Monday, April 4, 2016

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies
© 1954 William Golding
156 pages



A group of boys marooned on a tiny Pacific Island must work together, battling the elements and one another. If they don't adapt, they'll be voted off the island -- or thrown off.   It's not Survivor, it's Lord of the Flies.  You know the story, of course.  A plane crash dumps a score or so of boys onto an island,  an attempt at restoring civilized order is made, but it falls apart in tribalism and bloodshed.  In taking a group of creme de la creme school children, some of them literally choir boys, and placing them in an idyllic setting that leads only to chaos and death, Golding offers not an adventure story but a reflection human nature.

The island not only abounds in food, but is predator-free. Coconuts, fresh water, and timber for making shelter are everywhere for the taking. Despite this, the boys become increasingly psychologically stressed, a plight made worse by the ambitions of one to become the next Chief.  This idyllic bloodshed directly repudiates the myth of the noble savage, though, maintaining that there is something dark and irrational within man that will devour society from within if it is not tamed.  Yet there is something irrational outside in this story, something that makes it a near-fantasy, because the boys are haunted by some Beast that attacks from the sea, from the trees, from the air. It's not simply a parachuted corpse they dread; at one point the Beast directly taunts one of the boys, and another time they enact murder under some sort of a mass delusion that one of their number is the Beast.  What keeps the boys together as long as they were is the proud memory of being English, and therefore devoted to good order and setting things aright.   The intelligent thing to do, maintains their leader Ralph, is to maintain a signal fire -- but the fun thing to do, the thing that enchants the senses and drives the boys to madness, is putting on war-paint and hunting pigs. The madness and chant of the hunt will so consume the boys that murder joins them on the island, though they are saved from destruction by Her Majesty's Ship, the Deus ex Machina.

This is a grim little story, of course, but a welcome rebuttal to those who today believe everything would be peachy-keen if it weren't for this politician or that program or lack thereof.  The 'beast' isn't so mild that it can be drawn out of the sea with a hook.


6 comments:

  1. I remember reading TLOTF a long, long time ago (in my early teens), and I loved it; my cousin (same age) read it at about the same time, and she thought it was horrible. Perhaps the different reactions were gender-based. Hmmmm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't be surprised if testosterone makes it easier to hear the "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood" chant. Very primal.

      Delete
  2. I remember being rather underwhelmed by this after hearing so much about it. I think that I 'got' it but started to pick holes in the narrative pretty early on. A classic but a flawed one I felt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a short tale, too -- zips by!

      Delete
  3. I hated this book when I read it in high school, but since then I've been told it was Golding's response to an idea floating around at the time that all children are innocent and only become corrupted as adults. I think it's a good response and when I read it again (soon) I think I'll enjoy it much more. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Towards the end the naval officer mentions an adventure story ("Coral Island" about some boys who are trapped on and island and have a merry told time. Evidently there was a rash of books like that at the time.

      Delete