The Butterfly Revolution

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First edition (publ. Peter Owen)

The Butterfly Revolution is a novel by author William Butler, first published in 1961.[1]


Set in an American spring camp for boys, Camp High Pines, the novel is written as the diary of thirteen-year-old protagonist Winston Weyn.

Winston, an educated and somewhat bullish boy, is sent to Camp High Pines as a gift for his birthday. Winston's father, who is concerned by his son's lack of interest in "normal" activities such as sports and playing outside, feels attending camp will be a healthy activity for his son.

The campers at High Pines are categorized in three groups: the colours (roughly 9–11 years old), the comics (roughly 12–14 years old), and the zodiacs (somewhere between 15 and 17 years old). Winston, who falls into the middle category, attends camp along with his older brother, Howard, who falls in the latter. Because Winston initially believes he will not like the camp, he brings a few books and the diary his uncle gave him for his birthday. Upon arrival, Winston actually finds the camp to be bearable, and gets along with most of the other boys in his cabin. He is even elected cabin leader, a position he takes not too seriously.

Winston also meets a strange, charismatic older boy named Frank Reilley, who is somewhat influential among the older boys and doesn't seem to take a liking to Winston's intelligence.

Conflicts begin to appear at Walden soon after the boys arrive. One of the first is between Winston and some of the boys in his cabin after he creates a cabin rule that puts a fine on swearing. Later, it begins to become obvious that some of the older boys, most of whom are more or less apathetic about attending the camp, resent the authority of Mr. Warren, the camp director, and some of the members of his staff. When the older boys are forced to go on a butterfly hunt, they are mortified and resist participating in such a juvenile activity. These older boys, led by Frank Reilley and another boy named Stanley Runk (also known as "Runk the Punk"), begin to plot a revolutionary takeover of the camp. Also privy to this process are Winston and a couple of friends of his from the middle age group. The only older boy to voice dissent to the idea is Don Egriss, a thoughtful and introspective African-American boy who is one of the only minorities present at the camp.

Stanley Runk, armed with a large hunting knife, overpowers Mr. Warren and, using him as a hostage, the other boys round up the rest of the teachers, as well as the cooks. After having thrown the adults into The Brig, the camp's "jail", the boys plot to and succeed in taking Low Pines, the sister camp for girls nearby, and capturing the adults there as well.

At first, the Revolution goes smoothly, with little resistance from the younger campers or the girls. Various teenage and preteen boys and girls are made "officers" and given charge over various aspects of the Revolution. Winston is put in charge of propaganda. In addition, a "Supreme Revolutionary Committee", or "SRC", consisting of Frank Reilley and some of his more trusted cohorts, makes all important decisions. Winston, as "Chairman of the Propaganda Committee", soon becomes part of the SRC.

Several campers begin to question the revolution, however. One of the first, Frank Divordich, is beaten for being a "traitor" to the revolution after he tries to leave the camp. Winston becomes uneasy at the level of totalitarian control beginning to become evident in the camp's operations. He reads about the ideas of philosophers such as Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Thoreau, and these readings only serve to deepen his uncertainty in regards to the morality of the revolution. When he voices these concerns, a boy named George Meridel tries to denounce him as a Communist.

At the same time, the revolution faces other internal conflicts as Reilley finds himself in a power struggle with co-revolutionary leader Stanley Runk and discovers that John Mason, another "officer", sexually assaulted one of the girls at Low Pines. Both Runk and Mason are thrown in The Brig, and Winston learns that Reilley has in his possession a gun that belonged to Mr. Warren. Winston then enters a conflict with the SRC by refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, and Don Egriss tries to escape the camp but is captured. Winston is demoted to a militiaman in the defensive army formed by the SRC, and placed under the control of his enemy, Bob Daly. When he hits Bob Daly with a wooden lance, he is jailed temporarily, but released. Soon after his release Don Egriss and John Mason get into a fight in The Brig. Mr. Warren's gun is thrown into the cell and Egriss, fearing for his life, shoots Mason in self-defense, killing him.

Meanwhile, the girls at Low Pines have been actively calling for John Mason's blood due to the rape he committed. Reilley has tried to hold the girls off, because he does not want to let them take the law into their own hands. With Mason dead, the girls threaten violence and are given Don Egriss instead. They lynch Egriss, hanging him from a tree, and then leave his body to rot in the woods. Winston, saddened by the death of his friend and convinced that Reilley is crazy, buries Don.

Soon after, the revolution ends with the police invading High Pines and taking several children, including Winston, into custody. The police interrogate Winston about his activities on the SRC and ask if he really read Communist books and refused to say the Pledge, which he does not deny. Winston is then released to his parents. It is also revealed that Mr. Warren, the camp director, was killed by Reilley and some of his cohorts, who had hidden Warren's body in a cave by the lake near High Pines. Winston, who feels he has lost his innocence, is comforted by his uncle, who appears proud of Winston for surviving the incident and learning to think about ethical and moral issues in the process.[2]

Film Adaptations[edit]

The film called Summer Camp Nightmare from 1987, was inspired by the novel, but is not considered a full and faithful adaptation.[1]


  1. ^ a b "The Butterfly Revolution". Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  2. ^ "Butterfly Revolution by William Butler". Retrieved 2010-01-24.