When I was about twelve years old, I came across the film version of Lord of the Flies on daytime television. I tuned in during the scene in which the boys are dancing about in a frenzy, chanting, their domestication lost to the wildness of their desert island. I was very interested, and when I inquired about the movie, my mom told me that it was Lord of the Flies and that it was also a book.
I decided I needed to get my hands on the book, of course, so at twelve (or thirteen, I can’t remember), I picked up the book at Barnes & Noble–where I got all of my books at that time–and I opened it to the first page excitedly, my young, moody teenage self eager to be as disturbed by the book as I was by that scene in the movie. For some reason, though, I lost interest in the book after about fifty or sixty pages. I can’t really say why–maybe it was boring, or maybe the subtle and gradual nature of the boys’ loss of control and order was lost on me. I was, in some ways, the Jack Merridew of the story–I wanted to see them killing pigs, killing each other, even! In other words, I wanted things to go to hell a lot sooner than they did.
I was too impatient to finish the book and abandoned it about a quarter of the way through. For the next ten years or so, I carried around my twelve-year-old opinion that Lord of the Flies was boring and overrated.
Fortunately, I picked it up again last week, and I loved it. What had bored me as a child–the slow disintegration of the boys’ makeshift society on their desert island–thrilled me as a twenty-three-year-old. It’s suspenseful and disturbing, the way the boys fall apart. What starts as a fairly stable and organized social unit soon falls into chaos as various boys vie for power, develop different priorities (keep the fire going/build shelters vs. hunt for food), and essentially play the popularity game. Should it be the most respected boy who leads the group? The most feared? The best hunter? The most sensible? If I take his side, will the others turn on me? Will I be hurt–even killed–if I do?
The boys sometimes wish that they were “grown-ups,” because grown-ups would be able to take care of themselves on the island. Grown-ups would never become savages and turn on one another! But while the boys are marooned on their island, the grown-ups are fighting their own war. The only reason the boys are even there is because their plane has been gunned down while flying over the ocean. Lord of the Flies is a story about boys who struggle to survive on an island, yes, but I don’t think adults would fare much better in their situation. The boys are simply a group of human beings, left to their own devices in their own space with very few of life’s necessities. Once you add fear to that mix (for they become obsessed with the idea of a dangerous “beast” on the island), something is bound to crack.
I highly recommend Lord of the Flies. It’s definitely one of the more exciting pieces of classic literature I’ve read. And now I’ve got to watch the movie!