More about Lost and the Third Policeman

I was on the radio today – BBC Ulster suffered a plague of Wexfordmen, with Colm Toibin on talking about Truman Capote, and Anthony Cronin and I on talking about the connection between the TV series Lost and Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman.

Possible Spoilers!’s Barry had already brought to our attention the connection between Lost and the Third Policeman – our discussion of it has brought to the top of Google searches on the connection.
As is usual with fast-paced radio, I didn’t get to blather on about half of what I wanted to. Lacking a fag-packet, I scribbled some notes in the studio beforehand, and never used them, I’ll stick them em here instead.
From the Centre for Book Culture: :

    Craig Wright, a Lost scriptwriter and producer, said in the Chicago Tribune article that “The Third Policeman will be prominently featured in a key moment” of this season’s third episode. He went on to say that the book “was chosen for very specifically for a reason.”
    And, even more pointedly, he said, “Whoever goes out and buys the book will have a lot more ammunition in their back pocket as they theorize about the show. They will have a lot more to speculate about—and, no small thing, they will have read a really great book.”

Connections that spring to mind, especially to the episode ‘Orientation‘:

  • The ‘hero’ of The Third Policeman has commited a crime, is now dead, but doesn’t know it, and is trapped in his own weird circular version of hell – albeit a weird one with surreal policemen. The ‘heroes’ of Lost are trapped in the ‘hell’ of a tropical island. They’ve all done questionable things before arriving there. But are they dead?
  • In the The Third Policeman, Eternity is accessed by its managers – the policemen by a lift. It’s hidden in a forest, in a ‘bunker’. Whatever happens there involves a series of numbers: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 – as does much of the plot. In The Third Policeman, the policemen take down a series of readings from the machines that run Eternity. They’re mentioned in the book – mostly decimals, in the form of:
  • Pilot reading: 10.2
  • Reading on beam: 4.9
  • Reading on lever: 1.25
  • Nature of fall (if any) with time: Light 4.15
  • In Eternity, there’s an infinite labyrinth of rooms – including one room with oven-like doors where you can get whatever you want, but you can’t take it back up with you.
  • In the Lost numbers, there’s a 42. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Unfortunately, nobody knows the answer. The Lost numbers also include 23 – and has covered the whole 23 Enigma. In the The Third Policeman, Fox goes mad and disappears on a certain June 23rd, after having spent a whole hour alone in a private room with Policeman McCruiskeen and “has never spoken to anyone since that day and he is as crazy as tuppence-half-penny and as cranky as thruppence”.

  • There’s a theory that the numbers refer to the first word on pages 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 of The Third Policeman. The first word on page 4 of my copy is ‘Flamingo’ – it’s the copyright page, not actually content, and Flamingo was the publisher of my copy – I believe it’s a different publisher in the USA. The rest of the words are: songs, we, commonplace, military and townload. Read into that what you will. According to some people, that connection is a hoax.
  • Update 21/2/06: Now that I’ve watched that episode, Orientation – I can say more. When Desmond (Scottish guy) flees the bunker, there’s a glimpse of a Dalkey Archive copy of The Third Policeman on his bed.
  • The characters in the bunker – like Desmond, etc. are destined to spending their time fulfilling a Pavlovian task – filling in 4,8.15, 16, 23 and 42 and pressing the execute on an old computer button every 108 minutes. In The Third Policeman have a ‘duty’ to maintain the machinery of Eternity.

I’m sure more astute students of Lost can help us out with more connections…
Update 22/02/06, 11:47am I was just on the Orla Barry Show on Newstalk 106 (Dublin), talking about Lost and The Third Policeman.
Download an MP3 of the BBC show »
Earlier on – Lost and the Third Policeman » Flann O’Brien page »
Flann O’Brien, Comic Genius »
The No Bicycle Page »
Third Policeman Review »
Lostpedia entry on The Third Policeman »
The Third Policeman » (
Lost – The Complete First Season (2004) » (
The Lost Chronicles : The Official Companion Book » (
The Third Policeman » (
Lost: Season 1 – Part 1 » (
The Lost Chronicles : The Official Companion Book » (

Chief Bottle Washer at Blather
Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and "known troublemaker" Dave Walsh is the founder of, described both as "possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River", and "the nicest website circulating in Ireland". Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.


  1. Daev, in the USA people are buying the edition of the Third Policeman published by Dalkey Archive

  2. Yeah, so we need to find someone with a Dalkey Archive copy!
    I used to have one – gave it away to someone…

  3. Anyone ever read “Huis Clos” or “No Exit” by Jean Paul Sartre?
    It was published in 1944 and contains the same elements in Lost that you discussed last night.
    The main characters are dead but do not realise they are in hell.
    They have all committed crimes which are revealed during the course of the play. The hell they inhabit is not a hell we would recognise. It is a drawing room filled with objects which seem irrelevant but which come to take on a significance later. The constant light seems the only form of physical torture.
    The famous line “hell is other people” comes from this play. The main characters torment one another (aided by a strange butler)and through their revelations to one another slowly come to understand their circumstances.
    I’ve never seen Lost but have read the 3rd Policeman (thanks to Blather!) and the similarities with Lost and Huis Clos sound very very close….certainly as close as those between Lost and 3rd Policeman in any case.

