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.
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.
"Swallows and Amazons-"
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.