Lord of the Flies
|Cover artist||Anthony Gross|
|Publisher||Faber and Faber|
|17 September 1954|
|ISBN||0-571-05686-5 (first edition, paperback)|
Lord of the Flies is a 1954 novel by Nobel Prize-winning British author William Golding. The book focuses on a group of British boys stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempt to govern themselves. Themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality.
The novel has been generally well received. It was named in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 41 on the editor's list, and 25 on the reader's list. In 2003 it was listed at number 70 on the BBC's The Big Read poll, and in 2005 Time magazine named it as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. Time also included the novel in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time. Popular reading in schools, especially in the English-speaking world, a 2016 UK poll saw Lord of the Flies ranked third in the nation's favourite books from school.
Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel. The idea came about after Golding read what he deemed to be an unrealistic depiction of stranded children in youth novels like The Coral Island: a Tale of the Pacific Ocean (1857) by R. M. Ballantyne, and asked his wife, Ann, if it would "be a good idea if I wrote a book about children on an island, children who behave in the way children really would behave?" As a result, the novel contains various references to The Coral Island, such as the rescuing naval officer's description of the boys' initial attempts at civilised cooperation as "a jolly good show, like the Coral Island". Golding's three central characters (Ralph, Piggy, and Jack) have also been interpreted as caricatures of Ballantyne's Coral Island protagonists.
The manuscript was rejected by many publishers before finally being accepted by London-based Faber & Faber; an initial rejection by the "professional reader" at Faber labelled the book an "Absurd and uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atomic bomb on the colonies and a group of children who land in the jungle near New Guinea. Rubbish and dull. Pointless". However, Charles Monteith decided to take on the manuscript and worked with Golding to complete several fairly major edits, including the removal of the entire first section of the novel, which had previously described an evacuation from nuclear war. As well as this, the character of Simon was heavily redacted by Monteith, including the removal of his interaction with a mysterious lone figure who is never identified but implied to be God. Monteith himself was concerned about these changes, completing "tentative emendations", and warning against "turning Simon into a prig". Ultimately, Golding made all of Monteith's recommended edits and wrote back in his final letter to his editor that "I've lost any kind of objectivity I ever had over this novel and can hardly bear to look at it." These manuscripts and typescripts are now available from the Special Collections Archives at the University of Exeter library for further study and research. The collection includes the original 1952 "Manuscript Notebook" (originally a Bishop Wordsworth's School notebook) containing copious edits and strikethroughs.
With the changes made by Monteith and despite the initial slow rate of sale (about three thousand copies of the first print sold slowly), the book soon went on to become a best-seller, with more than ten million copies sold as of 2015. It has been adapted to film twice in English, in 1963 by Peter Brook and 1990 by Harry Hook, and once in Filipino by Lupita A. Concio (1975).
The book begins with the boys' arrival on the island after their plane has been shot down during what seems to be part of a nuclear World War III. Some of the marooned characters are ordinary students, while others arrive as a musical choir under an established leader. With the exception of Sam, Eric, and the choirboys, they appear never to have encountered each other before. The book portrays their descent into savagery; left to themselves on a paradisiacal island, far from modern civilization, the well-educated boys regress to a primitive state.
In the midst of a wartime evacuation, a British aeroplane crashes on or near an isolated island in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors are boys in their middle childhood or preadolescence. Two boys—the fair-haired Ralph and an overweight, bespectacled boy nicknamed "Piggy"—find a conch, which Ralph uses as a horn to convene all the survivors to one area. Ralph is optimistic, believing that grownups will come to rescue them but Piggy realises the need to organise ("put first things first and act proper"). Because Ralph appears responsible for bringing all the survivors together, he immediately commands some authority over the other boys and is quickly elected their "chief". He does not receive the votes of the members of a boys' choir, led by the red-headed Jack Merridew, although he allows the choir boys to form a separate clique of hunters. Ralph establishes three primary policies: to have fun, to survive, and to constantly maintain a smoke signal that could alert passing ships to their presence on the island and thus rescue them. The boys establish a form of democracy by declaring that whoever holds the conch shall also be able to speak at their formal gatherings and receive the attentive silence of the larger group.
Jack organises his choir into a hunting party responsible for discovering a food source. Ralph, Jack, and a quiet, dreamy boy named Simon soon form a loose triumvirate of leaders with Ralph as the ultimate authority. Upon inspection of the island, the three determine that it has fruit and wild pigs for food. The boys also use Piggy's glasses to create a fire. Although he is Ralph's only real confidant, Piggy is quickly made into an outcast by his fellow "biguns" (older boys) and becomes the butt of the other boys' jokes. Simon, in addition to supervising the project of constructing shelters, feels an instinctive need to protect the "littluns" (younger boys).