  4. Right that’s it ! I’m sick of you going on and on about this book ! So I marched down to the library and demanded they give me a copy. Unfortunately the local library’s copy was mysteriously ‘lost’ so they ordered one from another library. I picked it up yesterday (“Oooh, that’s the book that’s going to be mentioned in Lost” said the librarian). As soon as I saw the front cover it seemed instantly familair and I got a dreadful sense of dé ja vu. I don’t know what you’ve gotten me into…

  5. The characters in the bunker – like Desmond, etc. are destined to spending their time fulfilling a Pavlovian task – filling in 4,8.15, 16, 23 and 42 and pressing the execute on an old computer button every 108 minutes….
    Reminds me of working in a call Cenetr,
    ‘Hello my name is John, How can i help you today?
    ‘Hello my name is John, How can i help you today?
    ‘Hello my name is John, How can i help you today?
    ‘Hello my name is John, How can i help you today?………………………………………………and so on

  6. I just read the book and enjoyed it immensely. It gave me food for thought for a long time… But as for the Purgatory-interpretation, it has been discredited by J. J. Abrams, and to me it seems a bit too simplistic an explanation.
    I bet it has something to do with the exercise bike in the hatch. 🙂

  7. hey, read the book in question, im obsessed with lost…really obsessed…my friends make fun of me. anyway, i think to understand the connection between the 3rd policeman and lost…forget about the main character of the 3rd policeman being dead. there are more obvious issues tying the two together..obviously the underground chambers in both (hatch & eternity), missing or bum limbs might shed light on things. the overall idea behind the third policeman was the circular repeating hell caused by murder. >karma. perhaps the main (original) experiment on the island of lost (i say originally..because it is my belief that at this point on the island…the experimentors dont have as much control as they used to…now i think that the experiment may be more or less running itself.) anyway, perhaps the main purpose of the original experiments on the island were to create a here & now immediate physical karma machine. all major characters on the island have done some pretty messed up stuff…and despite alot of other weird things goning on…one thing is for certain…many have had to deal with theirs issues at one time or another. so perhaps the island was set up to mock karma and see if by giving people the necessary karma to move on from their past and become better utopian society (supposedly a mission of alvar hanso/dharma initiative. this is all just speculation though.

  8. There is one major difference between ‘LOST’and The Third Policeman….the latter although subversive is hilarious.
    I’m afraid the second serious is alittle boring.We all know thier dead.How will it end?

  9. De Selby – I have to agree (but where’s your footnotes?), I just never got into LOST at all. It lacked the quirky humour of other excellent ‘thinking-persons’ TV series, like Twin Peaks or Six Feet Under

  10. Interesting that the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 add up to 108, the number of minutes the clock resets to.

  11. Okay, I’ve finally read he Third Police Man and watched new enough episodes of Lost to read this article and make a comment (haven’t listened to the mp3 yet though). I very much enjoyed The Third Policeman; the plot perhaps isn’t as original as it was when it was written but the standard of writing is exceptional. It’s hard to see why the publisher turned it down. Did you see the programme on RTE a few weeks ago about Flann O’Brien ?
    I think that looking for patterns in The Third Policeman would be a fruitless exercise. The whole point of the book, what makes it hell, is that standard logic no longer applies and everything has turned to nonsense.
    Anyway, I can see the links between Lost and The Third Policeman but I think the situation in Lost is a bit different. My current running theory (a rather shakey one) is that the island is stuck in some kind of time loop like The Third Policeman, controlled by whatever machines are down the hatch though not necessarily related to hell or sin. The only way to break out of the loop would be to stop the machine which could potentially destroy the whole world ! ‘The Others’ who inhabit the Island could in fact be older versions of themselves, trapped by the previous loop*. The man with the beard who they talk to, sounds just like Sawyer. The Others are so narky because they have found out what’s going on but want to protect their naive younger selves from finding out too.
    Anyway, if that’s not what’s going on I’ll copyright the idea and make my own movie! There’s also other stuff going on about communicating with the dead (possibly the reason for the original experiment on the Island). We can’t really tell whether the people on the Island are alive or dead or in some in between state like in Philip K Dick’s ‘UBIK’. I think Walt’s psychic abilities are going to come into this somewhere, perhaps the others want him to communicate with the outside ‘living’ world…
    Or it could just be that the writers are making it all up as they go along and have no clue what it’s about either !
    *This brings to mind another of the experiments performed by that great thinker De Selby, which was based upon his theory that movement is an illusion, that an object is always in a stationary state at any point in time. De Selby believed that by running around a building at a high enough velocity he could catch up with the residue of a version of himself as it moved from one stationary position to another (See Golden Hours Page 59). In this instance, unlike his earlier mirror experiment, De Selby did not come face to face with his younger self but instead crashed headlong into the local constable who promptly man-handled the great man down to the station.

  12. Be the hokey. That is indeed a difficult pancake. De Selby – some man for the atoms, ha?

  13. ‘Twould have been purgatory on LOST as it was originally planned except the viewership too smart by half turned out to be and so limping over the line came the last LOST with blather about captain america fights and the churchless church of Hollywood wrap party heaven.

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