I’ve noticed there are a lot of books which I’ve never read that were required readings for most people in high school. Though, I do think my high school was lazy; let me be clear on that. However, I’ve had to catch up on most of the classics either in college or on my own time, post-schooling. I never read The Great Gatsby until college, nor anything by Hemingway, Steinbeck, or Austen. Excluding these examples and many others, I’m not quite sure what we did read, but it wasn’t most of the classics of which people typically say “Oh, I had to read that in high school.” I hereby include William Goulding’s The Lord of the Flies in this list. I didn’t read it in high school and my college professors must have all thought I most certainly had done so, because I effectively went 26 years of my life without reading it. Having now done so, I’m sort of wishing I’d just gone for the gold and never read it at all.
I’d assume all of you have read it, but then I’d just be doing unto others as I have had done unto myself, so the book is about a group of middle and elementary school English boys who have just survived a plane crash on a deserted island. The boys stupidly think this is awesome, since there are no adults to boss them around and they finally get the chance to be independent. Things go well for a while and everybody gets along until kids start pooping in the drinking water, not helping to set up shelters, and let the signal fire extinguish just long enough for a plane to pass them by without seeing them. Then everything falls apart. I’ve always thought middle school-ish aged boys are just the worst, and this book makes that terrifyingly evident. Puberty + independence + no parental guidance apparently equals all hell breaks loose on this little island.
I understand why this book has withstood the test of time, especially with male readers. Not only does it appeal to the youthful yearnings of days of yore, when all you wanted was to be independent of your parents (because you’d obviously still survive and have way more fun without all those rules), but it also pulled at your heart with feelings of pity and sympathy for Piggy, the fat mother-figure, and Simon, the introverted outcast. It has plenty of “make-believe” adventures and fun island alternatives to everyday tasks, so the book serves as a nice change of pace and an exercise for the imagination, until things turn sour with the rivalry of a few island inhabitants and the ultimately enlightening climax of the storyline which most readers will find troubling. Within a hundred pages or so, Goulding depicts the ultimate youthful fantasy, the realization of that fantasy being an unappealing reality, and the upheaval of civility in the face of testosterone-fueled self-preservation.
I was not a fan of Goulding’s writing style. From pretty much page one I was being asked to formulate pictures in my mind of really obscure and vague descriptions. I understand that much was being left up to the reader to interpret and digest, and I also understand that the reader is meant to be left in the dark about many descriptions so that the images and feelings can come to us in a way similar to how the youthful boys would experience it. I really do get all of that; I simply found it hard to follow and hard to form concrete pictures in my mind of what was being described. The island’s shape and general appearance remain a mystery to me, and I’m still only vaguely certain of the truth behind the “monster” on the island, whatever was going on with Simon and the pig head, and the bonfire dance scene. They were all oddly described and therefore I’m still a little uncertain about what even happened. I guess the gist of this experience is that the book is probably worth one good read in your lifetime, but I’ll never pick it up again and I’m not sure I’ll even ever know what actually happened on that island.