Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Publisher: Penguin Books; originally published in 1959
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.
I think your favorite books may be the most difficult to review.
My first encounter with Lord of the Flies was when I spied my mom’s copy in her bedroom. I picked it up and asked her about it. She said, “That’s not a nice book. Don’t read it.” Or, at least, it was something like that.
Ah, the allure of a banned book! I didn’t read it just then. But years later, as a senior in high school, I decided to finally read it. I’d picked up the copy again and again in the intervening years, but had never actually cracked it open. When I did finally read it, I found it difficult to part with. I read it very quickly, and only set the book down a few times–something which is perhaps more commonplace for other readers, but is very rare for me.
Golding’s book is loaded with meaning, yet still flows easily and moves quickly. As the blurb says, boys are stranded on an island. At first, it’s an adventure. Eventually, it’s a nightmare. Why? Because of human nature. Of the novel, Golding said, “The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on an political system however apparently logical or respectable.”
When the boys–British schoolboys–are first stranded on the island, they form a simple yet rule-structured society. Ralph, one of the older boys, is to be the chief. He has a large, beautiful shell–a conch–which he can blow like a trumpet to call a meeting. When gathered at the meeting, only the person holding the conch may speak, and the conch is passed about to allow all voices to be heard.
They quickly decide that the most important thing is being rescued, and that the only way to be rescued is to keep a signal fire going, in hopes that a passing ship will see the smoke.
The problem is that there is more than one boy who wants to be in charge, and not all the boys are agreed on what the priorities ought to be.
The other problem is the presence of the beast–a monster who shares the island with them, but whose existence is never confirmed.
Now what about that title? Why is it called Lord of the Flies? “Lord of the Flies” is a translation of the Hebrew word Ba’alzevuv, or Beezlebub in Greek, one of the names or titles of Satan or the devil. The hunters in the book kill a pig, remove its head, and place it on a stake as an offering to the island’s Beast.
Later, a boy named Simon, dehydrated and hallucinating, has a conversation with the severed pig’s head, which by that point is covered in flies. The head–the “Lord of the Flies”–speaks with the boy in a pivotal scene, confirming Simon’s prophetic fears he had voiced earlier in the novel.
“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!” said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”
As the boy’s civilization further crumbles, the Beast’s words become more and more true.
What Genre is it? You’ll find it classed as YA often. It’s a bit odd in that classification, because none of the characters are very old. YA tends to focus on people about 16 years or older, whereas Lord of the Flies doesn’t have any character older than 13 (and it may only be 12, actually).
It’s a story of lost innocence, the darkness of the human heart, and the fallen nature of man. And it’s excellent.
5/5 – Will certainly read again.
Have you read Lord of the Flies? Did you have to read it in high school? Do you agree that society’s problems are problems inherent in human nature? If you were on a paradise island with a bunch of your same-gendered peers, do you think you could keep things civil, or would you start killing each other?