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Lord of the Flies is a 1954 novel by the Nobel laureate British author William Golding. The plot concerns a group of British boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempts to govern themselves. Themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality.
|Cover artist||Anthony Gross|
|Publisher||Faber and Faber|
|17 September 1954|
|ISBN||0-571-05686-5 (first edition, paperback)|
The novel, which was Golding's debut, was generally well received. It was named in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 41 on the editor's list, and 25 on the reader's list. In 2003, it was listed at number 70 on the BBC's The Big Read poll, and in 2005 Time magazine named it as one of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005, and included it in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time. Popular reading in schools, especially in the English-speaking world, Lord of the Flies was ranked third in the nation's favourite books from school in a 2016 UK poll.
Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel. The concept arose after Golding read what he deemed to be an unrealistic portrayal of stranded children in the youth novel The Coral Island: a Tale of the Pacific Ocean (1857) by R. M. Ballantyne, which includes themes of the civilising effect of Christianity and the importance of hierarchy and leadership. Golding asked his wife, Ann, if it would "be a good idea if I wrote a book about children on an island, children who behave in the way children really would behave?" As a result, the novel contains various references to The Coral Island, such as the rescuing naval officer's description of the boys' initial attempts at civilised cooperation as a "jolly good show. Like the Coral Island." Golding's three central characters (Ralph, Piggy, and Jack) have also been interpreted as caricatures of Ballantyne's Coral Island protagonists.
The manuscript was rejected by many publishers before finally being accepted by London-based Faber & Faber; an initial rejection by the professional reader, Miss Perkins, at Faber labelled the book an "absurd and uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atomic bomb on the colonies and a group of children who land in the jungle near New Guinea. Rubbish & dull. Pointless". However, Charles Monteith decided to take on the manuscript and worked with Golding to complete several fairly major edits, including the removal of the entire first section of the novel, which had previously described an evacuation from nuclear war. The character of Simon was heavily redacted by Monteith, removing his interaction with a mysterious lone figure who is never identified but implied to be God. Monteith himself was concerned about these changes, completing "tentative emendations", and warning against "turning Simon into a prig". Ultimately, Golding made all of Monteith's recommended edits and wrote back in his final letter to his editor that "I've lost any kind of objectivity I ever had over this novel and can hardly bear to look at it." These manuscripts and typescripts are now available from the Special Collections Archives at the University of Exeter library for further study and research. The collection includes the original 1952 "Manuscript Notebook" (originally a Bishop Wordsworth's School notebook) containing copious edits and strikethroughs.
After the changes made by Monteith, and slow sales of the three thousand copy first printing, the book went on to become a best-seller, with more than ten million copies sold as of 2015. It has been adapted to film twice in English, in 1963 by Peter Brook and 1990 by Harry Hook, and once in Filipino by Lupita A. Concio (1975).
The book never states the location of the unnamed island, although it is implied to be located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The book begins with the boys' arrival on the island after their plane has been attacked after an atomic bomb is detonated.
The setting is important for the novel's narrative progression. Because no adults have survived and remain with them, the boys need to be preadults who attempt to establish order among themselves to survive within their hostile environment.
The setting also symbolizes the development of human civilization, society, and government, as the boys try to form a community with themselves and eventually elect a "chief" to lead them. It then goes on to examine aspects of war and chaos, as the setting itself is placed during a war that has begun before the boys arrive on the island.
In the midst of a wartime evacuation, a British aeroplane crashes on or near an isolated island in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors are boys in their middle childhood or preadolescence. A fair-haired boy named Ralph and a fat boy nicknamed "Piggy" find a conch, which Ralph uses as a horn to convene the survivors to one area. Ralph immediately commands authority over the other boys using the conch, and is elected their "chief". He establishes three primary policies: to have fun, to survive, and to constantly maintain a smoke signal that could alert passing ships of their presence. Ralph joins a red-haired boy named Jack and a quiet boy named Simon in using Piggy's glasses to create a signal fire.
