“The Island that Likes to be Visited”
*please forgive my horrible Scottish Gaelic grammar, Rachel and I struggled to find a website that would directly translate for us!*
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if he would tell us some misty, eerie Highland stories?” (2.1.298-9)
I read J.M. Barrie’s “Mary Rose” twice over the past week, and just saw the play performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre here in Edinburgh, and I now have a genius theory. ABC’s primetime smash drama “LOST” is based on James Barrie’s play “Mary Rose.”
Mary Rose visits an island with her parents at the age of eleven in the remote part of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides. (Of course I want to compare the setting of LOST to the most haunted country on the planet). It’s a creepy show. It’s also a disturbingly creepy play. Anyway, the island in uninhabited (1.1.613) and the natives of the land adjacent have a strange superstition about landing on the island. They tell Mr. and Mrs. Morland (Mary Rose’s parents) that the island has a Gaelic name that means ‘The Island that Likes to be Visited.’ Mary Rose knew nothing of this “and she was very fond of her island. She used to talk to it, call it her darling, things like that” (1.1.636-7). John Locke likes to talk to his island. So does Ben Linus. In fact, Ben thinks of his island as his own little darling and will do anything in his power to protect it from the outside world. Mr. and Mrs. Morland ask Mary Rose’s husband-to-be, Simon, if he has never noticed Mary Rose talking to someone who wasn’t there (1.1.713-4) or listening to a sound from the island that he couldn’t hear (1.1.718). Ben speaks to Jacob, when no one else can see him, the way that Mary Rose also speaks to people that aren’t there.
Why does the island have such a strange Gaelic name? Mr. Cameron, a young Highlander who carries Mary Rose and Simon across to the island in his boat, explains its name. Cameron says that “an island that had visitors would not need to want to be visited. And why has it not visitors? Because they are afraid to visit it” (2.1.289-91). This is kind of redundant, but it shows that the name is not cute and sweet, which is how Mary Rose finds it, but rather it is gloomy and lonely and eerie and unsettling. Maybe LOST’s island wants to be visited, and that is why so many people keep mysteriously crashing there.
Mr. Cameron tells Mary Rose and Simon tales of the island. He tells how a little boy, no older than four, goes missing. And then again how a little girl, about ten-years-old, disappears. (Mary Rose does not know that Cameron is telling her of her own disappearance). So babies and small children go missing on Mary Rose’s little island “in soft whispers” (2.1.333). In LOST, ‘The Others’ abduct children because they cannot reproduce on the island. They also make lists and steal “the good ones” of the survivors of the plane crash, silently in the middle of the night. Ben Linus steal’s Rousseau’s little girl, Alex, and raises her as his own daughter. Barrie’s language is in the same vein. When Simon first sees his own son, Harry, he says “I thought at first it was some baby you had borrowed” (2.1.512). All we ever hear of ‘The Others’ are their haunting voices, whispering in the jungle. When Mary Rose gets her second call from the island “it is at first as soft and furtive as whisperings from holes in the ground. […] Then in a fury as of storm and whistling winds that might be an unholy organ it rushes upon the island” (2.1.555).
Cameron also tells the married couple that the island “has no authority to be here” and “that one day it was here” but there are some who say that it goes away for jaunts, but that Mr. Cameron has never himself seen the island move (2.1.267-78). Does this not sound familiar? Whatever island that Oceanic 815 crashed on, it does not show up on anyone’s radar. When Daniel Faraday finally landed on the island, he says that they were in some sort of space warp where both time and light were bent to sufficiently hide the island from any outsider. The last episode that aired thus far, Ben and Locke were visiting the green house in order to “move the island,” at Jacob’s request of course. Because Ben is talking to men that aren’t really there, and claiming that the island is talking back and giving him orders.
Well, the first time Mary Rose visited the island, she disappeared, only to reappear after twenty days and act as if not but an hour had passed. She did not know where she had been, because “she didn’t know she had been anywhere” (1.1.675). Her parents did not want to upset her, so they kept it a secret from Mary Rose. The second time Mary Rose visited the island, she disappeared for twenty-five years. When she came back, she thought an hour had passed, and was quite confused as to why her husband and parents looked so old and was quite distressed to find her baby, Harry, gone.
The small Sussex manor house where the play is set thirty years after the strange occurrences on the island, could be construed as Jacob’s cabin on LOST. Barrie describes the drawing room where the ghost does all of her haunting, as “if a photograph could be taken quickly we might find a disturbing smile on the room’s face, perhaps like the Mona Lisa’s, which came, surely, of her knowing what only the dead should know” (1.1.7-10). What a wonderfully creepy way to also describe Jacob’s cabin, hidden in the jungle. The cabin on LOST tends to disappear, and only certain people on the island can find it. The door to Mary Rose and Harry’s bedroom is sometimes locked and sometimes not (1.1.160) and described as being held shut (1.1.62). The door to the room with all of the answers can only sometimes be accessed, the way that Jacob’s cabin can only sometimes be found. John Locke goes to this cabin in search of answers, the same way that Mary Rose’s grown-up son Harry goes in search of his old room to learn more of his childhood and discover what happened to his parents.
When Harry is left alone in the drawing room, he sits down in a chair and “in the increasing dusk he ceases to be an intruder. He is now part of the room, the part long waited for, come back at last. The house is shaken to its foundation by his presence, we may conceive a thousand whispers” (1.1.232-5). I think that this description sounds awfully similar to Locke’s first encounter with Jacob, when the cabin started to shake and he heard the “thousand whispers” of ‘The Others’ and then finally heard Jacob’s words: “help me.” Jacob was calling out to him; calling him “back at last”.
