This 1954 classic has become a regular staple in classrooms across the world – we first read it at GCSE level circa 1998: William Golding’s (1911-1993) Lord of the Flies! It’s about a bunch of British school kids who are left stranded on a exotic island after their plane crashes into the ocean, killing all of the adults on board. The surviving kids then have to figure out how to work together and survive.
It’s a social commentary novel, essentially, as the kids get a pretty decent society going that’s grounded in democracy. Two leaders emerge – the levelheaded Ralph and the ambitious Jack – which soon plunges the new society into all manner of chaos. It’s a rather misanthropic novel, really, as it depicts the pernicious problem with humans – you’re always going to get some power crazy lunatic who messes everything up for everyone else.
Lord of the Flies
Golding won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his works and it’s easy to see why Lord of the Flies is taught in schools. Not only is it entertaining for a wide ranging audience, it’s got a fundamental overview of democracy – politics is applied subtly as, at the heart of the book, you have these young lads who attempt to govern themselves, but fail disastrously.
That’s the allegorical element, anyway, but another main focus of the novel, and the one that gets everyone the most with an emotional punch, is Ralph’s friendship with Piggy. The latter is a portly lad who is teased by the other boys, but as the novel advances this turns into a rather terrible situation – Jack’s troop of boys descend to the point of near savages and Ralph’s attempt at decency and order ultimately fail dismally.
Morality, immorality, rationalism, instincts – they’re all challenged here overtly, but we don’t use that “overt” word negatively here. You could say the novel is somewhat predictable in how it plays out, but its use of school kids to display the intrinsic unpleasantness of man (note the lack of women in the novel) is a chilling reminder we’re all human, stupid, and prone to moronic actions.
Absolutely worth a read, then, as it’s a dramatic introduction to the universal power of novel writing. This one is for the ages, although Lord of the Flies certainly wasn’t prescient, nor was it totally original, but it remains a brilliant overview of humanity and a consideration of the evil urges which lurk within. Yes, that’s within even YOU, foul creature!
There are two film adaptations (plus a Filipino adaptation from 1975 called Alkitrang Dugo), with probably the best being the 1990 one. Directed by Harry Hook and starring no one famous, it’s an engaging film which doesn’t quite have the horrific blow you might want it to. In other words, it’s quite a tame take on it but, really, this one is for school kids as we remember watching it in GCSE class when we were, like, 15 or something. Indeed.
The 1963 version is in black and white and was directed by Peter Brooks. The cast included James Aubrey, who went on to be a pretty successful film and stage actor. Again, this is a good outing and the colouring adds extra weight to the story. We picked this one up for free with the Guardian newspaper back in 2007 and gave it a whirl and, hey, it stuck with us! Always the sign of a good film, eh?