The semblance of order quickly deteriorates as the majority of the boys turn idle; they give little aid in building shelters, spend their time having fun and begin to develop paranoias about the island. The central paranoia refers to a supposed monster they call the "beast", which they all slowly begin to believe exists on the island. Ralph insists that no such beast exists, but Jack, who has started a power struggle with Ralph, gains a level of control over the group by boldly promising to kill the creature. At one point, Jack summons all of his hunters to hunt down a wild pig, drawing away those assigned to maintain the signal fire. A ship travels by the island, but without the boys' smoke signal to alert the ship's crew, the vessel continues without stopping. Ralph angrily confronts Jack about his failure to maintain the signal; in frustration Jack assaults Piggy, breaking one of the lenses of his glasses. The boys subsequently enjoy their first feast. Angered by the failure of the boys to attract potential rescuers, Ralph considers relinquishing his position as leader, but is persuaded not to do so by Piggy, who both understands Ralph's importance and fears what will become of him should Jack take total control.
One night, an aerial battle occurs near the island while the boys sleep, during which a fighter pilot ejects from his plane and dies in the descent. His body drifts down to the island in his parachute; both get tangled in a tree near the top of the mountain. Later on, while Jack continues to scheme against Ralph, the twins Sam and Eric, now assigned to the maintenance of the signal fire, see the corpse of the fighter pilot and his parachute in the dark. Mistaking the corpse for the beast, they run to the cluster of shelters that Ralph and Simon have erected, to warn the others. This unexpected meeting again raises tensions between Jack and Ralph. Shortly thereafter, Jack decides to lead a party to the other side of the island, where a mountain of stones, later called Castle Rock, forms a place where he claims the beast resides. Only Ralph and a quiet suspicious boy, Roger, Jack's closest supporter, agree to go; Ralph turns back shortly before the other two boys but eventually all three see the parachutist, whose head rises via the wind. They then flee, now believing the beast is real. When they arrive at the shelters, Jack calls an assembly and tries to turn the others against Ralph, asking them to remove Ralph from his position. Receiving no support, Jack storms off alone to form his own tribe. Roger immediately sneaks off to join Jack, and slowly an increasing number of older boys abandon Ralph to join Jack's tribe. Jack's tribe continues to lure recruits from the main group by promising feasts of cooked pig. The members begin to paint their faces and enact bizarre rites, including sacrifices to the beast. One night, Ralph and Piggy decide to go to one of Jack's feasts.
Simon, who faints frequently and is probably an epileptic, has a secret hideaway where he goes to be alone. One day while he is there, Jack and his followers erect an offering to the beast nearby: a pig's head, mounted on a sharpened stick and soon swarming with scavenging flies. Simon conducts an imaginary dialogue with the head, which he dubs the "Lord of the Flies". The head mocks Simon's notion that the beast is a real entity, "something you could hunt and kill", and reveals the truth: they, the boys, are the beast; it is inside them all. The Lord of the Flies also warns Simon that he is in danger, because he represents the soul of man, and predicts that the others will kill him. Simon climbs the mountain alone and discovers that the "beast" is the dead parachutist. He rushes down to tell the other boys, who are engaged in a ritual dance. The frenzied boys mistake Simon for the beast, attack him, and beat him to death. Both Ralph and Piggy participate in the melee, and they become deeply disturbed by their actions after returning from Castle Rock.
Jack and his rebel band decide that the real symbol of power on the island is not the conch, but Piggy's glasses—the only means the boys have of starting a fire. They raid Ralph's camp, confiscate the glasses, and return to their abode on Castle Rock. Ralph, now deserted by most of his supporters, journeys to Castle Rock to confront Jack and secure the glasses. Taking the conch and accompanied only by Piggy, Sam, and Eric, Ralph finds the tribe and demands that they return the valuable object. Confirming their total rejection of Ralph's authority, the tribe capture and bind the twins under Jack's command. Ralph and Jack engage in a fight which neither wins before Piggy tries once more to address the tribe. Any sense of order or safety is permanently eroded when Roger, now sadistic, deliberately drops a boulder from his vantage point above, killing Piggy and shattering the conch. Ralph manages to escape, but Sam and Eric are tortured by Roger until they agree to join Jack's tribe.
Ralph secretly confronts Sam and Eric, who warn him that Jack and Roger hate him and that Roger has sharpened a stick at both ends, intimating that the tribe intends to hunt him like a pig and behead him. The following morning, Jack orders his tribe to begin a hunt for Ralph. Jack's savages set fire to the forest while Ralph desperately weighs his options for survival. Following a long chase, most of the island is consumed in flames. With the hunters closely behind him, Ralph trips and falls. He looks up at a uniformed adult—a British naval officer whose party has landed from a passing cruiser to investigate the fire. Ralph bursts into tears over the death of Piggy and the "end of innocence". Jack and the other boys, filthy and unkempt, also revert to their true ages and erupt into sobs. The officer expresses his disappointment at seeing British boys exhibiting such feral, warlike behaviour before turning to stare awkwardly at his own warship.
At an allegorical level, the central theme is the conflicting human impulses toward civilisation and social organisation—living by rules, peacefully and in harmony—and toward the will to power. Themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality. How these play out, and how different people feel the influences of these form a major subtext of Lord of the Flies, with the central themes addressed in an essay by American literary critic Harold Bloom. The name "Lord of the Flies" is a literal translation of Beelzebub, from 2 Kings 1:2–3, 6, 16.
