I’m A Little Lost: Is “Lost” Science Fiction or Fantasy?

September 18, 2015 § 2 Comments

The human psyche likes to put things into cleared defined boxes. In a complex world, setting up dichotomies or simple categories is a way in which to process all of life’s different intricacies by grouping them based on similar traits. We often find ourselves subconsciously making or accepting checklists to which we compare things. As the saying goes, “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck.”

The problem is that there are always exceptions or challenges to whatever rule governs that category. If the restrictions are too broad, one risks the chance that something will be included when it really doesn’t belong. On the other hand, if the restrictions are too narrow, one risks the chance that something may be excluded.

Where do science fiction and fantasy fit into this rant on the importance of definitions, clarity, and the human psyche? And more importantly for all you readers that just like binge-worthy television, how in the heck does this have any relevance to Lost?

Walking through any bookstore or scrolling through Netflix, it is apparent that books and television shows are organized into genres in an attempt to group them with other books or television shows that share similar characteristics. In effect, genres are a way in which to organize the complex creative world. For some genres, it may seem relatively easy to decide what to include or exclude. With its blood, violence, and haunting soundtrack, no one really challenges placing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the horror genre.

Netflix has a page for horror movies, romantic comedies, action films, documentaries . . . and “TV Sci-Fi & Fantasy.” What does that even mean? What does it mean to lump two seemingly different genres together? When I think of Fantasy I think of Cinderella, magic, monsters, unicorns . . . basically anything but science.

Being an insomniac, I have plenty of time to surf endlessly in the sea that is the Internet. Having watched Friends for what could possibly be the hundredth time, I needed a new fix. Glancing briefly at the shows suggested to me by Netflix, a show called Lost caught my eye. I hadn’t heard much about the show before so I dove right in without looking at the show’s genre.

The premise of the show is that a group of passengers survive a plane crash on an island in the Pacific. What begins as a relatively realistic plot quickly devolves into somewhat of a fantasy as the series introduces fantastical elements, such as an ominous black cloud that acts as a sort of predator on the island and the fact that the natives on the island do not age. Thus, the viewer is first challenged to reconcile reality with fantasy.

But it is just as the viewer begins to settle into this blend of reality and fantasy that the series begins to include elements that could aptly be considered part of “science fiction.” An example is the plot element that a research institution called the “Dharma Initiative” used the island for research, such as studying the island’s unique magnetic field.

While not overtly pushing the viewer to reconcile the differences between science fiction and fantasy, the series creates a subliminal tension between the two. At the time that I was watching the series, I largely felt like the two were in contention. Just as I began to buy into the scientific plot and apply logic, it seemed as if the series ripped the carpet from under me by throwing in a fantastical element that rendered logic useless. Just as I began to lose myself in the fantasy of the island, it seemed as if that fantasy was tainted by a scientific explanation.

It was only after I became utterly frustrated with that very tension that I was able to let go of my preconceived definitions of fantasy and science fiction. What had seemed at first like a contest between the two became a tango: science fiction and fantasy intertwined in this give and take relationship that enhanced each other rather than competing.

Justice Potter Stewart famously said that he could not explicitly define what constituted obscene material, but he knew it when he saw it. Well, I cannot explicitly define what differentiates science fiction from fantasy and I also, apparently, do not know it when I see it.

S. Jamison


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§ 2 Responses to I’m A Little Lost: Is “Lost” Science Fiction or Fantasy?

  • dreamer2205 says:

    I’m a BIG fan of Lost, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective about how its creators blend sci-fi and fantasy in its plot. To be very honest, before taking this class, I watched Lost an an intriguing and addictive show, but I hadn’t really thought about what its genre was. However, now that we’ve discussed what can be labeled sci-fi and what cannot, it’s made matters even more complex for me, especially in the context of one of my other favorites: Star Wars.

    For example, Star Wars is science fiction because it explores inter-galactic travel and androids, but it’s fantasy as well. “May the force be with you” is one of the most famous lines in cinematic history, but what is this mysterious force? According to the film series, it is a metaphysical power supported by the existence of a microscopic life form, midi-chlorians, whose concentration can be tested in your blood. Ok, that sounds scientific enough…. BUT the force bestows magical powers to the Jedis, and no attempt is made to explain supernatural things such as the existence of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost, precognition and mind control. So, Star Wars confuses me the same way Lost does. Is it science fiction or fantasy? Is it both?

    Well, for now I’ll have to be happy to label Lost and Star Wars as science fantasy, a sub genre that blends elements of science fiction and the supernatural. I’m not entirely convinced with this label, but as someone who likes order and distinct categories, it’ll have to do.


    • Griffin says:

      Generally Star Wars is science fiction (there are some elements that classify it as fantasy, but it most properly fits in science fiction). The force is a fictional form of science. Magic is something wondrous and unexplained which denotes to the fantasy genre. For further distinction, Fantasy usually occurs in an alternate universe/dimension or at least a world with no known connection to Earth. Star Wars occurs in our universe (“a long time ago in a galaxy far far away”). A last means of distinction is considering technology. Science fiction includes science that is greater than what we currently possess. Contemporary fiction includes science that is equal to what we currently possess. Fantasy, alone, almost always refers to a setting with roots of ancient legends of the past, whether it be Greek Gods or an entirely medieval world.

      There is a such thing as science fiction fantasy, however. Science fiction fantasy exists in a world/universe with connection to Earth and includes inexplicable magical elements (things unexplained even by fictional science). Many times, ancient legendary elements are implemented into the futuristic setting.

      The reason that I qualify star wars as potentially fantasy (though most fittingly science fiction), is because the laws of physics do not seem to dictate the star wars universe. That being said, many people can make arguments that The Chronicles of Narnia is science fiction. Unless their fantasy and sci fi elements are quite evenly split, I would think it best to place them in the single category that they best fit.

      In short . . . just think of it like this… Star Wars = Science Fiction, Narnia = Fantasy



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