranged mother. He inherits and brings along the flaws of his mortal self. Becoming immortal and drinking the magic pool kool-aid doesn’t make him better or particularly enlightened, in fact Jacob is an idiot (and you see in my longer explanation why this is a core point of the whole show). It’s Jacob who causes all this mess, and it’s Jacob who tries to close the loop he created by having the smoke monster destroyed (through Jack). Hurley becomes Jacob’s successor, but it’s implied that he’ll be a much better successor because he’s already a better person. Even the island mythology gets some kind of “betterment” from the process. But this process of “betterment” is always “human”-driven.

When he becomes Smokey, all of his actions still appear to be focused on just getting off the island.

Because the smoke monster is the manifestation and perversion of the original intent MiB had. It is twisted into hate, representing that “bad” part that makes humans human. So flawed.

It basically means: at the beginning our aims are always legitimate and good. But they can be twisted toward hate and nihilism. (see my post about chains and choices)

The smoke monster simply represents the corruption of a legitimate intent.

So yeah, the one thing I would have preferred is a simple dialog where Jacob or Jack or whoever states why Smoky getting to see the rest of the world would indeed end the world.

The threat is symbolic. It implies the danger of men giving up to their “bad” side (which is the fear and belief of Jacob and MiB’s mother). The smoke monster represents that possibility.

In the end if there’s something that the finale makes clear is that the “finality” is represented by choice and human will. Every supernatural element in the show is SUBORDINATE to the human struggle. The supernatural element is merely a “device” for the human struggle to surface and happen, and not “the point”. This is why the writers themselves continue to repeat that in the finale they wanted to focus on the characters and their lives, because the characters are what matters the most in the show. The Indiscriminate Happy End reinforces this concept: the journey existed because the characters faced their problems and got a chance of resolving themselves. This is why every character has a personal story arc, with flashbacks and everything. It is to show that these people had to face their problems, making mistakes or making progress. What they learn determines what they become, and, ultimately, what they bring along in the afterlife. What matters: what they have become and the people they got linked to. What doesn’t matter: the physical world they leave behind and “let go”, including the concrete answers to the mysteries.

Every threat or mystery they face is symbolic or thematic. They are “devices” used from a side to capture the attention of the audience (us, watching the show), from the other as symbols and metaphors of everyone’s journey and struggle. If some of you still think there are unexplained things it’s probably just because you don’t want to accept the real answers.

So you are left in Purgatory, forever looking for answers that do not exist.

Lost (0): explained

This started as a forum reply, then it got too big. So I post it here.

Hold on a sec.

We all agree that the sideways reality we’ve been shown is now officially “purgatory”, waiting for the light representing paradise. One decides if this was a satisfying resolution or not. But what about what happened BEFORE?

People who don’t get to live fancy sci-fi adventures don’t go in paradise? How this mythology propagates to the rest of the world? What if a character decided to kill himself at some point? In the end they all went in paradise, so why bother fussing in the previous life?

If you buy this metaphysical package then you HAVE to deal with it. If you accept that paradise exists, then not only the purgatory is so, but even the previous island life. Everything is preparatory and transitory to the new happy, un-flawed life. So, if we all go in paradise in the end, why the need to bother with a mortal life? So that we can set up an heartwarming get together party? Or it’s just a trick so that you can offer an “happy end” when there was no way for the plot to go someplace?

In other words, instead of addressing the central mysteries that have driven the show since the beginning, the writers conjured up a brand new mystery at the beginning of this season, and then used the *series* finale to resolve only that new mystery. And the resolution to that mystery – that this group had such fun times on the island that they decided to share a slice of afterlife together – is utterly unconnected to any other mystery that has ever been raised in the show. How anyone could watch this and conclude the writers totally had this planned out from the start is beyond me – there’s nothing in the finale that would support that interpretation.

Seriously, if you think about it, this “they had such fun together they decided to meet up again after they all died” device could be used as a feel-good tear-jerker ending to *any* ensemble show. It’s really a totally meaningless cop-out ending.

Because you can use that type of ending for EVERY story (TV series, books, movies, whatever): there was a big fuss, but they eventually, sooner or later, died, and were happy in paradise. You must be pleased. You got six seasons of characters being tortured, then you get to see them finally happy. Everyone. Even those who died two episodes ago. Doesn’t this make YOU happy?

