Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 28, 2013
THIS EDITION: "Lord of the Flies" 50th Anniversary Edition, by William Golding (winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature), boasts a beautiful hard-bound cover and includes an introduction from E.M. Forster, biographical and critical notes by E.L. Epstein, and illustrations from Ben Gibson.
Golding, William, 1911-1993--
-----Lord of the flies/William Golding--1st Perigee hardcover ed., 50th anniversary ed., p. cm. "A Perigee book."
OVERVIEW: Author William Golding's debut novel, "Lord of the Flies," was first published in 1954. It follows R.M. Ballantyne's "The Coral Island" and further delves into the fundamentals of human nature by depicting the `what-would-happen?' of a group of young boys who have become stranded on an island--one previously untainted by man. One of the central themes of the novel concerns two opposing ideas about society, i.e.: democracy versus autocracy. Other phenomena explored exist as struggles over morality, rational thought, and individuality, contrasted by immorality, emotional thought, and group-think, respectively. When I was young and first read this book, I was embarrassed to say it was among my top five favorite novels. I thought that admitting how captivated I was by "Lord of the Flies" would make me sound sadistic; I didn't have a good explanation for what I liked about it. As an adult, I've come to realize that what I appreciated so highly was this novel's impeccable use of allegories and seemingly innocuous symbolism. Even today, this is a book that, in my opinion, tells a highly valuable story--not only for young adults, but old adults as well.
NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS: Following its premiere printing, "Lord of the Flies" managed to sell a meager 3,000 copies. Almost a decade later, the novel saw a resurrection and quickly gained notoriety in schools and on best-seller lists.
▪ 1963: Film-adaptation by Peter Brook
▪ 1990: Film-adaptation by Harry Hook
▪ 1990-1999: American Library Association's "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books"--#68
▪ 2003: BBC's Survey "The Big Read"--#70
▪ ----: Modern Library's "100 Best Novels: Editor's List"--#41
▪ ----: Modern Library's "100 Best Novels: Reader's List"--#25
▪ 2005: TIME Magazine's "100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923-2005."
SUMMARY: Amid a worldwide nuclear war, a British evacuation aircraft crashes into the Pacific Ocean; the only survivors are a group of like-aged school and choir boys between the ages (presumably) of six and twelve. On the deserted and unspoiled island, two of the children, Ralph and Piggy, come upon a conch shell which, when blown, permits Ralph to gather the remainder of the marooned party to one central location. When the strayed survivors see that it is Ralph who summoned them all together, they naturally cling to this occurrence as the first action which remotely resembles stability and, thus, leads to the group's naming of Ralph as their chief. Ralph's only opposition comes from the choir group which prefers Jack Merridew as chief. All of the boys, from both the school and choir groups, note the conch as the tool which has bestowed upon Ralph his rank; the conch quickly becomes a symbol of power for he who possesses it.
In his first order of business, Ralph declares two primary objectives: (1.) have fun, and (2.) alert passing ships to the boys' position by smoke signal. In order to spread some of the responsibility, Ralph creates a `cabinet' of sorts; in this analogy: Jack, who leads the choir group in search of food, is the secretary of war; Simon, who is responsible for overseeing the shelter provisions (and who takes to caring for the younger boys, aka. "littleuns") is the secretary of homeland security; and Piggy--and overweight, glasses-wearing, and continuously mocked outcast--becomes Ralph's confidant and right-hand-man.
Without any rules or repercussions for failing to keep order, the tribe deteriorates; most of the boys prefer to spend their time not on constructive measures, but rather on developing a new island religion which revolves around an imaginary beast. Perhaps subconsciously, Jack seizes the widespread fear of the beast as an opportunity to gain followers; he makes a vow to slay the beast responsible for tormenting the islanders and, thus, free his people of their woes. Ralph, who is more concerned with necessities for survival, loses ground to Jack, the usurper. Because the "society" members in charge of maintaining the smoke signal have given into the blood-lust promised by the beast hunt, the entire island misses the chance to be rescued by a passing vessel.
Despite the recent deterioration of the chain-of-command (and Ralph's constant deflection of personal insecurities onto Piggy), Piggy convinces Ralph that he must retain leadership for the good of the tribe. In the middle of the night, Sam and Eric--a set of twins now tasked to feed the smoke signal--mistake the body of a downed fighter pilot for the beast, leading them to abandon their post in order to recoup with the others. The new confirmation of the beast's existence causes a complete dissolution of Ralph's position as chief; Jack forms his own tribe and celebrates by sacrificing a boar and leaving the head as offering to the beast.
In the wake of the turmoil, Simon wanders off by himself and comes across the boar-head-offering. The decomposing head is now swarmed with flies. [It is not entirely clear, but likely that Simon experiences a seizure while looking upon the "Lord of the Flies."] He hallucinates that the fly-covered head is alive, smiling, and speaking to him; it tells him that the "beast" is nothing more than a manifestation of the evil inside them all. Simon goes on to investigate the downed parachutist mistaken by Sam and Eric for the beast; even though Simon knows his discovery of the truth about the beast will mean trouble for him, he hurries back to the feast to alert them all of their foolishness and, hopefully, shed proper light on the situation.
Dark and in the middle of ritual feast and dance, the savagery of Jack's tribe becomes evident as the boys willingly mistake Simon for the beast and kill him. For Ralph, Piggy, Sam, and Eric, the realization that they have murdered a friend--one who wanted only to show them "the way"--brings them to their senses; they sever ties with Jack's tribe. Since Piggy's glasses are the only means the boys have of sparking fire, Jack feels that their absence from his camp on Castle Rock (a mountainous area of the island) poses a threat to his command; under cover of darkness, Jack and his followers steal the spectacles.
Piggy, perhaps the only `adult-like' character, believes what Jack really wants is the conch because, to Piggy, a tool which provides means of gathering everyone together is far more important that one which only serves to burn. Angered by Jack's immaturity, Ralph, Piggy (carrying the conch), Sam, and Eric journey to Castle Rock to retrieve Piggy's glasses. Not willing to be challenged, Jack orders Sam and Eric to be taken hostage and tortured. Roger, Jack's henchman, thrives in the society which allows him to act unbounded; he kills Piggy by smashing him with a boulder, destroying the conch--the last symbol of civility--in the process. Ralph barely escapes the slaughter, but is soon hunted by Jack and his tribe. In an attempt to `smoke him out,' Jack and his followers set fire to the island. As Ralph begins to consider his eminent death, readers can't help but be reminded of an earlier point in the book when Simon calmly, and almost prophetically, spoke to Ralph "You'll get back to where you came from.... I just think you'll get back all right (p.154)."
The once pure island has now become an inferno; the billows of smoke have managed to signal a passing naval vessel just in the nick of time, as Jack's tribe is hot on Ralph's tail. Ralph--tired, frightened, beaten, and hopeless--encounters the naval officer who has come to his rescue. At the sight of the adult's presence, Ralph is finally relieved of his `responsibility to humanity;' Jack and his tribe are paralyzed as if they had been playing characters in some other-worldly video game, with the officer representing `Game Over.' A sense of shame hits each of the boys when the officer suggests that, being British, the boys should have known how to conduct a proper society... "Ralph looked at him dumbly. For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the strange glamour that had once invested the beaches. But the island was scorched up like dead wood--Simon was dead.... Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy (p.286)."