The semblance of order deteriorates as the majority of the boys turn idle, and ignore Ralph's efforts towards improving life on the island. They develop paranoia around an imaginary monster they call the "beast", which they all come to believe exists on the island. Ralph fails to convince the boys that no beast exists, while Jack gains popularity by declaring that he will personally hunt and kill the monster. At one point, Jack summons many of the boys to hunt down a wild pig, drawing away those assigned to maintain the signal fire. The smoke signal goes out, failing to attract a ship that was passing by the island. Ralph angrily confronts Jack about his failure to maintain the signal, but he is rebuffed by the other boys. Disillusioned with his role as leader, Ralph considers relinquishing his job, but is persuaded not to do so by Piggy.
One night, an aerial battle occurs near the island while the boys sleep, during which a fighter pilot ejects from his plane and dies in the descent. His body drifts down to the island in his parachute and gets tangled in a tree. Twin boys Sam and Eric see the corpse of the pilot and mistake it for the beast. When Ralph, Jack, and a gloomy boy named Roger later investigate the corpse, they flee, incorrectly believing the beast is real. Jack calls an assembly and tries to turn the others against Ralph, but initially receives no support; he storms off alone to form his own tribe, with most of the other boys gradually joining him.
Simon often ventures out into the island's forest to be alone. One day while he is there, Jack and his followers erect an offering to the beast nearby: a pig's head, mounted on a sharpened stick and swarming with flies. Simon conducts an imaginary dialogue with the head, which he dubs the "Lord of the Flies". The head tells Simon that there is no beast on the island, and predicts that the other boys will turn on him. That night, Ralph and Piggy visit Jack's tribe, learning that they have begun painting their faces and engaging in primitive ritual dances. Simon discovers that the "beast" is the dead pilot, and rushes down to tell Jack's tribe. The frenzied boys, including Ralph and Piggy, mistake Simon for the beast and beat him to death.
Jack and his rebel band decide to steal Piggy's glasses, the only means the boys have of starting a fire. They raid Ralph's camp, take the glasses, and return to their abode on an outcropping called Castle Rock. Deserted by most of his supporters, Ralph journeys to Castle Rock with Piggy, Sam, and Eric in order to confront Jack and retrieve the glasses. The boys reject Ralph, with Roger triggering a trap that kills Piggy and shatters the conch. Ralph manages to escape, but Sam and Eric are tortured by Roger until they agree to join Jack's tribe.
That night, Ralph secretly confronts Sam and Eric, who warn him that Jack plans to hunt him. The following morning, Jack's tribe sets fire to the forest, with Ralph narrowly escaping the hunters. Following a long chase, Ralph trips and falls in front of a uniformed adult – a British naval officer whose party has landed to investigate the fire. Ralph, Jack, and the other boys erupt into sobs over the "end of innocence". The officer expresses his disappointment at seeing the boys exhibiting such feral, warlike behaviour before turning, "moved and a little embarrassed," to stare at his cruiser waiting offshore.
- Ralph: The athletic and charismatic protagonist who is the elected leader of the boys. He is often the representative of order, civilization and productive leadership. At the beginning of the novel, Ralph sets out to build huts and think of ways to maximize their chances of being rescued. Ralph's influence over the boys is, at first, secure but it declines as the boys defect to Jack and succumb to savagery.
- Jack: The strong-willed and egomaniacal antagonist who represents the instinct of savagery, violence and power. At the beginning of the novel, he is infuriated by losing the leadership election to Ralph. He then leads his band of choirboys into the deep forest where they hunt pigs and turn into barbarians with painted faces. By the end of the novel, he is using the boys' fear of the "beast" to assert control over them.
- Simon: An innately spiritual boy, he is often the voice of reason in the rivalry between Ralph and Jack, and when the boys on the island turn to savagery.
- Piggy: Ralph's intellectual and talkative friend, he helps Ralph to become leader and is the source of many of Ralph's innovative ideas. He is the representation of the rational side of humanity. Despite this, Piggy's asthma and poor eyesight make him a target of scorn and violence.
- Roger: An intense and quiet boy at the beginning until, by the middle of the novel, he begins to terrorize other boys. When Jack rises to power, he turns into a brutal sadist.
- Sam and Eric: Twins who are stranded on the island, they are some of Ralph's few supporters at the end of the book but are forced to join Jack's tribe by Roger.
