Friday 18 October 2013

Lord of the Flies

I missed out on reading Lord of the Flies in high school because I was in the wrong English class. Actually I don't remember our teacher getting us to read very much at all. Whenever it all got to hard we had to rewatch the 1963 movie version of Day of the Triffids again and again (and I don't think we even got to read the book).

So for a long time now Lord of the Flies was on my list of books that I really felt that I should have read. It was a perfect choice for me to read for Banned Books Week this year.

Picture source

I'm so glad to have finally read it. Lord of the Flies is certainly a modern classic. There have been several movie versions, multiple covers. It even has its own Simpsons episode (Das Bus, Series 9). Now I can finally get the references. And in a moment of perfect synchronicity there were Lord of the Flies references in the very next book I read- Peter Goldsworthy's His Stupid Boyhood.

William Golding's Lord of the Flies is a form of homage to RM Ballantyne's The Coral Island. In both books a group of boys are marooned on a lush tropical island. Although they're dreadfully different stories. RM Ballantyne's three boys are the only survivors of a shipwreck. Lord of the Flies has an unknown number of boys survive a rather mysterious plane crash. Golding even overtly references The Coral Island. 

"While we're waiting we can have a good time on this island."
He gesticulated widely.
"It's like in a book."
At once there was a clamour.
"Treasure Island-"
"Swallows and Amazons-"
"Coral Island"

And then at the very end, on the last page. 

"I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island."

Except of course Lord of the Flies isn't really like The Coral Island at all. Yes, The Coral Island was a stepping off point, some boys stranded on a tropical island, but these are vastly different stories. And Lord of the Flies is worlds away from Swallows and Amazons! 

The boys come together and form a rather dysfunctional group. Many of the boys don't know each other despite being on the same plane. A number of the boys though were part of  a school choir. Early on Ralph calls the boys together using a conch shell, and soon emerges as a leader. Ralph recognises the importance of setting up shelters for the boys, and also keeping a fire going to act as a beacon to aid in rescue. But there are no early rescues and the boys must survive on their own. They must gather fruits, and hunt for meat. Soon deep divisions appear in the group, the spectre of the monster, and the tensions of their life without adults takes its toll.

While I am pretty much relieved at having finally read Lord of the Flies (a literal translation of Beelzebub), it wasn't a story I loved. A friend felt that Golding's writing style can be difficult and holds a reader at arms length- which is a perfect way to put it. I never really got turning pages quickly until the very last chapter. I was never comfortable with his writing style somehow. Yet I always found the story interesting, even if it wasn't compelling for me.

William Golding sounds an interesting, if not always pleasant, man. He went on to win both the Nobel Prize and Booker Prize (in 1980 for Rites of Passage). Lord of the Flies had an interesting birth- it was written in exercise books while Golding was a schoolteacher. Goldings experiences in the war and as a school teacher were the background to this enduring classic. 

"I must say that anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head."

Lord of the Flies was said to have had 21 rejections before Charles Monteith at Faber rescued it, and then ordered a substantial rewrite to remove much of the early section focusing on an atomic war, the title was changed from Strangers from Within, and it was eventually published in 1954. Perhaps this is how everyone besides me knows that the children are stranded after some sort of atomic war? I thought the clues in the book alone quite obtuse, but it does make sense as a cold war novel. I am not at all surprised that it was originally written for adults. Some of it still makes harrowing reading. 



Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I never heard that the story takes place after an atomic war. Amazing. Throws the whole story into a completely different light.

Susan said...

I did read this book in high school, and found it interesting and kind of horrifying way back then. It's been on my should-I-reread-this? list for a long time, and now my son has just finished reading it for his high school class. My husband read it to talk about it with them- and listening to them talk has made me kind of think- ugh- I'm not sure I'm up for this. Let me go find a light romantic comedy.

Anonymous said...

When I read Lord of the Flies in college, I immediately took to the darkness in it. College might be the best age to discover Lord of the Flies.

Learning about authors has always intrigued me. Your information about William Golding now makes me want to reread Lord of the Flies. Perspectives change as one matures and I wonder what I would feel about Lord of the Flies today.

Brona said...

I was in the class that had to read LOF Louise and wasn't very happy about it at the time!

I remember it as a boys own adventure gone horribly wrong. I kept thinking if there has only been a group of girls on the island, things would have been much more civilised!!

But asking a 14 year old girl to read a book about a group of noisy, smelly boys and to care about them is probably stretching the friendship some :-)

I should read it again with my teacher/aunt/stepmother lenses on.

Louise said...

Deb yes it does change our appreciation of the story I think. It makes it more political.

Susan, it is an important book, and I'm glad to have finally read it. There's only so much reading time available to us, and it's important to read what we want.

Allison, yes I think it might be best discovered in college, our perspective does change as we get older. A reread could be intriguing.

Brona- yes I wondered about the story if girls were there too.

Kristen said...

I read this one way back in 8th grade years ago for an Abnormal Behaviour class and thought it was completely amazing. Of course, I was always a bit of a weird kid. My two oldest (one boy, one girl) have both had to read it for high school and neither one of them liked it much no matter (because of?) how much I raved about it before they opened it. I didn't re-read it with either of them although I fully intended to do so. I found I just couldn't stomach it now, knowing how it finishes. I think I will remember poor Piggy and his glasses in the surf until my dying day.