Episode 1.14 “The Ability” was so jammed-packed with action and mythology that I think a lot of us have missed out on some of the more subtle references deployed in the episode. One such gem is The Land of Laughs book reference. It’s a reference which I’ve used to brain-dump some of my thoughts on the episode, and which ultimately gives me a new candidate for the ZFT author. Read on to towards the end to find out who.
The Land of Laughs is a fantasy novel by Jonathan Carroll about the blurring of realities:
The book concerns a schoolteacher who is researching the life of one of his favorite children’s book authors. He is warmly, and unexpectedly, greeted by the author’s adult daughter. All seems well until a dog begins talking to him, as the line between the author’s fantasy world and the reality of the schoolteacher’s life blurs. – Wikipedia
This SF Site book review provides further insight into the book:
Thomas Abbey is the lonely child of a famous movie actor. Grown up, he’s a prep school English teacher who is fascinated by the work of Marshall France, a legendary author of children’s books who wrote The Land of Laughs, Green Dog’s Sorrow, and other haunting classics. France had retreated from the world and hidden himself away in tiny Galen, Missouri, before dying of a heart attack at age 44. Tom Abbey meets a fellow France aficionado, Saxony Gardner, while browsing a bookstore and finding a rare title he covets but that she’s reserved. She’s willing to resell it, if Tom lets her read the book first. He mentions a desire to write a France biography and Saxony offers to help by doing research. Thus begins a relationship that is as sweet and tempestuous as one could imagine.
Together, Thomas and Saxony decide to write a biography of France and arrive in Galen on a slow, summer day; expectant, delighted, and a little trepidacious of what they might find. To their surprise, the town has been waiting for them. Slowly, they begin to realize that this small Midwest town and its inhabitants, human and animal, are not what they seem. The magic of Marshall France had extended far beyond the printed page.
Thomas and Saxony find that their work is having an influence on the day-to-day affairs of the town. Most people seem to know this, almost as if they knew their own history and what happens to them. Anna, France’s daughter, lets them in on a few of the town’s secrets and how Tom is affecting their lives. Horrified that he has their fate in his hands, Thomas urges Saxony to leave but she soon returns for she’s hopelessly smitten with him. They decide that the best bet is to continue work on the biography to the point where France arrives in Galen. That day a train that doesn’t stop in town anymore is welcomed at the station and Thomas realizes that he’s got to leave before the town decide they don’t need him any more.
From this, we can further understand the complexity of “Ability” and the connections that the writers may be attempting to set-up . In my opinion, The Land of Laughs novel is a metaphor for the ZFT manuscript – both works depict a world where realities converge.
The author of Land of Laughs, Marshall France, is a metaphor for the author of the ZFT book. I’m willing to guess that the writers are using this to give us a clue as to the identity of the mystery ZFT leader. Considering that France retreated from society, I’m willing to guess that Walter Bishop — who spent 17 years away from the outside world — is indeed the author of ZFT! Although, we should also be weary that we are yet to officially meet William Bell..perhaps he has also retreated somewhere, in which case the Marshall France analogy could also apply to him? However, I’m still not convinced that either Walter or Bell are the authors. More on my new candidate towards the end of this post!
Another metaphor comes from the blurred line of reality between the book and ‘the real world’. Tom and Saxony are our Olivia and Peter. Just as Saxony came back out of love for Tom, we saw Peter come back for Olivia, as she attempted to de-light the test on the bomb. Furthermore, the Fringeverse contains those who know more about the ‘game’ than Olivia; Mitchell, Jones, Nina, to name a few – each of these characters seem to suggest that their fates depend on Olivia — just as the towns fate depended on Tom. From this we can see that Tom’s actions influence the events in the town, just as Olivia’s investigations ‘change the pattern’.
Now here’s a less obvious inference — Tom influences events to the point where France returns. In “Ability” we see Olivia becoming aware of her ‘minds eye’ ability to change her observations (the lights). At the end of the episode we see the return of Walter Bishop’s memory regarding ZFT. Once again, does this imply that Walter is indeed the author of ZFT? Is this his metaphorical resurrection to a world which he helped to create (the war against the multiversers, etc)?
Intriguingly, David Jones tells Olivia that if she passes the test, she may be able to help him. Could this ‘help’ allow him to return in another form? Is David Jones a version of William Bell from another reality?
Holy carp, are they about to blow our minds!?
Thinking about it, Jones seems to be the equivalent of Anna from the novel (rather than France) – the child (disciple) and fierce protector of the ‘great’ ZFT prophet.
So hows about this instead: – Marshall France died at the age of 44. We know from “The Arrival” that Robert Bishop (the presumed father of Walter Bishop) died in 1944. Could the original author of the ZFT manuscript have been Robert? Perhaps the typewriter originally belonged to Robert, and Walter’s reaction upon typing the “y” is out of the sudden realisation that he is the son of the (seemingly deceased) ZFT leader?
If Robert Bishop had such importance in this war then it could also explain Rogue’s (aka John Mosely) words to Peter Bishop in “Arrival” - “It’s a shame you never got to meet him”. I’m pretty sure that Rogue said this out of admiration of Robert’s achievements, which would, seemingly, put Rogue on the side of Robert and ZFT — and the Observer and Walter Bishop on the side of the “intruders”, or ‘multiversers’, as I prefer to call them.
Yikes, talk about family drama! But I like the idea that Robert could be explained in this way, it would definitely give the story further depth and connectivity.
My other little theory is that Rogue was also an Observer – perhaps one from a different dimension/Universe from the Observer that we know — Rogue’s technology was more primitive than September’s, and he is able to interfere with events. Which in turn suggests that there’s a split in the Observer faction, if indeed they ever were a ‘faction’. But that’s another post for another day.
Another little touch that I enjoyed, was seeing Peter raise the value of the book by telling the customer in the bookstore that a first edition of The Land of Laughs was worth “at least twice that”. Is this the writers way of telling us that the ZFT manuscript will become even more valuable and important, as time goes on?
If anyone else has any other interpretations for how The Land of Laughs book and how this might relate to the events in the show, I’d love to hear them.