Apr 7, 2008

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

I read LotF back in middle school, but that was almost 20 years ago so I figured I'd give it a refresher. I'm glad I did, too. After I got into it, I realized I couldn't remember exactly how it ended.

Okay, let me get this out of the way right up front: have you ever used glasses to try and make a fire? It's hard. Sometimes, depending on your prescription, it's nigh impossible. But that's a minor nit-pick and has little to do with the actual story. I just had to point it out.

First off, I'm fat and nearly blind without my glasses. So, yes, poor ol' Piggy gets much of my sympathy. Left with half his sight, powerless, knowing what should be done but without any way to get his voice heard - pretty much my childhood nightmare. I think that when I read this book as a kid, I spent so much time tied up in that side of things that the larger struggle went by the side for me.

I'm pretty sure that the fact that a nuclear war was going on in the outside world while the boys are trapped went completely over my head the first time. Stories about Brits always seem a little old timey to a lot of American kids, myself included, and that and the 1950s language had me setting it mentally during World War II. Even so, the comparison between the boys' battles and the larger war didn't entirely escape me. "I expected better from British boys." Except that British men were engaged in struggles that only differed in their scope.

As a kid, of course, I felt like I could do better. I'd know to keep that fire burning. I'd know to build better shelters and make sure the whole tribe felt engaged in our attempts to be rescued. Looking back now, of course, that's bullshit. I'd be Piggy or, in the best case, Ralph - aware but frustrated almost to the point of madness. I've watched a lot of Survivor since then (ha!). I've been part of various troops and crews and teams. I know that the loudest voice and most entertaining path takes the lead, and if that's not me than to hell with what I might think is the right thing to do.

Folks write books and papers and websites and so on detailing the symbolism of Lord of the Flies. What did the pig skull symbolize? How about the downed pilot? The conch? The pool in which they swam? The face paint? But, in the end, all that doesn't matter. When Ralph notices that his spear, the one the sow's head was impaled on as an offering to the Beast, is sharpened on both ends and realizes what that means about about the fate that Jack and Roger have planned for him, that's just damn good storytelling.

final thoughts: If anyone tells you seriously that they could do better, keep an eye on them. That's a Jack right there.


JRSM said...

Actually, Golding took a lot of shit over the years about the glasses thing--it's not just hard to do, but with the specific lenses Piggy had, impossible.
Great book, though. You might also like Golding's 'The Inheritors', a story told from the point of view of the last surviving small band of neanderthals as Homo sapiens sapiens take over the world. Quite sad and moving.

downtown guy said...

A guy on Survivor managed to do it by pooling a little water in one lens, changing the bend of the light. But I'm glad to know that other folks saw the impracticality of that whole issue.