The Inheritors (Golding novel)

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The Inheritors
WillianGolding TheInheritors.jpg
First edition cover depicting The Sorcerer
AuthorWilliam Golding
Cover artistAnthony Gross
CountryUnited Kingdom
prehistoric fiction
PublisherFaber & Faber
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages233 pp

The Inheritors is a work of prehistoric fiction[1] and the second novel, published in 1955, by the British author William Golding, best known for Lord of the Flies. It concerns the extinction of one of the last remaining tribes of Neanderthals at the hands of the more sophisticated Homo sapiens.


Like Lord of the Flies, The Inheritors began life in a Bishop Wordsworth's School notebook.[2] This handwritten manuscript and the typescript that ensued are now held in the University of Exeter's Special Collections Archives, where they can be used for further research and study.

Golding began work on The Inheritors in the autumn of 1954, mere weeks after the publication of Flies;[3] Golding was concerned that he would be unable to write another novel [3] and had sent a 'long, anxious letter in return' to his editor Charles Monteith when asked what his next publication would be.[4] He had started writing a novel exploring the father-son relationship through the mythical character of Telegonus (son of Odysseus), titled In Search of My Father, a year prior; Monteith requested a chapter, the typescript for which demonstrates 'some of Golding's most spectacular prose'.[5] Monteith was 'enormously interested',[6] but after Flies' favourable reviews, it was left unfinished owing to Golding's belief that it would come off as a cheap imitation of other historical epics.[7]

Plot introduction[edit]

This novel is an imaginative reconstruction of the life of a band of Neanderthals. It is written in such a way that the reader might assume the group to be modern Homo sapiens as they gesture and speak simply among themselves, and bury their dead with heartfelt, solemn rituals. They also have powerful sense impressions and feelings, and appear sometimes to share thoughts in a near-telepathic way. As the novel progresses it becomes more and more apparent that they live very simply, using their considerable mental abilities to connect to one another without extensive vocabulary or the kinds of memories that create culture. They have wide knowledge of food sources, mostly roots and vegetables. They chase hyenas from a larger beast's kill and eat meat, but they don't kill mammals themselves. They have a spiritual system centring on a female principle of bringing forth, but their lives are lived so much in the present that the reader realizes they are very different from us, living in something like an eternal present, or at most a present broken and shaped by seasons.

One of the band, Lok, is a point of view character. He is the one we follow as one by one the adults of the band die or are killed, then the young are stolen by the "new people", a group of early modern humans. Lok and Fa, the remaining adults, are fascinated and repelled by the new people. They observe their actions and rituals with amazement, only slowly understanding that harm is meant by the sticks of the new people.

The humans are portrayed as strange, godlike beings as the neanderthals witness their mastery of fire, Upper Palaeolithic weaponry and sailing.

All save the last chapters of the novel are written from the Neanderthals' stark, simple stylistic perspective. Their observations of early human behaviour serve as a filter for Golding's exercise in paleoanthropology, in which modern readers will recognize precursors of later human societal constructs, e.g., religion, culture, sacrifice and war.

The penultimate chapter employs an omniscient viewpoint, observing Lok. For the first time, the novel describes the people the reader has been inhabiting through the first-person perspective. Lok, totally alone, gives up in despair.

Restoration of Le Moustier Neanderthals
(Charles R. Knight, 1920)

In the final chapter, we move to the point of view of the new race, more or less modern humans fleeing in their boats, revealing that they are terribly afraid of the Neanderthals (whom they believe to be devils of the forest) and of pretty much everything around. This last chapter, the only one written from the humans' point of view, reinforces the inheritance of the world by the new species.

The fleeing humans carry with them an infant Neanderthal, of whom they are simultaneously afraid and enamoured, hinting at the later hypothesis of inter-breeding between Neanderthals and modern humans.

The book, particularly the last chapter, was the inspiration for the song "A Trick of the Tail" by British rock band Genesis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Golding, William". SFE: the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Special Collections Archives (GB 0029)" University of Exeter Hierarchy Browser, Accessed 18th Feb 2021
  3. ^ a b Golding, Judy. "The Inheritors: the intimate secrets in William Golding's Neanderthal tale." The Guardian Official Site, 16th Sep 2015, Accessed 18th Feb 2021.
  4. ^ Carey pg. 170
  5. ^ Carey pp. 170-1
  6. ^ Monteith qtd. in Carey pg. 172
  7. ^ Carey pp. 172-3