Sunday, 23 January 2011

[011] Lord of the Flies - William Golding

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What the Back of the Book Has to Say:

At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This far from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything.

But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued.

Why I Picked It Up:

This is the first in what will become a recurring series: classic books that I never actually read in school

What I Think: 

Lord of the Flies is one of those books that everyone has read. Even if you haven't actually sat down to read it, you've probably seen the movie or, at the very least, you know the basic plot: boys crash on a desert island, slowly go crazy, become savages. It's Hobbes's theory of the nature of mankind played out in a fictional parable. It's also, I've discovered, widely exaggerated.

Now, I'm beginning to wonder how many people in the world have actually read this novel. I went into it thinking that I knew exactly what was going to happen but, upon reading the last few pages, I discovered that my idea of the plot was more savage than what had actually happened in the book. In my mind, the boys became savages and cannibals. I very surely had it fixed in my mind that they ate Piggy. I don't know where that idea came from originally, but upon talking to A over Skype after finishing the book and relaying the story, she said "But they do." And she had read the book before. No cannibalism appears in the story but it seems that most of the world somehow got it in their minds that it happened. 

Maybe that's just more proof that this story is a classic: everyone thinks they know it and somehow embellishments have become some kind of warped canon that doesn't actually exist. Or maybe it's just a view into the minds of man and how they view this fable about boys returning to their most natural forms--it becomes something much more terrifying than it truly is. This isn't to say that terrible things don't occur in Lord of the Flies because they do, but it says something about society that we all seem to think they cross that last taboo.

The book itself is marvelous. It took me about ninety or so pages to really get into the plot but it quickly became a page turner. I don't think I could really summarize it any better than the back of the book did itself so I won't even try. All of the characters are fairly obvious tropes and personifications but they have enough individual personality that, despite knowing that Ralph stands for civilization, you still like Ralph as a person and that's a hard barrier to overcome in other works (I'm looking at you, Pilgrim's Progress). 

Of course, the symbolism is rather heavy handed but considering how often this book is taught in high school, it was honestly expected. However, despite the sometimes "hit you over the head with it" imagery, it was bearable to wade through. The story was interesting and exciting enough to stand on its own and pull you through.

I read the last four or so pages of the novel standing on the platform waiting for my train home after work one day and I admit that I was a little misty-eyed when I closed the book. I had never heard how the story ended, despite all I thought I knew about the plot, and the last few images the novel wove on that forlorn beach must have touched something I hadn't even realized. Despite being well known and almost cliche in modern society, there is something deeper in this book that hits on aspects of the human spirit and I don't think it would hurt, if you have some extra time on your hands, to sit down and give it a read-through. Just to see what you think.


  1. Hey Molly: Like you, I read this book after the 'required reading' years. I was in grad school and any activity was better than writing my thesis so I did a fair amount of reading. This book reminded me of the 'primal vestage'. Seems like the boys started out with a jocks vs. geeks division and nearly finished with an absolute slaughter of the latter were it not for their rescue. I thought of this book, in a kinder way, as we taught the boys how to share in that sharing is more learned than innate.

    Take care Molly, godspeed to the successful conclusion of your Japanese educational experience!

    Greg (your following fan with geek picture to'bout)

  2. There definitely was that division going on, although I find it interesting that the "jock" side of the fence was actually a former boy's choir. Golding definitely played with some stereotypes as he wrote this. And I love the image of Jack and Thomas as little island dwellers learning to share. :)

    Thanks, Uncle Greg! I love your geek picture. :)

  3. I have read the book for school, twice. I LOATHED it in high school. I appreciated it a little bit more in college. Worth a read at least once, but never again.

  4. Aw, that's too bad. I honestly really liked it, a lot more than I expected to. I could see hating it in high school, though. I'm tempted to go back to some of those classics I read in high school and see if I like them more now.