Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Maybe there is a beast – maybe it’s only us.
A group of boys, ages 6 to 12, revert to savagery after being stranded on a desert island with no adults to care for them or tell them what to do.
I don’t know why they give Lord of the Flies to kids in grade school to read. I’m sure the reasoning is because the story has kids in it, but it’s about the abrupt loss of innocence, which seems like a hard concept to grasp if you haven’t left childhood behind.
The stranded boys don’t become savages immediately after they shipwrecked on the isalnd. First, they try to govern themselves and organize means for getting food and signaling for help. Fear is what drives them to barbarism: fear of the beast, the other, the darkness that they eventually discover is inside them.
The final scene shows the surviving boys being rescued just before complete chaos — and, quite possibly, total destruction — descends. But who rescues them? Men at war. These men seem civilized with their clean uniforms and their rules, but we know now that the veneer covering savagery is woefully thin. And there is no one to rescue them. So Ralph weeps, not for what has happened to him so much as for knowing what is inside him, what he is destined to become. This is an adult insight, I think best appreciated by adult readers, so if you haven’t read Lord of the Flies in a while, give it a reread. You may be surprised, as I was, at how complex a little book this is.
- The name “Lord of the Flies” is a reference to the demon Beelzebub; in the novel, it refers to a pig’s head stuck on top of a sharpened stick.
- Stephen King has said that his writing was greatly influenced by Lord of the Flies, and the book appears prominently in his novels Hearts in Atlantis, Misery and Cujo.
- The name of Stephen King’s fictional small town, Castle Rock, came from the fictional fort by the same name in Lord of the Flies.
- Rob Reiner’s production company, Castle Rock Entertainment, which took its name from King’s fictional town (the setting of Stand By Me) produced a film version of Lord of the Flies in 1990.