Recently the Sci-Fi channel (which is now the SyFy channel, not a fan of the name change) started playing old episodes of Lost. This has got me thinking about whether or not Lost can really be considered Science Fiction. For anyone not familiar with the show, it is basically about a group of people with interconnected back stories whose plane crashes on a mysterious island where strange things happen. A crippled man is healed and can walk, people start seeing their dead relatives, and an unseen group of apparently indigenous people abduct some of the survivors. If you haven't seen it and are thinking about getting into it you should be careful. It's like the crack of TV shows.
What seems to happen frequently in Lost is that something fantastic and seemingly unexplainable will happen and characters have different views as to whether to try and interpret things rationally or believe that there is some sort of supernatural force at work. Consequently it is also largely up to the viewer to decide what they believe about what is going on. As the plot progresses, some of the fantastic things are explained rationally and scientifically while others are left up in the air and still other mysteries are introduced.
The author of another blog post I read ultimately decided that we will not be able to categorize Lost into a genre until the series is over and we know the true explanations of all of the mysteries that have been introduced. Check it out here. I can see how this conclusion makes sense. If all things are explained rationally then the series is science fiction but if it turns out that Locke was right all along and there is a supernatural/magical element then the series is fantasy.
As good as that sounds I have a problem with the idea that the genre of a work is contingent upon the ending. Suppose for some reason the producers of Lost decide not to air the last season and destroy all the evidence that it was ever produced. How would we categorize Lost then based only on what we have if we were never going to know the ending? I think that we need a better method for placing a work into a genre where we do not have to wait until the end in order to know what we are watching or reading.
I think in order to place a work in a genre we need to take a look at what is essential to the work itself. What ultimately drives the work and makes it interesting for readers or viewers? I think that in works of Science Fiction it is the explanations and ramifications of various non-existent but plausible technologies. In fantasy it is the creation of an alternate world or the introduction of a magical element to our own world. The more interesting, original, and imaginative the world or element is the better.
Though Lost does both of those things to some degree I think there are two things that are really essential to the series. One is the mysteries themselves. Regardless of the explanations and answers the introduction of fantastic and mysterious elements keeps people watching (makes it the crack of TV shows). Because of this I would classify Lost as a mystery.
The second thing essential to Lost is the intricate web of character's back stories. Each character seems to be on a kind of journey in life with the ultimate goal of redemption. The culminating point of all of these interlocking journeys is the island. Because the back stories follow this kind of pattern and also because of the grand scale of the series in general,I would classify Lost as an epic. So though Lost contains both elements of Fantasy and Science Fiction I ultimately think that the best genre classification I can give it would be Epic Mystery.
As far as where the series is going and what the answers are going to be...I have no idea but there will be hell to pay if I am disappointed.