- The Officer: A naval officer who rescues Ralph, Jack, and the other boys at the end of the book. He does not understand the boys' warlike behaviour, despite commanding a war cruiser himself.
Golding, who was a philosophy teacher before becoming Royal Navy lieutenant, encountered violence and atrocities firsthand in battle, such as when he served in the Normandy landings during D-Day in 1944, in which he commanded a landing craft. After the war, when he returned to England, he found a world threatened by two nuclear superpowers vying for power and dominance, and the globe faced nuclear annihilation and devastation. Confronting such dilemmas throughout this period led him to examine the very nature of humanity and subsequently inspired him to write Lord of the Flies in 1954.
Closely associated with war, the novel took its title from Beelzebub, a biblical demon who is considered the god of pride and warfare. The novel is often viewed as a bleak satirical interpretation of a famous children's book, Coral Island, about adventure and the experience of boys living in an exotic island, similar to the setting of Golding's novel. The protagonists in Coral Island are able to master nature while avoiding danger in a hostile environment. A recurring theme in Lord of the Flies is the matter of colonial narration found in many British books of this period.
The narrative in the book reveals that the lack of cooperation of children without adult authority can quickly descend into disorder and chaos, although the boys try to establish some sort of order and coordination among themselves to survive. Another point made in the book is the matter of leadership, as the protagonist Ralph fights with the older Jack over becoming leader of the group, leading them to darker intentions and disillusion. The book's major themes, such as morality, civility, and modern society, make the novel a satire of the very behavior and nature of humans, long held beliefs that support the very foundation of human activity.
At an allegorical level, the central theme is the conflicting human impulses toward civilisation and social organisation – living by rules, peacefully and in harmony – and toward the will to power. Themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality. How these play out and how different people feel their influence form a major subtext of Lord of the Flies, with the central themes addressed in an essay by American literary critic Harold Bloom. The name "Lord of the Flies" is a literal translation of Beelzebub, from 2 Kings 1:2–3, 6, 16.
Genre and style
Lord of the Flies is often regarded as a novel about the exploits of boys living in a hostile environment on an island in the Pacific Ocean, making it a novel of often adventure and survival, thus into a genre mainly about romanticism. Lord of the Flies often explores not only the positive effect of the moral of the story, about a practical lesson of good moral significance, but also questioning human morality, making it stand out as a unique form of a novel of philosophical fiction. The novel is largely written in the order of allegorical fiction, embodying the concept of inherent human savagery, mob mentality and totalitarian leadership being a style of addressing the main plot and the summary of the novel as whole.
Though, this is not the case with Golding's point of view, as the novel deviates the allegorical imagery and style of books of that particular kind, such as Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne, which might have inspired the main body of the novel, in turn satirizes it. Both the protagonists and the antagonists are grown, fully developed, conflicted boys who express their feeling in ways that seem sympathetic and often violent. This is due to the novel representing a different style of philosophical allegory such as human emotion, human interaction and civilization. This is in contrast to Golding's own experience during his lifetime both as a teacher of philosophy and serving in the Royal Navy.
The book, originally titled Strangers from Within, was initially rejected by an in-house reader, Miss Perkins, at London based publishers Faber and Faber as "rubbish & dull. Pointless". She considered the title "too abstract and too explicit". Following a further review, the book was eventually published as Lord of the Flies.
A turning point occurred when E. M. Forster chose Lord of the Flies as his "outstanding novel of the year." Other reviews described it as "not only a first-rate adventure but a parable of our times". In February 1960, Floyd C. Gale of Galaxy Science Fiction rated Lord of the Flies five stars out of five, stating, "Golding paints a truly terrifying picture of the decay of a minuscule society ... Well on its way to becoming a modern classic".
Lord of the Flies presents a view of humanity unimaginable before the horrors of Nazi Europe, and then plunges into speculations about mankind in the state of nature. Bleak and specific, but universal, fusing rage and grief, Lord of the Flies is both a novel of the 1950s, and for all time.
In his book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Marc D. Hauser says of Lord of the Flies: "This riveting fiction, standard reading in most intro courses to English literature, should be standard reading in biology, economics, psychology, and philosophy."