So let’s re-interpret: the bomb did nothing at all beside getting Juliet killed so that she could go do Visitors. Whatever happened happened. Hurley and Ben took Jacob’s role for an indeterminate amount of time, and maybe managed to ship Desmond back home (unresolved). Jack died just after re-corking the steaming shithole, saving the world (from what, we’ll never know). The rest of the crew got off the island and, presumably, landed safely. Claire got to try being a mother, maybe going insane from time to time so that life would not get too boring, Kate would probably try to kidnap Ji Yeon (Sun & Jin daughter), since that daughter is now an orphan, probably finishing in the very evil hands of Sun’s father. Sawyer got nothing if not a sorrowful life, maybe he gets to help Kate kidnapping Ji Yeon and play the father. It would be nice if this makes Sawyer get two wives when in paradise, and Jack nothing. Jack got a kiss, hope it was satisfying because it’s all you’ll get. Yet it’s absolutely coherent to assume that Sawyer gets to pass his life with Kate for what is left of their lives in the normal world. He already managed to get it to work with Juliet, so he’ll probably manage to get it to work even with Kate.

Obviously nothing of this could have been shown explicitly while at the same time making it satisfying and conclusive. So we don’t get that and we get the “Cumulative & Indiscriminate Happy End” in its place.

The fact is, the ending we were given would be rather sad if you take away the whole side-reality part. Too sad to swallow. So they figured out this trick that would offer an ULTIMATE happy end, no matter what. Or maybe it matters, since the whole point is leaving a sweet aftertaste instead of a bitter one. Then, at least SOME of the audience will be pleased. Or not?

Or NOT? What if the purgatory scene is solely Jack’s wishland? The way he hallucinates the story to end? And he figures HIS happy end in regards to everyone he knows. He definitely prefers Sawyer with Juliet, while he gets Kate all for himself. Quite neat. Why does Sayid get to be with Shannon and not Nadia? Because Jack only saw Shannon, not Nadia, so Nadia was not invited to Jack’s wishland party. Heh. Other findings?

Those who have seen Evangelion probably arrived to the same conclusion since Evangelion ended in a similar way to Lost. If you never watched Evangelion I wouldn’t suggest doing it if you don’t dig that type of thing, but at least you may try to read the script of the last episode (TV, not the movies). The end of the Evangelion TV series mimics exactly the spiritual part of the end of Lost, and does it in an even more direct and open way. In Japan this last episode produced a huge outrage and the director received a lot of personal death threats. This because the last episode of the TV series completely dropped the “plot” and only focused on the “message” they were sending, using the plot merely as a means to carry that message. People were focusing TOO MUCH on what didn’t truly matter for the director. The discussions existed solely about the plot, mysteries and their details, disregarding the real message and purpose of the show. So the director decided (since they were also running out of money) to drop every plot-related element and just leave the essence of the message. It led to a final episode that was abstract and stylized, completely different from the rest of the series. The director of Evangelion, not unlike Lost, was accused of not answering any of the mysteries of the show and all this produced an unprecedented outrage. In the end they decided to make two more movies that do not expand the “meaning” or message of the show, but conclude the mysteries they left behind and the plot itself.

I kind of chuckle at people trying to figure details such as how Jack got out of the glowing pool. If there’s something this finale has made clear is that it’s not like the writers didn’t give a proper answer to mysteries, it’s that the answers simply do not exist. Or better: solving mysteries is beside the point. If you really want to speculate fancy solutions, go on. But that’s not part of the purpose of the show.

Instead there’s another aspect that is worth discussing, and it is about the relationship between the lives of the characters.

So see me trying to wrap everything together in the way it should have been, without making anything up:

Level 1: Quantum reality. A whole, completely unresolved part of this series is “time travel”. The concept itself is in the show a loop that never closes. Merely a plot devices that doesn’t connect with a true meaning. They played a bit with the scientific theories, but ultimately this lead to a dead end. Unresolved, if you are an optimist, a failure if you’re not. An interesting aspect of the quantum reality theory, is the quantum immortality part. It’s loosely based on the concept: “I think, therefore I am”. It means that if there’s a conscious being aware of himself, then that conscious being must be immortal. The “quantum immortality” theory relies on the assumption of another theory, one requires the other: “many worlds interpretation”. This because the immortality of conscience relies on the fact that it will always exist in some other “world”. Being the worlds and possibilities infinite means that a conscious being can never completely cease to be. Desmond is clearly a mechanism of these theories. We aren’t being shown him simply as a bridge between sideways reality/purgatory and island. If I remember correctly (please point out the details if you remember) when Desmond time travel is described we see him looping quite a bit between alternate universes. Over and over. In the show we watch one world-story, but it is implied in the official mythology that there are infinite numbers of possible alternate worlds, maybe all pivoting on some immutable events, but still existing in parallel.

