Book Review: Lord of the Flies

Tales of castaways on desert islands have always been popular. They usually focus on mankind’s strength of spirit and ingenuity, as stranded heroes master their surroundings and overcome the odds to survive. William Golding takes a different approach in his famous novel. Imagine the movie Castaway, except instead of Tom Hanks playing a bearded man he plays a bunch of schoolboys, and instead of a volleyball there’s a shell, and instead of building a raft and escaping he torches the island and tries to stab himself to death—that’s basically Lord of the Flies.

The story follows the primary school age survivors of a plane crash on a remote island. One of the older boys, Ralph, seems like leadership material and is elected chief. He has the support of a couple of level-headed kids: a fat boy nicknamed Piggy, and Simon. Another boy, Jack, the leader of a group of choirboys, reluctantly submits to Ralph’s leadership. At about this stage I realised I had bought the wrong book. (If you want the one about hobbits and elves, that’s Lord of the Rings. They should make that clearer on the cover.) Anyway, the boys get the hang of surviving on the island, and even enjoy the absence of adult rule. Soon though, cracks appear. Caring for the youngest ones becomes a hassle, some boys abandon the quest for rescue, and Jack and his choirboys—now a tribe of hunters—grow dissatisfied with Ralph’s leadership. Jack revolts and more boys join him, preferring the excitement of hunting and feasting to the responsibility required of Ralph’s group. The boys descend into savagery. The lone voice of reason (Simon) is slaughtered by the frenzied mob, and soon after the call for order (Piggy) is also destroyed. Ralph runs and hides from Jack and the rest of the boys as they attempt to hunt him down.

William Golding seems to agree with John Calvin’s “total depravity” view of human nature, as opposed to my old neighbour, Ernie Calvin, who thought people had a natural tendency for good. He went to jail for stealing computers. Whether from mindless brutality or the belief of some greater good, humans have a habit of turning on one another when unbound by the rule of law. And, as in William Golding’s book, the forsaking of ideals often results in the loss of innocence.

Like a murder trial in which a grizzly bear is released into the courtroom, Lord of the Flies is both a tale of survival and a weighing of man’s motives and actions. 8/10



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