The desert island: Perhaps the quintessential adventure setting. Used to it’s most famous effect in Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which we discussed earlier, but only slightly less well known is William Shakespeare’s Magnum Opus The Tempest, featuring the evil Caliban, The mysterious Prospero and many more of the bard’s most inscrutable names. However The Tempest is not the adventure we wish to discuss either. No instead we are talking about probably the third most well-known desert island adventure and number 60 on our countdown. William Golding’s required sixth grade reading classic, The Lord of the Flies.
William Golding’s first novel, The Lord of the Flies, is what the critics call a “tour de force” which roughly translates to “a tour of force” and is probably more than an idiom than an actual description of anything. In this case the force is a group of private school students who wash up on shore after their plane has crashed. They make vague references to an unspecified nuclear war that had caused them to flee England to begin with so in that sense, and if you want to grasp completely at straws, you could say that The Lord of the Flies is Science Fiction.
Fortunately that’s where the science ends and the fiction really takes off. The boys slowly begin to revert to animal paganism. When they first are deciding on who should be in charge, the two candidates are Ralph and Jack. Both are excellent leaders, but whereas one has a conscious, the other one completely spirals out of control and literally sets the island ablaze, probably because he was in the choir.
I don’t want to spoil all the reversals so it’s best if you read it for yourself. Lord of the flies is often said by any number of English teachers to be an “allegory” for something. Also it was said that if you do not know what this allegory was, you would obtain a D minus in their class. Sigh. Such is the case with many assigned books. Teachers are often ruining them by handing out grades for reading them. However to placate my sixth grade English teacher, here is a quick run down of the various metaphors and their meanings:
The character of Piggy: Clearly a metaphor for intellectualism. Like most intellectuals, Piggy is later robbed and murdered.
Simon: a metaphor for spiritualism. Like many spiritual people Simon goes off by himself for days at a time and then comes back in the middle of the night just as your war dance is hitting it’s stride.
The Conch Shell: a metaphor for authority. Like all authority it is immediately abused and then smashed.
And finally, The Lord of the Flies himself: It’s actually a pig’s head on a stick but is meant by Golding to symbolize “the beast,” the evil within all of us. Fittingly Simon, the most spiritual one on the island, is also the only one who understands his own author’s metaphors and promptly tries to warn everyone of their impending D minus if they do not listen to him. Simon sees the pig head swarming with flies and thus we have the title of the book: The Lord of the Flies.
Interestingly the name Lord of the Flies comes from the bible. It is the literal translation of the name Beelzebub, but Lord of the Flies is not without it’s Christ imagery either. William Golding was knighted and actually won the Nobel Prize for a later novel that nobody has heard of. Though in all likelihood it was to make up for missing him on this, his first go round. Among other things The Lord of the Flies is also the inspiration for Stephen King’s fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. Castle Rock being the place on the island that the hunter kids called their headquarters.
Next up … 59!