Level 2: I woke up early to watch Federer at the Roland Garros, then I was too tired and decided to nap before watching Lost. I dreamed something, not even too weird. Then I watched Lost. About 2/3 in, I was interrupted by something (not important what) that gave me a sudden deja-vu of what I dreamed just before. This happened right when in the show the characters were getting constant flashes of their island memories. This analogy got me realizing that all of us get these kinds of flashes daily. Sometime something we do makes us remember something weird we dreamed that night. What we live influences what we dream, and what we dream influences what we live, especially on a deep subconscious level. Then this can be linked back with Level 1: what if our conscience in all parallel worlds has a way to send some sort of feedback, and that feedback help us making choices in a precise instance of parallel universe, and then send back more feedback. Again and again. You are looped to yourself, and then linked to others.

Level 3: Jeff Jensen realized all of this in February, just after that awful Kate episode. He noticed that WHAT the characters did in the island time was then “informing” the sideways reality and made characters self correct. Many times we see a a flaw in a character in the island time that feeds and gets converted into something positive in the sideways time. It’s made explicit that (1) in the sideways time the characters have still their problems to deal with but (2) they learn to deal with them better. This is repeated over and over through the season, the sideways reality is in most cases a better reality simply because the characters learn from their mistakes. Nothing really comes as a “gift” (beside Hurley being lucky, but even that is probably a product and effect of perception), they EARN their “betterment”. The contemporaneity of this process is explicit even if Christian in the end says that the sideways reality has no time. Yet we see actions in island time that translate directly to sideways reality, and at the very least this is done to tell us that the characters are learning directly. And what happens in their “real” life has a finality because what they will become DEPENDS on what they learn and what they have been. It basically means: afterlife doesn’t lead to enlightenment. The enlightenment is something you bring along from your former life.

FINAL level: we do not get to see what the light past the door of the church represents. But it’s explicit that what they bring along from their previous life is ALL that matters, and that there would be nothing past that door if you didn’t bring along your experiences. The fact that this exists as a “pocket reality”, where only people that matter to you get to show up, means that it’s who you are and what you learned matters, even, and in particular, past the door.

Which all leads to the general concept of “Culture”. The show also represents the struggle of men Vs nature. Science Vs belief. The great intuition Jeff Jensen had is that the (island time – sideways reality) relationship is a metaphor for “fiction” in general. We, real people, become the object of this show (instead of the wreckage of the airplane, the final scene should have been about people watching TV, as in a mirror. That would have been a wonderful ending scene with cool subversion included). We watch these characters, get feelings about them. A few of you have cried. The involvement you can have with “fiction” has the same power of the relationship between the realities in the show. We learn things even if we don’t get to live directly those stories. The show, as fiction, tells and teach us stuff. It doesn’t impose anything, we get the choice to learn what we want, or discard everything. The same theme of choice that plays through the show: it’s the characters who do mistakes or learn to correct themselves. They go through a journey and this journey matters solely because it determines what they become. Lessons may be harsh, mistakes leading to tragedy, yet it all has a sense of finality.

The weakness of the ending was that the scene in the church gave more an impression of “nothing really matters, in the end everyone is happy”, when instead the actual message is that the happiness exists and is possible BECAUSE of what they lived, and that the room would be empty if they didn’t get through what they went through. Ben’s character and his reactions are especially meaningful. His life was so filled with hate and selfish drive that he feels uncomfortable joining the others. He’s ashamed of himself. In the end he connects with Hurley because Hurley is the one he gets to spend time with (on the island) and maybe redeem himself. If everyone gets a pocket reality of afterlife shared with the people that matter the most for him, we realize that these are the people that are the most important for Ben, yet he’s still uncomfortable being with them. And this makes it a rather sad and revealing ending. Ben brings with himself the legacy of his previous life. Everyone does.

The smoke monster, the island, the magic pool… Everything was simply a device. Used from a side to capture the attention of the audience and carry us through an extraordinary journey, from the other used so that these characters would face their obsessions and fears, their past. So that they would be tested and get the choice of resolving themselves, making themselves better. They face nightmares and dreams becoming real. The plot was made to liberate you, similarly to how the characters had to “let go” so that they could embrace a new life. If you let the plot & mysteries details tangle you, you’ll sink with them and won’t get the chance to understand what this show is telling you.

