Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding (with comparisons to the 1990 film by Harry Hook)
First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies has been something of a staple book for many kids in the UK, falling into their reading list in secondary school. I was lucky enough – or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint – to be in an English class that read a lot of classics but unfortunately Lord of the Flies wasn’t one of them and that is how I end up being twenty-four years old, not fourteen, and settling down with a copy of the book on June 1st.
This might be something to my advantage – one thing I hated about English classes was that you had to take from a book what you were told to take from it. Solo reading allows you to feel what you want to feel, naturally, from the pages you’re reading from. So…what did I feel for myself, clutching my copy of Lord of the Flies?
William Golding’s synopsis says:
A plane crashes on a desert island and the only survivors, a group of schoolboys, assemble on the beach and wait to be rescued. By day they inhabit a land of bright, fantastic birds and dark blue seas but at night, their dreams are haunted by the image of a terrifying beast. A the boys’ delicate sense of order fades, so their childish dreams are transformed into something more primitive and their behaviour starts to take on a murderous, savage significance.
Savage and murderous, yes. Primitive, definitely. But I’m not sure there was ever really a sense of order – delicate or otherwise!
The book begins with Ralph and Piggy finding one another on the island. Ralph is sprightly and lithe, quick to strip naked and swim in a pool of water formed in the middle of the island, despite the fact he and whomever else he was previously on a plane with have just crash landed in the ocean. Canon Ralph, in comparison to the version of Ralph played by Balthazar Getty in the 1990 film adaptation, is initially somewhat sharper and more determined in his managerial role: Ralph isn’t exactly friendly with Piggy when he’s met by the chubby young man to begin, coming across as barely tolerant, whereas the film depicts Ralph as softly spoken and somewhat reserved, and definitely more eager to jump to Piggy’s defence in the face of Jack Merridew from the outset.
It is Simon, however, who held my heart throughout the book – and the film. Every story has its line of innocent beauty when all else falls and I find that, in the canon text, Simon is that very representation of innocence and honesty; he is quiet and soft and sensitive. Simon holds onto his youth and humanity while the boys around him fall victim to their own idea of what life should be like in their new Lost Boys world. In the film, Simon was played by James Badge Dale (Badgett Dale) and has a look of soft, child-like sweetness about him, coupled with his very smooth voice – despite not having the exact, canon appearance of Simon, Badge Dale inhabited every inch what the book described Simon to be like and I found that a brilliant transition.
I think the role of Piggy was to be Dad – a sort of Step-Dad who has to talk through Ralph to make the other’s hear his genuinely intelligent thoughts without prejudice. Ralph can make them see sense – for a while a least – but the sense comes from Piggy and the boys don’t see that. Killed for being right, to all intents and purposes, Piggy is certain that they can be rescued by working together, by holding onto something as close to a civilised life as they can. He argues that Simon’s death was accidental and they cannot be blamed while Ralph becomes consumed by guilt for the boy’s murder; he maintains that they need to work together with ‘laws’ and science but the boys, taken by their natural, darker instincts that require a better sense of self to overcome, take his words as nothing more than drivel. Piggy suffers the consequences of trying to be level-headed and just in a world that’s suddenly consumed by bad.
Piggy in the film is definitely another character who is played close to the canon, if a little more pathetic on-screen than in text. A visual you had probably no doubt built up in your mind whilst reading the book is perfectly captured in the film.
The film has Jack’s character spot on, too, I think. Jack Merridew – the one who is set solely on death, leadership and rebellion – begins both on-screen and in the canon text as a lot milder and grows into his primitive, unruly character. He’s the opposite of Ralph in this respect, who begins the story proud of his position and slowly loses his ability to keep the strength – this is most evident after Simon’s death: Ralph seeks counsel from Piggy out of true guilt and sorrow for [not stopping] Simon’s death and Piggy doesn’t console, simply remains with his idea that life is ‘scientific’ and states they can’t be blamed. If Simon was the sense of innocence between the boys, I believe Jack to be all that is wrong and unstable within a person: Simon’s death allowed for Jack to grasp a bit tighter.
When I discussed the book with a friend who had studied it for English at school, she was hugely focused on the conch – the seashell Ralph uses to call attention – whereas I didn’t fully grasp its significance. To her, the conch was a symbol of unity and order and, then for it to be broken with the death of Piggy – the intelligence of the group – it signalled a simultaneous death to order. Thinking about it, I feel she’s right – the conch drew the children in under Ralph and Piggy’s command initially, why would it not be significant then for it to be destroyed with the only sense of true realism that came with the words of Piggy? So, kudos to Gail for that one!
For me, Golding’s characters are all embodiments of what the human mind could consider, could fragment into, when isolated and alone. Man, when without real bounds, has freedom to make choices and yet the choices they make are never for the good of others, stating mankind is naturally singular, out for themselves and selfish beyond words, even to the point of “murderous savagery”.
In all I found Lord of the Flies to be a great preconception of a social experiment – Big Brother before the TV cameras and Davina came along? It’s trippy and childish with a very ‘Peter Pan and the Lost Boys’ feel to it if, indeed, they had been 1oo% less innocent.
Darkness and the somewhat demonic workings of the human mind are evident throughout – if you’re into demonology, history or religion you’ll have no doubt worked out – as I did – the name of the book when it is considered properly. For those who are unsure, google “literal translation of Lord of the Flies” and see where you end up. I’m certain the book will take on a much darker meaning for you when you do.