Modern Classics Summarized: Lord Of The Flies
So, when I was a kid, I had all the standard "British schoolchildren go on magical adventures" books: Narnia, The Dark Is Rising, the Chrestomanci books, Edward Eager's Magic series, anything written by E. Nesbit, the list goes on. Now, these were fun for a lot of reasons, but I think we can all agree that the main reason we enjoyed reading these books was because we could see ourselves in them. Whether the protagonists were traveling back in time to Arthurian legend, or making
half-thought-out wishes on ancient coins, the magic was real and present to us because we could see ourselves in the characters. Now, there's a novel that fits all these categories: British schoolchildren, far-off lands, and a subtle element of the fantastic. Even better, it's another story where we can see ourselves in the characters, and easily reflect on how we'd behave in their situation. I'm talking about
Flies. Now, this novel was written as a specific pushback
to a now-forgotten genre of adventure book, where British schoolchildren would be stranded on some mysterious island and go on amazing adventures and keep the British stiff upper lip, surviving off the land alone. This genre was irrationally popular, and apparently William Golding, who wrote
Flies, was having absolutely none of it. So he wrote...this. Now, the context for this story is a barely-defined nuclear war, and we're given very little information about this. Which is
fine, because the entire story takes place on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere anyway, so we don't really need a rundown of the global politics at the time. Our story begins with a plane crash that drops our main cast onto a deserted island. Our main cast of what, you might ask? Why, an all-male gang of strapping British preteens of course! Okay, so there are a lot of these, but there are only a few that end up being relevant to the story, so let me map this out for you. First off,
they're subdivided between "bigguns" and "littluns," with the littluns being the younger kids, and the bigguns being the source of every problem in this entire stupid book. So, the main character is Ralph, and he's the first character we meet, escaping from the burning wreckage of the plane. In the heavily symbolic interpretation of the text, Ralph typically represents order and civilization, because he is a rather orderly and civilized individual. He's
immediately joined by the second important character, Piggy, a short, fat asthmatic with terrible eyesight and a complete inability to read the social mood. He represents adulthood. So Ralph and Piggy get their bearings, by which I mean Ralph gets his bearings and Piggy is tragically oblivious to Ralph's repeated attempts to ditch him. Now, Ralph ends up finding a conch shell, which ends up being so symbolically relevant to the story that it's practically a character all on its own.
I'm gonna call it Shelly. So, Ralph blows Shelly, (Ahahahahahahaha!) and the noise summons all the other survivors: a group which is composed of a bunch of misfits, and a boys choir led by a third relevant character named Jack, who represents...just kinda being the worst. Also present are major characters Roger, Simon, and the twins Sam and Eric, respectively a sociopath, a Jesus figure, and I'm not even sure why they're here. So Ralph tries to rally the boys, telling them that they
need to be rescued, so they should make a signal fire and keep it lit so any passing ships will see the smoke. See? Order and civilization. Jack immediately establishes himself as both a rival and a total dick by trying to challenge Ralph's leadership for no reason. See, Jack is one of those people who'd rather establish his own badassery than actally get them all rescued. It's like those people who genuinely want a zombie apocalypse to happen. So Jack establishes himself and his
choir as the hunters, mostly because he wants to go murder some pigs. Meanwhile, Ralph is elected chief, and Piggy is soundly ignored and mocked for being an overweight nerd, because, in case you hadn't figured this out yet, this book is meant to systematically shred your faith in humanity. So, after establishing some semblance of order and using Piggy's glasses to get a signal fire going, of course, things start falling apart immediately, because trying to wrangle a bunch of
10-year-olds into doing boring stuff like building shelters and gathering firewood that they need to live, when they could instead be romping about an untouched island paradise, is not the easiest task. On top of that, the littluns are getting paranoid about some kind of beast, which one of them, who vanishes shortly thereafter, claims to have seen in the night. To top things off, Jack has been frustratingly mutinous, which comes to a head when he rallies the fire-tending crew into a pig hunt.