You’ll become like Eloise, who was so enamored of the fake reality that she preferred to stay out there.

House of Chains + Lost: doing same things

I keep finding common aspects between Lost and Malazan. These are two examples that surfaced recently.

I was reading an article by Jeff Jensen recapping the last episode of Lost when I came to this part:

Rest In Peace, Charles Widmore. The quick-tempered billionaire enemy of DesPen love — a pharmaceutical magnate with a penchant for prog-rock-inspired construction projects — joins a long list of Lost characters who get offed from the show with pitiless dispatch and leave behind a mess of unresolved questions. This season alone: Dogen, Lennon, Ilana. Before them: Faraday, Charlotte, Patchy. This is too much of a trend to not wonder if there’s a point being made here. Death comes suddenly. We all leave the world unresolved to various degrees. It’s all deep and meaningful… and yet even I felt a touch unsatisfied.

I read that and I was absolutely sure I had read it before somewhere else. I couldn’t remember where but the idea was exactly the same. So I started searching. At the beginning I thought it must have been something I read in House of Chains, so I started looking in the book but the more I searched and turn the pages the more the possibility seemed unlikely. There were similar ideas, but not exposed as clearly as I remembered. So I went looking for another article by Jeff Jensen I had read in February, I reread it again but found no trace of what I was looking for. Then I thought it must have been something in Infinite Jest, or an article about Foster Wallace. Nothing, yet I was absolutely sure I had read something before.

In the end the quest was successful and my first guess was indeed correct. It’s a quote from House of Chains:

The only journey that lay ahead of him was a short one, and he must walk it alone.
He was blind, but in this no more blind than anyone else. Death’s precipice, whether first
glimpsed from afar or discovered with the next step, was ever a surprise. A promise of
the sudden cessation of questions, yet there were no answers waiting beyond
. Cessation
would have to be enough. And so it must be for every mortal. Even as we hunger for
resolution. Or, even more delusional: redemption.

Now, after all this time, he was able to realize that every path eventually, inevitably
dwindled into a single line of footsteps
. There, leading to the very edge. Then… gone.
And so, he faced only what every mortal faced. The solitude of death, and oblivion’s final
gift that was indifference

As you can see, these two quotes are mirrors of each other. In Malazan the theme is explored fully and directly, but even Lost can be considered rather deliberate about it. The theme in common does exist.

The second examples comes instead from a recent (and long) interview with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, but I can’t quote it because it’s a video.

@ 6:20 they show a clip from the second season where Locke tries to convince Jack to “press the button”, the theme is the one of “faith”. In the follow-up video @ 1:50 Lindelof explains how what happened in that scene is then mirrored in this last season of the show, in the scene in which they are on the submarine and it’s this time Jack who tries to convince Sawyer not to pull the wires on the bomb, saying “nothing is going to happen”, taking Locke’s role, while Sawyer is this time the pragmatic one (and ends up not listening Jack and pulling the wires). The line being said is the same and after a silly joke they talk about how they play in the show with this sort of “echo” of scenes, dialogues and themes. That scene in the sub closes an ideal loop, and this kind of mechanic is at the foundation of how the show has been built.

All these ideas have been explained in the exact same way by Erikson. Take for example one of his recent blogs that I have quoted before:

In a general sense, I write elliptically. By that I mean I open sections with some detail I want to resonate throughout the entire section, and through the course of writing that section you can imagine me tapping that bell again and again. Until with the final few lines, I ring it one last time – sometimes hard, sometimes soft, depending on the effect I want, or feel is warranted.

While the narrative infers something linear, as in the advancement of time and a sequence of events, in fact the narrative loops back on itself again and again. And each time it returns, the timbre of that resonance has changed, sometimes subtly, sometimes fundamentally.

We can look further back (2003) and we’ll discover that this has been Erikson’s style from the very beginning. This is one old interview from Larry’s blog, probably one of the best ever:

Across the ten book series, within each novel, within each section, each chapter, each scene. I write in loops, starting with the small ones, which together make up bigger ones, and closing each loop is a matter of echoing whatever opened the scene/chapter/section etc. That’s my actual writing. I plan in the opposite direction. Insane, ain’t it?

House of Chains, Lost (-1), Infinite Jest: mysteries, chains and choice

Last week I commented the Lost episode mixing it with considerations about the Malazan series. This week the Lost episode was shallow and just moved the pieces to position them for the finale, culling some useless characters, but it didn’t have anything meaningful to say. So I’ll focus on just Malazan.

