“What did it mean? A stick sharpened at both ends.”
I just finished Lord of the Flies for the first time ever. I never had to read it for school and while it always interested me considering how often it comes up in the public lexicon, there were always other things I wanted to get to first.
I finally picked up a copy for myself from an indie bookstore when I went to visit some family the other day. The copy they had there was the Penguin Classics deluxe edition with a foreword by Lois Lowry and and introduction by Stephen King. The cover immediately had my attention with its bold colors and powerful, emotive action as a boy screams and blood flies from his snarling mouth.
“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
I’ve known this story– at least vaguely for years. It’s revived in pop culture all the time. As Jennifer Buehler explains in her essay at the end of the book, Lord of the Flies is synonymous with the breakdown of society and order. It’s savagery and violence. It’s young boys painting their bodies with clay and charcoal. It’s a pig’s head on a spike.
I’ve been trying to read more classics this year since I’ve read so few in my life. I often find them boring and slow and by the end, I don’t feel like I really gained anything more than the satisfaction of being able to say that I’ve read so-and-so classic title.
And I did find the beginning of Flies pretty slow and boring. I was almost to the halfway point when I started thinking to myself that this was another instance of a book being far too beloved to really deliver on the excitement I was promised. Maybe people just found tamer violence to be a lot scarier back in the day, I thought.
Then little Simon comes across the body of the pilot tangled up in his parachute and swinging to and fro from the trees. Another boy joins in on the exciting game of re-enacting a pig hunt and he’s almost killed by the others who have totally lost themselves in the reverie of it.
That’s when I started to get that creeping sensation of dread. Something was going to go very wrong here, because of course it was. The ending shook me anyway. I was rapt by the downward spiral of the last one hundred pages. Despite all of the violence and cruelty I have seen in movies, read in books, played in video games, I was shocked by the events in Lord of the Flies.
For me, one of the most haunting moments was when Ralph, Piggy, and Samneric return from Jack’s camp after the death of one of the boys. They’re so traumatized by their involvement or lack thereof that they insist they weren’t there. They didn’t see anything and they have to say this out loud to each other in order to convince themselves.
“Yes. We were very tired,” repeated Sam, “so we left early. Was it a good–”
The air was heavy with unspoken knowledge. Sam twisted and the obscene word shot out of him. “–dance?”
Memory of the dance that none of them had attended shook all four boys convulsively.
“We left early.”
I’m a fan of Stephen King and I’ve heard that this book was a huge inspiration of his. I can see that Castle Rock found its origins within these pages. I also saw a lot of parallels to my favorite work of King’s– The Long Walk. It seems that here too, a group of young boys in competition with one another in a life or death situation will probably only live long enough to witness some truly heinous things. The endings were very similar as well. They’re both jarring and vague in a way that hints at resolution but you’re under the impression that it’s already too late for the protagonists. They are forever changed by their experiences.
I wish I had studied this book in school under the direction of someone who could point out all of the symbolism and the deeper themes within. I found it helpful to read through a Sparknotes analysis of each chapter after I read it so the meaning wasn’t totally lost on me. I do intend to make use of the addendum at the end of this edition. Buehler’s “On Reading and Teaching The Lord of the Flies” definitely deserves a second, more careful read. I also really appreciate the inclusion of “Suggestions for Further Exploration,” a section that lists numerous books, films, and photographs to check out that extrapolate on themes from Flies.
I’m hesitating to call this a book review because what could I say about Lord of the Flies at this point that hasn’t already been said? I mean, how do you give a numbered rating to such a pervasive and globally influential book? It’s amazing clearly, or it wouldn’t be a staple of the American education system (just not mine apparently).
I loved this book: the characters, the plot, the setting, the themes and symbolism, the moral commentary, and the haunting prose are great. To get right down to it, I found the beginning pretty boring. Some of the writing and the way certain dialogue was structured made a couple parts hard to follow. For those two things I took off one star.
My final verdict for Lord of the Flies by William Golding is 4/5 stars but I think it might actually be a new favorite of mine. It left me with a lot to think about and I’m really looking forward to discovering more classics like this one.
I really think you should read it if you haven’t already.
If you have read Lord of the Flies I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you have a great morning/day/night wherever you are.