Lord of the Flies
Premise: A group of British school boys are stranded on a deserted island after their plane crashes. The pilot of the plane has died in the crash and the children are completely without adult supervision. Ralph, the oldest of the boys, assumes the role of leader whilst a glasses-wearing, asthmatic boy (who is cruelly dubbed Piggy) acts as a moral conscience for the group. There are attempts at law and order, at finding food and at lighting a beacon to attract the attention of passing ships. But the problem is that most of the boys have little idea how to exist without the framework of parental authority. When Ralph’s leadership comes under question, their fragile society begins to crumble.
There have been so many references and parodies of “Lord of the Flies” that most ‘new’ readers of the book will already be aware of the general direction of the story. I remember Robin Williams in “Hook” comparing the lost boys to those marooned in LOTF. “Das Bus”, which sees Bart, Lisa et al parodying the story, is one of my favourite episodes of “The Simpsons”. Many of the works of Stephen King are apparently influenced by LOTF and U2’s song “Shadows and Tall Trees” takes its inspiration (and title) from chapter 7 in the book. “Lord of the Flies”, then, casts a lengthy shadow. But is it any good?
The answer to that is unequivocally, yes. The story is a story for the ages. Practically everyone (especially those like myself who have worked in the world of education!) has witnessed an example of childhood anarchy at some stage in their lives, whether eye to eye during your own childhood or whilst supervising an out-of-hand birthday party as an adult or watching a stressed-out teacher trying to shepherd toddlers around the London underground. The central concept is easily relatable and the setting is somewhat magical – a desert island secluded from wars going on elsewhere, beautiful weather, sandy beaches, the chance to create a new society from scratch.
The inevitable inability of the children to live together in a cohesive manner leads the story down an interesting philosophical rabbit hole. What would happen in a world stripped of our laws and rules? Would the meek inherit the earth or would it be the cunning or the bullies or the daydreamers? How quickly would things that we know now are 100% wrong start to be considered as possibilities if we became desperate enough? It is these questions that Golding poses in his seminal work. And, whilst it seems quite a bleak portrayal of humanity’s failings, many of the answers that he comes up with ring truer than most of us would care to admit.
There is good reason why Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature and why the “Lord of the Flies” is cited as a modern classic. If you haven’t read it, go out and find yourself a copy. If you have, read it for a second, third or fourth time – it’s one of those books that you can enjoy just as much even though you know the ending.
Other shipwreck novels: “Robinson Crusoe” (Daniel Defoe), “The Swiss Family Robinson” (Johann David Wyss), “Moby Dick” (Herman Melville), “Life of Pi” (Yann Martel)
Other novels by William Golding: “The Spire”, “Darkness Visible”, “Rites of Passage”