This is a kind of minor side-story. Happens in just five pages or so, where the focus is actually on something else. It’s a good example of Erikson’s style, filled with hints that it’s up to the reader to put together and find a meaning. But the meaning is absolutely there (just continue read). The story can be understood without previous knowledge, yet is intricately woven with the rest. Karsa and his temporary Jaghut companion are walking up a hill nestled close to a bigger hill that protects the smaller one from harsh winds. On top of this smaller hill there’s a big tree. Moving closer Karsa notices that there’s an ancient Jaghut (female) that is kind of “embedded” into the tree. The wood passes through the clavicle of the Jaghut to then reunite with the main trunk.

What distinguishes Malazan from Lost, is that in Malazan mysteries are continuously unveiled. With generosity. And the strength of the mystery isn’t in it being hidden and unsaid (like Lost’s smoke and mirrors), but in the secret it holds. It isn’t a fraud. The strength is in the revelation, not in the continue pushing back of the mystery itself. Karsa’s Jaghut companion is like a physical manifestation of something that Lost would never tolerate. Remember in Lost how all questions are systematically dodged through typical tropes, such as: “You aren’t ready to know.” “It’s not time yet.” “Every question I answer will lead to another question.” “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” And so on. There are endless variations. Instead in Malazan we have this:

(Jaghut) “Why, you ask?”
(Karsa) “I do not bother, for I know you will tell me in any case.”
(Jaghut) “Of course I shall, for I am of a helpful sort, a natural proclivity.”


“Of course you must. It is your nature to leave no word unsaid.”

Refreshing when compared to the stubborn and pointless opaqueness of Lost, grown to parody levels.

So Karsa’s Jaghut companion narrates the mystery of this other Jaghut imprisoned in the ancient tree. This tree isn’t simply very old, it’s hundreds of thousands years old. It’s the only one left of its species in the whole world. How did the ancient female Jaghut end imprisoned in the tree? The story begins when this Jaghut was just a child with her mother. Jaghut (as a race) were indiscriminately hunted by another race, the Tlan Imass, so this family of Jaghut was found and slain. The child was spitted on a lance and left there, with the lance thrust in the ground. The wood of that lance was the same wood that originated the tree. For some extraordinary reason it sucked the life from the child and grew roots and developed in a tree. At the same time it transferred its life to the child, who was also kept alive. Now it’s not explicitly told in the text, but it is obvious that the Jaghut story is the story of that tree, meaning that the Jaghut’s whole life has been there, imprisoned. For hundreds of thousands years.

“Same for Phyrlis, whom you will meet tomorrow. She can never see beyond the leaves
in front of her face, though she ceaselessly strives to do so, as if the vast panorama
offers something other than time’s insectile crawl. Empires, thrones, tyrants and
liberators, a hundred thousand tomes filled with versions of the same questions, asked
over and over again. Will answers deliver their promised solace?”

The meaning of this story is then left to the reader, because there are here echoes of themes that define Erikson’s work. Elliptical patterns and loops. Refractions of light. In this case the story of the Jaghut echoes with the story of the Tlan Imass. In a way, the spear saved the life of the Jaghut, only to imprison her for eternity. Was that a blessing or a condemnation? The central point is how the Tlan Imass decide to exterminate the Jaghut. There are reasons for this, but here we see the perspective of a child. So the perspective of someone that represents innocence. Tlan Imass exterminate Jaghut indiscriminately. Including killing kids. This Jaghut in this story not only represents innocence, but also the lack of choice. Her imprisonment is obligated. And her fate echoes frighteningly with the fate of the whole Tlann Imass race:

“I am forced into continuation.”

Previously in the book we have witnessed to the destiny of some Tlan Imass, whose head was the only part to survive, condemned to consciousness for eternity and with the only desire of being placed at least on a vast natural panorama that would sweeten this sentence of continuation. So there’s this echo between the single Jaghut child, whose destiny was forced by Tlan Imass, and the destiny of every Tlan Imass, as a race. With the difference that the Tlan Imass have embraced and shaped that destiny for themselves. They’ve chosen it. Something that echoes even with Infinite Jest, the part with Marathe:

“No, but this choice, Katherine: I made it. It chains me, but the chains are of my choice.”

If you have read Infinite Jest you KNOW that line is central to the book. If you’ve read “House of Chains” you know that the theme of the chains is central to the whole Malazan series. If you’ve seen Lost, you know the smoke monster makes chain-like noises. The monster is being chained to the island, can’t leave, is imprisoned. The meaning in these three disparate mediums is essentially the same. Tapping onto something true.