The book, originally entitled Strangers from Within, was initially rejected by an in-house reader, Miss Perkins, at London based publishers Faber and Faber as "Rubbish & dull. Pointless". The title was considered "too abstract and too explicit". Following a further review, the book was eventually published as Lord of the Flies.
A turning point occurred when E. M. Forster chose Lord of the Flies as his “outstanding novel of the year.” Other reviews described it as “not only a first-rate adventure but a parable of our times”. In February 1960, Floyd C. Gale of Galaxy Science Fiction rated Lord of the Flies five stars out of five, stating that "Golding paints a truly terrifying picture of the decay of a minuscule society ... Well on its way to becoming a modern classic".
In his book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Marc D. Hauser says the following about Golding's Lord of the Flies: "This riveting fiction, standard reading in most intro courses to English literature, should be standard reading in biology, economics, psychology, and philosophy."
Its stances on the already controversial subjects of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good earned it position 68 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990–1999. The book has been criticized as "cynical" and portraying humanity exclusively as "selfish creatures". It has been linked with "Tragedy of the commons" by Garrett Hardin and books by Ayn Rand, and countered by "Management of the Commons" by Elinor Ostrom. Parallels have been drawn between the "Lord of the Flies" and an actual incident from 1965 when a group of schoolboys who sailed a fishing boat from Tonga were hit by a storm and marooned on the uninhabited island of ʻAta, considered dead by their relatives in Nuku‘alofa. The group not only managed to survive for over 15 months but "had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination". Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, writing about this situation said that Golding's portrayal was unrealistic.
- It was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 41 on the editor's list, and 25 on the reader's list.
- In 2003, the novel was listed at number 70 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
- In 2005, the novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. Time also included the novel in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.
Popular in schools, especially in the English-speaking world, a 2016 UK poll saw Lord of the Flies ranked third in the nation's favourite books from school, behind George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
In other media
There have been three film adaptations based on the book:
- Lord of the Flies (1963), directed by Peter Brook
- Alkitrang Dugo (1975), a Filipino film, directed by Lupita A. Concio
- Lord of the Flies (1990), directed by Harry Hook
A fourth adaptation, to feature an all-female cast, was announced by Warner Bros. in August 2017, but was subsequently abandoned. In July 2019, director Luca Guadagnino was said to be in negotiations for a conventionally cast version. Ladyworld, an all-female adaptation, was released in 2018.
In October 2014 it was announced that the 2011 production of Lord of the Flies would return to conclude the 2015 season at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre ahead of a major UK tour. The production was to be directed by the Artistic Director Timothy Sheader who won the 2014 Whatsonstage.com Awards Best Play Revival for To Kill a Mockingbird.
In June 2013, BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a dramatisation by Judith Adams in four 30-minute episodes directed by Sasha Yevtushenko. The cast included Ruth Wilson as "The Narrator", Finn Bennett as "Ralph", Richard Linnel as "Jack", Caspar Hilton-Hilley as "Piggy" and Jack Caine as "Simon".
- Fire on the Mountain
- Painted Faces
- Beast from the Air
- Gift for Darkness
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Many writers have borrowed plot elements from Lord of the Flies. By the early 1960s, it was required reading in many schools and colleges.
Author Stephen King uses the name Castle Rock, from the mountain fort in Lord of the Flies, as a fictional town that has appeared in a number of his novels. The book itself appears prominently in his novels Hearts in Atlantis (1999), Misery (1987), and Cujo (1981).
King wrote an introduction for a new edition of Lord of the Flies (2011) to mark the centenary of William Golding's birth in 1911.
A 1998 episode from the ninth season of The Simpsons, titled "Das Bus," parodies Lord of the Flies. The episode is about Bart Simpson and his class getting stuck on an island and trying to form a society.
The Blues Traveler song "Justify the Thrill," included on the 1997 album "Straight on Till Morning," makes reference to the Lord of the Flies in the lyrics: "The pig's head on a stick does grin / As we teeter on the brink / He's singing you are all my children / My island's bigger than you think."
- Batavia (1628 ship)
- The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean (1858), novel by R. M. Ballantyne with a similar premise but an opposite perspective
- "Das Bus", an episode of The Simpsons with a similar plot
- Heart of Darkness (1899), short novel by Joseph Conrad
- A High Wind in Jamaica
- Island mentality
- Robbers Cave Experiment
- State of nature
- Two Years' Vacation (1888), adventure novel by Jules Verne
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"100 'most inspiring' novels revealed by BBC Arts". BBC News. 5 November 2019. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
The reveal kickstarts the BBC's year-long celebration of literature.
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Castle Rock, which King in turn had got from Golding's Lord of the Flies.
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- Cohen, David (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for "Das Bus" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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- Chapter 1: "The Sound of the Shell" of the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding on eNotes
- Lord of the Flies student guide and teacher resources; themes, quotes, characters, study questions
- Reading and teaching guide from Faber and Faber, the book's UK publisher
- An interview with Judy Golding, the author's daughter, in which she discusses the inspiration for the book, and the reasons for its enduring legacy
- William Golding official website run and administered by the William Golding Estate
- Real Lord of the Flies (May 9, 2020).