Lost Exegesis (White Rabbit) — Part 2

Part 1 of the essay can be found here. Unlike that part, this one will have spoilers of future episodes.

Alice in Wonderland

Next up in the Intermission is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll, and directly referred to in the dialogue and as well as being referenced by the episode’s title. Before we examine the manner of the title’s use, let’s take a brief look at Alice. Her adventures cover two books (the other being Through the Looking Glass) and are often issued as a twinset. LOST will certainly play with the Alice story in future episodes – the Season Three finale is titled after the second book, and Jack will read from the “Pool of Tears” chapter in Season Four.

Alice is ostensibly a children’s fairy tale ruled primarily an aesthetic, one that’s largely surreal and operates according to dream logic, what with all the talking animals and such. But the aesthetic is not completely arbitrary – rather, it relies primarily on finding new and strange meaning within the familiar, and in teasing out and secondary meanings for words that it can muster. The famous Jabberwocky poem, for example, is loaded with new portmanteau words, but they’re not meaningless words – rather, they are hybrids, and only sound unfamiliar until you examine the constituent components. There’s likewise a good deal of wordplay – “lessons” become “lessens” which means each teaching gets shorter – while other concepts presented are simply reversals of what we’d expect, like remembering the future instead of the past. And yet the Alice stories aren’t bereft of social commentary. Especially the first book, which presents all manner of British cultural institutions as being faintly ridiculous, albeit heavily disguised in certain aesthetic codes.

And not only does Alice function as cultural commentary, it’s become a part of western culture itself. In his introduction to the year 2000 reprinting, science writer Martin Gardner says that he would not “consider a person educated” who has never read the books. Indeed, that a phrase like “the White Rabbit” can be part and parcel of our regular lexicon attests to that.

So this is where we get the title to this episode, which is directly invoked by John Locke: Jack is chasing his “white rabbit” just like Alice chased a white rabbit into a strange and magical place. Which, of course, suggests that the Island is a kind of “wonderland” and that it operates by different rules than the mundane world. This usage, however, has definitely become mundane in SF/F culture. In the Star Trek episode “Shore Leave,” for example, Dr. McCoy sees a White Rabbit (crafted much like the original illustration of John Tenniel in Carroll’s book) passing by shortly after transporting down to a new planet, which turns out to be an elaborate amusement park. The interactions that the various crewmembers have on the planet are derived from their subconscious, and that is likely a clue to understanding the nature of the Island.

Or perhaps we should consider The Matrix, where Neo follows “the White Rabbit” (this time a tattoo on one of his clients) to meet Trinity, and eventually Morpheus, who describes the experience of leaving the Matrix in Wonderland terms.…

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