Review of Lord of the Flies (1954)


William Golding (writer).

In June of 1965, six bored schoolboys aged 16 to 13 left Nuku’alofa, capital of Tonga. They were shipwrecked on the deserted island of ’Ata and stayed there for 15 months, until a passing ship saw their little fire and rescued them. They didn’t let the fire go out. One of them had broken his leg but had already made a full recovery. All survived. The Third World War did not begin in their absence from civilization. Their story is told in Humankind: A Hopeful History (2020) by Rutger Bregman.

Part of the appeal of Golding’s book is what its conclusion calls “the darkness of man’s heart”. Its characters refer openly to earlier, less pessimistic fiction: The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean (1857), Treasure Island (1881) and Swallows and Amazons (1930). Golding’s pessimism is more seductive to me than the reality of the boys on ’Ata in 1965, and like The Heart of Darkness (1899), The Lord of the Flies is careful to show that “the darkness” can be found even in those who claim to be most civilized, hence in the reader, which is certainly true. The Holocaust showed this to be so, and it’s all very exciting. Just don’t let one or two novels set your opinion of how the species really works.

References here: “Reality TV” tag description, “Paradise” (1994), Adventures of the Mini Goddesses (1998).

text fiction