And while they're off stretching their murder-muscles, the fire goes out, which is unfortunate, because a ship was passing at that exact moment, and without the smoke signal to draw its attention, it blissfully chugs past, leaving our characters stranded. So while Ralph conquers his personal leadership issues with a little moral support from Piggy, who he's gradually grown to appreciate, a dogfight happens over the island while everyone's asleep, and a dead pilot drifts down and
lodges parachute-first into a tree near the top of the mountain. Why is this important, you might ask? Tragic misunderstandings is why! See, while tending the fire, the twins Sam and Eric see the dead pilot moving in the darkness, mistake him for the beast, and run away in a panic. Now that some of the bigguns have seen the beast, it's a more credible threat, and Jack and Ralph decide to check out the one part of the island they haven't examined yet: a craggy cliff by the far end of the
island. They get far enough to note that it'd make a good campsite in case someone happened to mutiny, then turn and run as soon as something starts moving a little. But then, MUTINY! When they meet up at the shelters, Jack tries to rally the boys against Ralph and get himself elected chief instead, which fails both spectacularly and hilariously, and Jack sprints off in a huff, accompanied by Roger. Remember? The sadist? Yeah, this should be fun. So despite his initial failure to garner
support, Jack starts getting more of a following due to his exciting, glamorous lifestyle of painting his face, eating roasted pig, and forgoing both sanity and proper English behavior. Unfortunately, however, they don't have their own fire, and they can't start one themselves because they don't have Piggy's glasses. And that "rub two sticks together" thing? Way overrated. So they raid the main camp for fire and invite the rest of the crew to a big old feast of roasted
pork, which, after some grumpiness, even Ralph and Piggy go to. Meanwhile, however, Simon (our dreamy nature-loving Jesus figure) has stumbled on a pig's head on a stake, which was left there by Jack's crew as a sacrifice to the beast. Simon has an extended conversation with the pig's head, because he's implied to be not quite all there in the brain-pan, and the pig's head, calling itself the
Flies, tells Simon that the real beast was inside them all along. Then
Simon passes out, wakes up a little bit later in a bit of a disoriented state, and stumbles across the dead pilot that everyone thought was the beast. Realizing that it's just an ordinary dead dude, Simon goes to find the others in order to tell them that the beast was imaginary after all, and there's no need to panic. But, unfortunately, when he stumbles into camp, everyone's so jumpy that they immediately mistake him for the beast, and brutally murder him. Yikes. So Ralph and Piggy
are both alone and traumatized, as everyone but the twins has defected to Jack's camp, possibly as a way of shrinking from civilization and embracing their savagery in order to avoid facing the consequences of their actions. Oh, and around this time, Ralph and Piggy observe that Shelley has been bleached almost white, as though their cornerstone of civilization has lost its luster. What? No, I'm not gonna analyze this more deeply. Write your own paper! So Jack decides to steal
Piggy's glasses in order to gain control of the fire on the island, and raids the camp. Ralph and company go to Jack's camp to civilly ask for their return. This goes predictably poorly, and Sam and Eric are captured, while Piggy is crushed to death by a giant boulder dropped on him by Roger. SHELLY, NOO!! So Ralph escapes into the night while Roger tortures Sam and Eric until they agree to join Jack's tribe, and Ralph, now twice as traumatized, manages to sneak back closer to camp
with the intention of rescuing Sam and Eric, only for them to warn him that Jack is going lead a full-on manhunt for him the next day, and he'd better go find somewhere very cozy to hide. So Jack and crew reenact "The Most Dangerous Game" and set the whole island on fire in an attempt to smoke him out, and Ralph is about to be cornered when he crashes into... ...an adult! More specifically, a naval officer, whose ships saw the not inconsiderable amounts of smoke from the island
being on fire, and came to rescue them. Jack and crew immediately snap out of their "let's murder a 12-year-old" fervor, and after the officer berates them for failing to be suitably British while marooned, Ralph breaks down crying, because... ...I mean, seriously! Holy sh**! And everyone else breaks down crying at the reality of what terrible people they are. ... Feel-good novel of the century!