Its stances on the already controversial subjects of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good earned it position 68 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990–1999. The book has been criticized as "cynical" and portraying humanity exclusively as "selfish creatures". It has been linked with the essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett Hardin and with books by Ayn Rand, and countered by "Management of the Commons" by Elinor Ostrom. Lord of the Flies was contrasted with an actual incident from 1965, when a group of schoolboys on a fishing boat from Tonga were marooned on an uninhabited island and considered dead by their relatives. The group not only managed to survive for over 15 months but "had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination". When ship captain Peter Warner found them, they were in good health and spirits. Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, writing about the Tonga event, called Golding's portrayal unrealistic.
- Lord of the Flies was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 41 on the editor's list, and 25 on the reader's list.
- In 2003, the novel was listed at number 70 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
- In 2005, the novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. Time also included the novel in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.
Popular in schools, especially in the English-speaking world, a 2016 UK poll saw Lord of the Flies ranked third in the nation's favourite books from school, behind George Orwell's Animal Farm and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
In other media
There have been three film adaptations based on the book:
- Lord of the Flies (1963), directed by Peter Brook
- Alkitrang Dugo (1975), a Filipino film, directed by Lupita A. Concio
- Lord of the Flies (1990), directed by Harry Hook
A fourth adaptation, to feature an all-female cast, was announced by Warner Bros. in August 2017. Subsequently abandoned, it inspired the 2021 television series Yellowjackets. In July 2019, director Luca Guadagnino was said to be in negotiations for a conventionally cast version. Ladyworld, an all-female adaptation, was released in 2018.
In April 2023, the BBC announced that the British production company Eleven Film will produce the first ever television adaptation of the novel, written by multi-BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Jack Thorne.
More than a decade before the well-known West End production, the book was first adapted for the stage and performed in 1984, at Clifton College Preparatory School. It was adapted by Elliot Watkins, a teacher at the school, with the personal consent of William Golding himself, who attended the opening night. The play ran for three nights, in the school hall. All parts were played by boys attending the school, apart from the naval officer in the final scene, who was played by the commanding officer of the Clifton College CCF Naval Section. A real pig's head was used as a prop and was giving off a distinct odour by the final night.
Nigel Williams wrote his own adaptation of the text for the stage, some ten years later. It was debuted by the Royal Shakespeare Company in July 1995. The Pilot Theatre Company has toured it extensively in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In October 2014 it was announced that the 2011 production[failed verification] of Lord of the Flies would return to conclude the 2015 season at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre ahead of a major UK tour. The production was to be directed by the Artistic Director Timothy Sheader who won the 2014 Whatsonstage.com Awards Best Play Revival for To Kill a Mockingbird.
Kansas-based Orange Mouse Theatricals and Mathew Klickstein produced a topical, gender-bending adaptation called Ladies of the Fly that was co-written by a group of young girls (ages 8–16) based on both the original text and their own lives. The production was performed by the girls themselves as an immersive live-action show in August 2018.
In June 2013, BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a dramatisation by Judith Adams in four 30-minute episodes directed by Sasha Yevtushenko. The cast included Ruth Wilson as narrator, Finn Bennett as Ralph, Richard Linnel as Jack, Caspar Hilton-Hilley as Piggy, and Jack Caine as Simon.
- Fire on the Mountain
- Painted Faces
- Beast from the Air
- Gift for Darkness
Author Stephen King named his fictional town of Castle Rock after the mountain fort in Lord of the Flies. The book itself appears prominently in King's novels Cujo (1981), Misery (1987) and Hearts in Atlantis (1999). His novel It was influenced by Golding's novel: "I thought to myself I'd really like to write a story about what's gained and what's lost when you go from childhood to adulthood, and also, the things we experience in childhood that are like seeds that blossom later on." In 2011, King wrote an introduction for a new edition of Lord of the Flies to mark the centenary of Golding's birth. King's town of Castle Rock inspired the name of Rob Reiner's production company, Castle Rock Entertainment.
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Castle Rock, which King in turn had got from Golding's Lord of the Flies.
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- The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months About a real life incident in 1965; reality had a much more positive outcome than Golding's book.