It’s no secret that I am obsessed with the ABC Family show “Pretty Little Liars”, constantly theorizing about the identity of the mysterious “A”. But does the show have any deeper meaning – any deep structure, perhaps? And what does the deep structure of PLL mean for the way we read other texts? Can the deep structure of PLL help us start to build a theology of literature? Of course, spoilers unless you’re caught up.
Mircea Eliade posited that the underlying key to studying religion is to understand the “deep structures” underneath certain religious beliefs. For example, a group of peasants who believe that a certain herb has medicinal properties, a belief that may seem infantile to us, might base their beliefs on a certain set of “facts” known about the plant and the illness. Eliade believed that we could trace the myth, the “facts” the peasants knew about the plant, to a core symbol. This symbol would then have meaning for many surrounding cultures at its core, even if the symbol was manifested differently in other cultures. Ultimately, for Eliade, the deepest symbol was creation, and all myths were born out of beliefs about creation.
I believe that all good stories can be traced to a biblical theme. A lot mirror the story of creation (I’ve posted before how the Harry Potter books track with the seven days of creation); many show the fall of Adam (The Godfather trilogy); many show the fall of the unrighteous after the resurrection of the righteous (The Dark Knight trilogy); the necessity of death to self to end sin (The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies). The foundation of stories is the Word who became flesh; the basis for human imagination and creativity is borne in the one who spoke the world into being. Tolkien said that, with “eternity in our hearts”, all narratives, in a Christian worldview, show us either the post-lapsarian world as it is, or a longing for Eden from whence we came. (Seriously – if you can’t catch the biblical themes underlying the Lord of the Rings you’re missing a huge piece of either LotR or the Bible). Because the Logos is the foundation of the human being, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many stories track with biblical themes, even “accidentally”.
Every good story, then, should generally track with a general theme in the Scriptures. Look at movies that you think suck, and ask why? Why did Spider-Man 3 suck after Spider-Man 2 was so good? Because in Spider-Man 3, Peter never had to overcome anything that difficult. He never had a death and resurrection experience. Other than roughing up Mary Jane and hitting on Gwen Stacy, Peter was never really evil, just a tool. He never had a death experience. But in Spider-Man 2, he did. He had the snot kicked out of him and his identity was made public. His victory against Octavius felt earned at that point.
That being said, how does Pretty Little Liars track with the days of creation? Pretty Little Liars records a group of four friends, Hanna, Spencer, Aria, and, Emily as they deal with the mystery of their friend, Ali DiLaurentis, who disappeared a year before the show begins. The girls are united through a mystery: who is this A that is threatening them over text messages? The mystery gets deeper and more convoluted as the show progresses with shady new characters, deaths, and the reappearance of Ali.
How does this show help move us toward a theology of literature? I believe that the more connections we can identify with the biblical narrative helps us build a stronger sense of a Christian deep structure. The seven people revealed to be “A” track with the seven days in a decreative fashion:
1. Mona is the first A, the creator of the game. Alison DiLaurentis has disappeared, and her close group of friends disbands and goes their separate ways. When Aria returns in the pilot, the four girls are drawn together again. Mona, the creator of the A game, wants to prevent form and order entering her universe, so she creates “darkness” to separate the four.
2. Lucas Gottesman is the second A, and he is a friend of the Liars, especially Hanna. The second day is concerned with the firmament, or the boundary between man and God. The second day portions of Genesis 2-4 deal with the identity of the person, the mediator, who can move between God and man. Lucas is the mediator between Mona and the girls because he moves between them freely as both A and a friend.
3. The third A is Toby Cavanaugh, Spencer’s boyfriend. The third day slot deals with the separation of land and sea, which are symbolic of the Jews and Gentiles. Toby, as a good guy who is now acting as A, starts to blur the line between friends and enemies.
4. Spencer is recruited as the fourth A. Being one of the Liars, she is one of the “rulers” of the show. The stars, moon, and sun symbolize the world’s rulers making the link very clear.
5. Melissa acts as A the same time as the sixth A, Darren Wilden. Melissa fills the fifth day slot as she is a secondary character at first: she is a swarming creature is that is neither against man nor helpful to them (as animals created on the sixth day are). This connection is weak.
6. Darren Wilden fills the sixth day slot as a new AdAm well. It is revealed that the night Ali disappeared, Cece Drake hit her on the back of her head. Believing her to be dead, Jessica DiLaurentis (Ali’s mom) and Cece bury her alive. Wilden covers up for the believed murder, accepting a bribe to keep it a secret. Wilden also covered for the murder of Marion Cavanaugh (Toby’s mother) after she was pushed off the roof of her Sanitarium by a young girl named Bethany Young who blamed the murder on Cece Drake. His fall, from an okay cop to a crooked cop, ushers in an anti-Sabbath.
7. The final A is Cece Drake. She was the A who took over the game in season 3 and, as the final A, is the ultimate embodiment of anti-Sabbath. She tortures the girls the most and kills the most people. Rather than leading her people into the Promised Land, she kidnaps the girls and forces them to spend months in her Dollhouse, an anti-promised land.