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What Dante and Dogs Tell Us About "The Leftovers"

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | The Leftovers | August 29, 2014 |


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In Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching novels, the pictsies believe that when you die you go to heaven and that your soul spends its days there in innocent joy, in a world of perfect wonder, before being plucked back from there to the real world. That’s not so different than most believe, but the difference is that the pictsies believe that this world is that heaven.

The opening credits of The Leftovers really caught my eye, a gorgeous juxtaposition of modern people and their depiction in renaissance art, with that haunting music playing all the while. One thing that stuck out to me in particular was the circle of nudes at the bottom. Here’s the opening credits if you want a fresh look:

In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle has always been one that struck me so perfectly. It’s the circle where those who were guilty of lust in life spend all of eternity in a whirlwind, buffeted from lover to lover from one moment to the next. But they spend eternity the way they spent their lives: not knowing that they were in a hell of their own making. Their eternal punishment is never knowing that they’re in hell at all.

And that’s what the circle of lovers at the bottom of the mural in the credits of The Leftovers sparks in my memory, and makes me think of all the characters, and the way so many are drifting through lives, frequently with the insistence that absolutely everything is okay. They’re in hell and don’t even know it.

Oh I don’t mean literally, like ooh, they’ve been dead the entire time with some Sixth Sense twist. I mean in the very metaphorical sense as a particular lens that the audience can watch through. They are in hells of their own devising that they don’t even know they’re in. It rings true to me with Kevin especially, with his missing blocks of time, with his possible slippage towards entirely losing touch with reality. There’s a Pratchett quote that applies here, and not the only one, that I’ll paraphrase: dreaming is easy, it’s waking up that’s hard.

One thing that complements this to me is the questions of why certain people were taken, and I think that what ties them all together is simple, subtle, and horrible. Everyone who was taken was taken in a moment in which someone they loved and were with at that moment wished they were gone. I think that’s what ties them all together, and I think that’s why so many of the remainders have such a guilt that they carry with them. And why the survivors try to prop up the disappeared as heroes, and why it’s so important to Matt to show that they weren’t. And it’s why there will never be any discovered connection between the disappeared in the universe of the show.

The dogs that snapped witnessed the leaving, as has been noted on the show. But it’s not that they saw something particularly horrible and invisible that people couldn’t, so much as what broke them was that somehow they could see the people wishing it to happen. Dogs trust. They’ll lay down their lives for you, because that’s the contract. But in this world, people broke their pact, broke what makes a pack a pack. And when it’s said that “they’re not our dogs anymore” it’s because they’ve returned to being wolves, the trust shattered entirely.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.
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