I found the endnote after Act 1, line 817, when Mary Rose references a little old woman who is not there, to be quite interesting. The note says: “an ominous moment of fey abstraction set against the childlike animation of Mary Rose’s usual manner: the actress is called upon to brush her playing with shades of ‘otherness’, clearing the way for the final ‘ghost scene’ in Act 3. For the play to work effectively the two worlds of Mary Rose’s life, though distinct as habitations, must always subtly coexist in her personality, and her childlike quality must always be unnerving as well as charming.” Mary Rose plays with ‘otherness’, as if she is part of ‘The Others’ on LOST’s island. The note also places ‘ghost scene’ within quotes, as if she is not actually a ghost. I too, questioned whether or not Mary Rose is actually dead, or if she just keeps going away to her island where she can live forever as no time seems to pass for her. Every time she returns from this island, Mary Rose has not aged: “they will be saying she is just as she was on the day she went away” (3.1.334-5). This is just like Barrie’s Peter Pan who flies away to Neverland and is preserved in his childhood state. It also reminds me of how Richard Alpert, of ‘The Others’ on LOST, does not age from when he recruits Ben as a child to join ‘The Others’ to the present-day plane crash, when Ben is now middle-aged.
Mary Rose’s mother also comments on the child’s appearance and age: “I have sometimes thought that our girl is curiously young for her age – as if – you know how just a touch of frost may stop the growth of a plant and yet leave it blooming – it has sometimes seemed to me as if a cold finger had once touched my Mary Rose” (1.1.699-703). The endnotes also suggest that this is a "Peter Pan" set in the wintertime. That Mary Rose’s island is like a grim version of Neverland. Perhaps LOST’s island is a similar Neverland, where ‘The Others’ are Lost Boys that never seem to grow up. When Harry asks his ghostly mother of where she has been, she describes the place as “lovely, lovely” (3.1.547) and she says that there are no other ghosts there (3.1.560) and that she does not know any other ghosts (3.1.595). Harry says that this place where she’s been “sounds like Heaven, or near thereby” (3.1.634). Mary Rose’s island, Neverland, LOST’s island, are all “near” to a Heaven, but not quite. It is not where people go after they die, but where they go to live forever. In fact, LOST’s island has some sort of healing power that helped Locke to walk again and also cured Rose of her cancer which I assume will prolong their life.
This same endnote discusses how Mary Rose is living in these two worlds simultaneously: Sussex and her island. It says that for the play to be successful, the reader/viewer must be in a constant state of confusion as to which of these two worlds is the real one and which is imagined. To keep us on our toes, Mr. Morland says: “it is all unfathomable. It is as if Mary Rose was just something beautiful that you and I and Simon had dreamt together” (3.1.194-6). This reminds me of a line from Peter Pan, when Mrs. Darling wants to believe that she dreamt that her children had gone missing: “I see them in their beds so often in my dreams that I seem still to see them when I wake!” (Peter Pan 5.2.98-9). Again, this is a tie in to Barrie’s concept of Neverland.
One of the most striking things that Mr. Morland asks Cameron about his daughter is “do you think she should have come back?” (3.1.402). The survivors of Oceanic 815 also question themselves and battle over whether or not they should leave the island. The ‘Oceanic 6’ struggle with this even after they have left the island. Simon jokingly warns Cameron that the island might call him away some day: “Beware, Mr. Cameron, lest some day when you are preaching far from here the call plucks you out of the very pulpit and brings you back to the island like a trout on a long cast” (2.1.404-6). This reminds me of when Jack says “We’ve got to go back, Kate, back to the island.” It’s like Jack has heard the call and the ‘Oceanic 6’ must return to the dreaded island.
The biggest surprise for me was in finding that Mary Rose does not actually kill her son in the end of Barrie’s original written play. Edinburgh Royal Lyceum Theatre director, Cownie, interpreted the ending in his own way, which I much prefer to Barrie’s ending. Cownie has Mary Rose silently stab her son so that she can finally be released from the Sussex world, in which she was searching for so long, and return to her spiritual mysterious world of the island. Whereas in Barrie’s original last scene, he just writes of the confrontation between mother and daughter, and then Mary Rose hears the call of the island and disappears, leaving her son behind, alive. I find that the murder brings closure to the end of the play. I read a comment on the Royal Lyceum webpage that years later, Barrie wished he had written the murder scene instead. Despite Rachel and my best efforts, we could not find evidence for J.M. Barrie ever saying this. But, in season 6, I do see some link between Mary Rose murdering her son, Harry, and The Man in Black, who takes on the bodily form of John Locke, finding the loophole in convincing Ben to kill Jacob.
Random fact, Hitchcock wanted to make Mary Rose into a movie in 1964, but unfortunately it never developed. I think it would be cool if Roman Polanski directed it… well, it would certainly be creepy.
LOST has started to drive me crazy with its outrageous plotlines with polar bears and moving islands, but now it’s starting to redeem itself when I can compare it to one of my favorite writers, Mr. James Barrie, and also indirectly to my all-time favorite piece of writing, Peter Pan. Maybe I’ll be a bit more forgiving when I watch this next season come January. Of course, I could write an entire dissertation on LOST and its many literary, historical, and pop-cultural references… in fact, maybe I will…
“being a ghost is worse than seeing them” (3.1.589-90).