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I have recently watched the TV miniseries Bag of Bones (based on the Stephen King novel of the same name), and I am confused about the significance of its title to the story. I will refer to it as a "film" in the following, as it was shown in one part and advertised as a movie where I watched it, despite apparently being originally produced as a "miniseries".

The IMDB FAQ on the film contains the same question, but the answer does not really provide sufficient explanations:

Where does the title 'Bag of Bones' come from?

In the movie, Mike quotes from Thomas Hardy: 'Compared to the dullest human being walking on earth, the most brilliantly-drawn character in any novel is nothing more than a bag of bones.' He then adds: 'The only problem is that sometimes I feel like nothing more than a bag of bones myself...a bag of bones without the energy or talent to do what I thought I was born to do.' It also refers to a message that Mike receives from Jo: 'Lie still bag of bones', which helps him in the end.

This would suggest that the title has three anchors in the story, and I recognized all of them while watching the film, none of which make much sense to me:

  1. Compared to the dullest human being walking on earth, the most brilliantly-drawn character in any novel is nothing more than a bag of bones.

    That means that characters in novels are less "alive" than any real person by orders of magnitude. Fine. What's the relevance to the story?

  2. The only problem is that sometimes I feel like nothing more than a bag of bones myself...a bag of bones without the energy or talent to do what I thought I was born to do.

    That refers to the protagonist's writer's block and general unproductiveness. As such, it seems to be the most story-relevant mention of the term "bag of bones" of these three, and still, it is an awfully weak connection. Any story with someone being unproductive, possibly in particular someone suffering from writer's block or being at the verge of death due to physical exhaustion or mental possession (The Shining and Misery come to mind ...) could be called "Bag of Bones", so this seems quite unspecific.

  3. Lie still bag of bones

    I totally did not understand that. True, it was a sentence that was repeatedly uttered by the protagonist's deceased wife (or rather, her ghost), but what is it supposed to mean? If it addresses the protagonist, why should he "lie still"? His wife wanted the opposite, namely for him to become more active and productive again. If it addresses the ghost of Sara Tidwell, then again, why should her bones lie still, if the solution was to not leave them lie still, but to destroy them? (With that said, note that the dubbed version of the film I watched translated "Lie still, bag of bones." to something meaning "Dissolve, bag of bones.", which IMHO made a lot more sense, despite skipping the hidden pointer to lye.) I did get that the word lie was pointed out as a homophone to lye, which was the substance ultimately used to get rid of Sara Tidwell's bones, but that again has no connection to the term "bag of bones" (the message could just as well have been "Lie down in the attic." or "Lie beneath a tree.").

Therefore: What is the meaning of Bag of Bones specifically with respect to the story of the film?

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I haven't seen this mini-series/movie, but judging from this recap the meaning of the final quote seems to be the most crucial one:

Mike goes to drain the tub, but Max shows up and tells him custody has its responsibilities and to get that little whorelet and put her in the water where she belongs. Mike runs out of the room and hears Jo’s voice: “Lie still bag of bones.”

Mike then figures out that Jo hid messages in his writing. Messages that Sara couldn’t see her sending. Down left side means down the left side of the manuscript, and Mike reads “Owls above studio.” Lie still bag of bones, he discovers, means “Lye will still her bag of bones.” Mike climbs to the crawlspace above the studio, and finds a large bag of lye among the owls. He realizes if Jo had known where Sara’s bones were she would’ve poured the lye on the bones years ago. Then he looks out the window and makes the connection to the Green Lady tree.

Mike digs under the Green Lady, and hears “Finish it!” on the wind. He uncovers the bones of Sara and Keisha in a shallow grave. A face forms in the tree above him, while Mike says to the air “I am so sorry what they did to you and your daughter, Sara.” Then the tree begins beating the crap out of him. Jo pops up and shouts at the tree to leave Mike alone. The ghost of Sara says she won’t rest until Devore’s bloodline is ended. But Jo won’t let Kyra and Mike come to harm. Then Mike declares it’s time for this to end, opens the bag of lye, and pours it on the bones. The storm slows as the bones decay, and the face vanishes from the tree.

But considering this is Stephen King, all three different quotes you mention, especially the first one, are important WRT the title.

  • Ooh, "Lye will still her bag of bones." - this is the expansion of the sentence that I wasn't aware of (which was probably not a part of the translated version I watched). It's still a rather weak connection to "bag of bones" ("Lye will still her remains." or "Lye will still what is left of her." would have made just as much sense), but I don't think I'm going to discover a deeper meaning than this, so I'll accept this answer. – O. R. Mapper Jan 25 '15 at 16:11
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There's deeper meaning if you read the novel. In the novel, King says:

Compared to the dullest human being to walk the earth and cast his shadow there, the most brilliantly written character in a novel is but a bag of bones.

The "lye stille" thing comes later when the "fridgafator" people spell it with the magnabet letters. Meaning for Mike to pour lye over the bones of Sarah Tidwell and her child, which were in a canvas bag.

  • That quote from the novel is also in the movie, please see the first enumeration item in my question. – O. R. Mapper Aug 20 '15 at 6:51

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