The (one of) theme(s) in the Malazan series is how Tlan Imass, in order to fight against the abominations of Jaghut, become themselves a worse abomination. In “A Game of Thrones” the driving theme of the book and the most shocking one is how “doing the right thing” doesn’t always lead to an happy end. In Malazan we see deep in the corruption of goodwill. In the true twisting of intentions. The twisting of faith and belief. Also the lack of absolute truths, and the delusions that accompany them.

“Misleading” and deception aren’t just plot devices in House of Chains. They are its theme, down to a meaningful level. Mysteries that reveal terrible truths. And the lacerating tragedy embedded in those truths.

As it happens, in Malazan truths are contained within bigger truths. So, just a few pages later, we discover that the story we’re told of the Jaghut imprisoned in the tree is only one part. Because the reason of the extraordinary event is that the lance was being thrust into the ground where existed a dying Azath house. It was the Azath that gave the life to both the wood and the Jaghut child. With another link to Lost. A theme used in Lost is how there must be balance in power, and that balance has to be maintained. Malazan answer to this is a kind of natural event. Whenever on the world there’s a convergence of power that rises to threaten the world itself, an “Azath” forms to imprison that power. Like an antibody of the world. In this particular story the Azath was antecedent to the Jaghut/tree, so why there was an Azath in that place and why was it dying? Who was imprisoned in the Azath? In Malazan answers come by just turning the page: it is revealed that Gothos was in there, another Jaghut. The reason why the Azath was dying was because it was assaulted by Icarium (Ghotos’ son), trying to free his father (who didn’t want to be saved, again the theme of choice and chains/imprisonment).

Icarium’s own fate echoes again with the ones of the Tlan Imass and the Jaghut. Icarium is one of those Jaghut with immense powers and who used those powers to annihilate an inordinate amount of other beings and other disasters. He himself represents the kind of reason why Tlan Imass decided that Jaghut had to be completely exterminated. In order to stop him they made him lose his memories. Like a brain reset. Like forcing him becoming a child again. Becoming innocent. Like the Jaghut imprisoned in the tree.

Icarium’s own condemnation is then linked to the stories already told. It’s again deeply woven with the theme of choice. Icarium also can’t choose, because he can’t remember and without awareness there’s not choice. And without choice there’s no guilt. He doesn’t deserve his fate, because he’s also innocent. And his deepest secret is kept by his friend who never separates from him. The friend who knows the truth but can’t reveal it to him in order to protect him from that dangerous truth. Icarium is condemned to unawareness, against his choice. He’s also chained, arguably for a good reason. It is then consequential that Icarium’s obsession is about “time”. He builds complex machines to measure time and he’s brought again and again to that hill with the tree and the Jaghut imprisoned within, because the wood of that tree is the most durable material that can be used to build his machines. Unaware that he has been there before, unleashing destruction. And this closes an ideal loop.

That’s how the Malazan series works on a general level. It’s a good example of how plots and themes are woven and why secrets and revelations are meaningful when they originate from something true. Mirrors and refractions of ideas, used in meaningful ways. Mysteries that truly hold secrets that is worth to unveil and understand.

This was a side story.

House of Chains and what it takes to make a god

I think Erikson tapped onto something deep here:

Among a people where solitude was as close to a crime as
possible. Where to separate was to weaken. Where the very
breaking of vision into its components — from seeing to
observing, from resurrecting memory and reshaping it
beyond the eye’s reach, onto walls of stone — demanded a
fine-edged, potentially deadly propensity.

There’s this one book I read long ago and that still today is the framework of all my convictions. In about 160 pages, it explains EVERYTHING. The title is “Theory of Society” but it’s far from a cold academic book. It explains what humanity is, it explains god, it explains existence and its meaning. It gives answer to everything and it does it through the most rigorous theory you can imagine. It admits no flaws and yet it is incredibly powerful.

A lot of what I read from Erikson echoes what’s written in that book, probably because his ideas come from an anthropological background, and so a study of humanity (and when something is true it doesn’t matter anymore who arrives to the conclusion, as everyone else says exactly the same thing). I would gladly share and recommend this book but it seems it only exists in Italian.

The wikipedia entry about Niklas Luhmann says: “Luhmann wrote prolifically, with more than 70 books and nearly 400 scholarly articles published on a variety of subjects, including law, economy, politics, art, religion, ecology, mass media, and love. While his theories have yet to make a major mark in American sociology, his theory is currently dominant in German sociology, and has also been rather intensively received in Japan and Eastern Europe, including Russia. His relatively low profile elsewhere is partly due to the fact that translating his work is a difficult task, since his writing presents a challenge even to readers of German, including many sociologists.”

