Thursday, June 07, 2012

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

I think it's no mean feat that I managed to go through school and get to the age of forty without reading this. I'd heard of it, of course. It was a recommended book at school (where I was into more lowbrow reading), it had featured on several quizzes (piggy's glasses couldn't have lit the fire because he's short-sighted and hence the lenses were concave, not convex), and it had been mentioned on Open Book (Radio 4) as an example of a book that had been made or saved by its editing. I knew the basic premise and story; I was aware too that it was considered the seminal work by an author who won the Nobel Prize for literature. So apparently it was pretty great. One thing that surprised me about this, then, was that actually, were I to try, I could easily pick a lot of faults in it. But I'm not going to, I'd rather think about what makes this book so allegedly great.

What it offers is a view of the nature of humanity and society. It's an extremely bleak view perhaps, but one I'm very comfortable with. Romans 3:23, as any good evangelical knows, says that "all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God". And of course it's not just evangelicals, and it's no coincidence - Golding was a convinced Catholic so his view of humanity would have had the same basis as mine.

The other thing that is obvious from the book is that Golding's view of children. He sees them not as innocent until corrupted by society, but as wild and needing to be civilized. Perhaps he had in mind the doctrine of original sin. Certainly, as a teacher, it's no surprise that he came to this view of children - he should know! It is however a view largely at odds with our current culture which (in my opinion) seems almost to idolize children.

One thing that's hard to tell with a book like this is what the world was like, what the prevailing attitudes of society were like, before it was written. Although I managed not to read this until I was forty, I live in a world and country where that's actually quite unusual, and most people have grown up with Lord of the Flies - if not having actually read it, at least they might have seen the film (I haven't). Has this book actually changed the attitudes of society? Has it influenced our understanding of "the human condition"? That might seem a heavy burden to lay on a humble novel, but if it hasn't - this book that has been so widely hailed and read - then what hope is there for any novel to achieve anything?


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