The book I read, whose initial 160 pages are the door to everything, is listed as:
1992 (with Raffaele De Giorgi): Teoria della società, Milano: Franco Angeli

I don’t know if there’s another book that so succinctly explains the theory at its core and reading Luhmann is, indeed, as complicate as reading complex math problems. But it’s language and I could deal with it.

One important truth, not directly related to Luhmann but true to the spirit, is that we exist INSIDE the language. Language is perceived as something we use but in truth language is what we are made of and it defines the perimeter of what we can experience. Next time you read a book just remember that it can contain all aspects of existence and that language is omnipotent (as long your senses are human).

From the wikipedia:

Furthermore, each system has a distinctive identity that is constantly reproduced in its communication and depends on what is considered meaningful and what is not. If a system fails to maintain that identity, it ceases to exist as a system and dissolves back into the environment it emerged from. Luhmann called this process of reproduction from elements previously filtered from an over-complex environment autopoiesis (pronounced “auto-poy-E-sis”; literally: self-creation), using a term coined in cognitive biology by Chilean thinkers Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela.

I have an inkling that Erikson’s complex system of belief, where gods are made and destroyed in cycles, is near to the same concepts explained by Luhmann. Like a concrete metaphor of the power of “meaning” and all its subtleties.

I don’t think even for a second that Erikson is aware of Luhmann theories, but I do think that he tapped onto something “true”, deep down, and so a common ground.

(and I actually bask in the delusion of following links between the most disparate stuff, looking for something true)

Lost (-2) Vs Malazan (It’s turtles all the way down)

Comparing Lost and the Malazan series comes natural. Because I’m watching Lost right now as well reading the fourth book in the Malazan series. But also because they have various points of contacts in the way the narrative is being shaped.

For example the interconnections of the plot. The kind of satisfaction that comes, in this last episode of Lost, when we’re being shown who are the skeletons that Jack found in season 1. Parts that move and lock into position. Then how the mythology is filled with mysteries and yet grows exponentially from the initial premises. This kind of vertical expansion that becomes staggering and awesome when you are on top and look back.

But every time I bring this up as the type of quality I admire in Lost, I can also see that Malazan tries to follow similar patterns, on an even bigger scale, and does it more successfully. Every mystery revealed in Lost is followed by some delusion. And then the examiner in me wants to dissect these structures to understand what works in one and what doesn’t in the other.

The image I got is of a table covered with cards, arranged in rows and face down. Every card is part of the bigger scheme and the more you turn and reveal, the more you get to see the big picture. Or, if you prefer, closed doors that hide answers. But the important point is that answers need to be interconnected to form a bigger picture, so let’s continue with cards (whose position is sometime more important than what they hide). What we have in this season of Lost is that mysteries/cards are turned and revealed, but then they are discarded. One item finally revealed and checked off the TO-DO list. It means that Lost is basically made by smoke and mirrors, curtains that are progressively drawn. The result is that the actual game is “shrunk”, reduced to the essential. The more cards revealed and discarded the more we approach a much simpler “core” of the show. Lost’s path is one of simplification, where every mystery doesn’t add to the big picture, but actually “leads back” closer to another mystery at the core. It’s essentially a backtracking, following a trail and discarding all the illusions that were built along the way.

The dissatisfaction that follows the revelation of a mystery is caused by the fact that the mystery revealed was just a “curtain” for another mystery that is higher up the trail we are following. So we get to know the origin of Jacob and the Man in Black, but that revelation only leads to another mystery: the pool of light. Originally it was: why the plane crashed? This lead to an infinite expansion/development toward science. Mysterious experiments with magnetism made by Dharma, that caused an anomaly, that caused the plane to crash. But that was just a circular pattern because the plane crash wasn’t an “incident”. It was instead orchestrated so that the passengers would arrive on the island and fulfill their destiny. The island (through Jacob) called them and brought them there. They are supposed to be there for a reason. So, as you see, we are still backtracking the same big questions. We know why the plane crashed? Not really, because we know the plane crashed because someone or something decided to make it happen. Why? Because it was required so that people would arrive and then be chosen as guardians to prevent “something” to escape from the island. But what is that they have to guard? Where’s the danger? The smoke monster. Why? What’s its origin? Why this island has all sort of magical powers? The mystery must be behind the guardian (Jacob) and what he guards (smoke monster). But now we get to see Jacob and his brother’s origin. Was the mystery finally revealed? Nope, because everything originated from a pool of light. And so on we continue backtracking answers without being given even a single real one.

Lost has moved, from the beginning of 2nd season onward, through a process of expansion. A mythology that got more and more complex and intricate. Mixing science with supernatural events. A mythology that seemed extremely coherent and solidly built. Driven by purpose. Now with the 6th season it is going through a process of contraption, like an infinite regression. Cards are removed from the play. We backtrack mysteries, lead toward a core. But we’ve been given no actual answers yet. Nothing is revealed because the nature of the mystery is constantly pushed back. Hoping that the final destination doesn’t coincide with the true origin of myth: “we can’t tell you [because there’s no answer]”. (which is also connected with the theodicy)

Or, better summarized than I ever could: “It’s turtles all the way down”. It would be rather sad if Lost really came down just to that.

How Malazan manages to do it more successfully? I’ve only read to 600 pages in the 4th book, on a series of 10, but even if it ended here the series would be already immensely gratifying and successful. Something that I could never say about Lost at any point. Malazan isn’t just one long, reckless chase toward an ultimate mystery that has to sustain and motivate all that came before. This because the cards that are turned up, STAY in the game. They aren’t removed. While the mythology in Lost was mostly misdirection as a whole (leading to a simpler core), in Malazan all elements stay in play and are all connected to a bigger picture. The books are deeply interconnected and layered but none of these are “smoke and mirrors”, if not smoke and mirrors that reveal different paths and motivations.

There was for example a lot of confusion about the “warren of Shadow”. It was at times referenced as “Meanas”, and at times as “Rashan”, or even “Meanas-Rashan”. Now, in the 4th book, it is revealed that the warren of Shadow is a shattered warren. Contested. And that it is being tainted (partially taken over) by the warren of Shadow. The warren of Shadow is called, simplifying, Rashan. While Shadow is supposed to be Meanas. And that explains all the ambiguity in the previous books. Shadow is not whole and tainted with Darkness, hence the confusion and blur between names. But it doesn’t end there, because we also discover that the “Whirlwind Goddess”, previously just the goddess of some tribes in the desert who are fighting against the Malazan colonization, isn’t just a local cult. It has deep roots in the overarching mythology. The Whirlwind Goddess is itself a “redress” of a fragment of the warren of Shadows, and this revelation leads to more things making sense. Everything is linked together, misdirection isn’t just smoke and mirrors because its motives are themselves revealing. The books are generous, offering plenty of answers and surprises and intuitions constantly through the narrative. The story doesn’t run out of steam because it is intricately woven and every part has its meaning and theme.

There’s intent in the narrative of the single book, with stories coming to a resolution and some assertions of themes fully developed and “delivered”, then there’s a contribution to an overarching structure, a vaster movement that links every book together winding intricately story threads back and forth. There’s a definite progression but the motives are never constantly pushed back and unanswered. You are instead brought to cower since what is revealed always opens on a vaster scenario that couldn’t be previously fathomed. It’s like something buried in the ground. The mystery is: what is it? You try to guess. But then when you start digging you discover it’s HUGE, and far, far beyond what you could ever imagine.

Which all leads to a final element that makes Malazan superior to Lost. In the Malazan series the “knowledge” you acquire, can then be used to understand more and more. The stories rely on what you learn. This gives a satisfying idea of progress. You embrace what is going on and slowly understand. With Lost instead, two episodes from the end, our guesses are worth the same as everyone else’s. What we learned? Not much. We now know we didn’t know anything. Distracting details and derails. Clinging on the hope there’s something redeeming in the last episode that finally gives us a proper answer. The more is revealed, the less we know: we are still at the point of a mythical island containing a mythical power.

The rest was just an elaborate castle of cards woven with human drama.

“We must make sure no one ever finds it.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Yes, it is. And that’s why they want it. Because a little bit of this very same light is inside of every men. But they always want more.”

If it’s immortality then the theme was explored much more deeply and meaningfully in Malazan. In Lost we are still wondering, two episodes from the end, why it’s wrong that men want more of that light (whatever it is).

Brought to: we can’t be happy because someone decided so. Good. Let’s go challenging whoever decided it, once for all. Let’s make a revolution. (this is also being handled in Malazan)

The smoke monster has to be freed from the dumbness of this story and its vapid motives and justifications. The world will end, but it will be for a good cause.