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June 14, 2013

Telling It Like It Is: LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

Welcome back to our second official installment of Telling It Like It Is: Classics Edition! We got off to a great (ha! pun!) start last week with THE GREAT GATSBY (if you missed it, you can find it here.) This week, over at 20SomethingReads we’re anticipating the theatrical releases of World War Z and This is the End by celebrating the end of the world --- in addition to all things dystopian. So I figured, Why not go a little wild and tell William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES exactly like it is? Sound the conch because I’ve let my hair down and smashed a pair of glasses or two, and I’m ready to throw down over here. (Editor’s note: In 10th grade, my whole class was assigned chapters to present, and mine was Chapter Seven, “Shadows and Tall Trees.” Naturally, I made my super tall friend Benjy stand over me, languidly waving his long, outstretched arms, while I read aloud from my report. Dr. Krebs did NOT think it was funny, btw.)

Okay, let’s get down to business. LORD OF THE FLIES takes place during an unspecified nuclear war (and it’s important to remember that it was written in the 1950s, when everyone was basically living in fear of a-bombs being dropped on their heads.) The drama starts when an evacuation aircraft full of British schoolboys crashes on some random island, with no surviving adults. Seems like a dream come true at first: no adults = no rules, right? WRONG --- but wait; we’re not up to that part yet. Ralph and his new buddy, Piggy, find a conch and blow into it to gather all the survivors together so that they can figure out wtf they should do. Because of his mad leadership skillz (and because he’s cute) Ralph is “elected” chief, which basically means he’s the guy everyone goes to when they wanna whine about bug bites and stuff. Ralph, because he’s the best, makes two rules: to have fun, and to make sure the smoke signal is going at all times to maximize the chance of rescue.

But guess what? Jack, who’s the head of the choir group on the island, is not happy about this. He’s tall and redheaded and --- no offence to any tall redheads reading this --- has kind of an alpha male complex, so he insists that he and his band of not-so-merry choirboys get to be in charge of hunting and food-gathering --- all the kind of tough guy stuff you’d automatically assume the choirboys should handle. So now Ralph, Jack and this other kid, Simon, who’s pretty much a space case, are the leaders on the island, for all intents and purposes. You’d think that would be cool, and everyone would just, like, hunt and eat and play Red Rover all day long, but nooo, because man’s nature is to be uncivilized, they all start ganging up on each other. I don’t know --- I always thought that maybe the solution to all their problems would be organized sports. Like, maybe all this could have been avoided if they’d thrown together a few games of tackle football. But I’m neither a boy nor stranded on an island, so what do I know?

Anyway, things are starting to really fall apart. Even Ralph can’t make Piggy cool, and the other boys start picking on him. Jack also starts spreading rumors about a “beast,” mainly to scare the boys into giving him sole leadership. What happens is he gets everyone hyped about chasing a wild pig, and things get out of control and the boys abandon the all-important smoke signal, which is pretty much the key to ANY HOPE OF GETTING RESCUED. Ralph gets super pissed about this, and --- because he’s the only character who’s gunning for an ordered society, and because he’s also just a boy who wants to have fun with the cool kids --- considers giving up altogether and joining the rest of the boys as they descend into chaos. But wise, fat, kind of lame Piggy, reminds Ralph that the boys can’t survive without him, and he’s really their only hope.

So while Jack is still making trouble, two of the boys (twins, Sam and Eric, cleverly called Samneric --- which killed me in high school) find a corpse in the dark and mistake it for the beast. They run back to camp to warn everyone else, and Jack capitalizes on the others’ panic by breaking away from the group and trying to form his own tribe. He doesn’t get as much support as he thought he would --- kind of like when Geri Halliwell left the Spice Girls --- so he gets a little more aggressive and starts luring boys from Ralph’s tribe to his own by offering feasts of roast pig and wild dancing rituals and face paint. (I, for one, am a sucker for wild dancing and some good face paint --- standard girls’ night out, amirite? --- so I can’t really blame them.)

Guys, this is where things start to get really crazy. Jack is off on his side of the island, where his tribe --- the “savages” --- is really going nuts, performing these bizarre and terrifying ritual sacrifices to the beast. What happens is, dreamy Simon wanders into the forest and finds the severed pig head that Jack had left as a one of these sacrifices. Simon, pretty spaced out, and, let’s face it, probably super dehydrated, imagines that the head, now swarming with flies --- hence the book’s title! --- is talking to him. It tells him that there is no beast; the real beast (and this is a major point!) is within the boys themselves. Simon also stumbles upon the corpse that had been mistaken for the beast, and, realizing that it’s only a dead body, runs to tell the others. But jeez is his timing bad, because the other boys are involved in one of their frenzied dance rituals, and --- at this point totally bloodthirsty --- mistake poor Simon for the beast and kill him. Once Ralph, Piggy and Samneric, who had been temporarily seduced by the dark side and joined the dance, realize what they’ve done, they feel tremendously guilty and retreat to their side of the island.

 Jack’s group, though, are in way over their heads, and are spiraling further into madness. They decide that they need Piggy’s glasses (Symbol alert! The glasses represent civilization and rational thinking!) as they are the only thing left on the island to start a fire with. They raid Ralph’s camp and confiscate Piggy’s glasses, much to his dismay. Enraged, Ralph journeys across enemy lines to confront Jack, who refuses to give back the glasses. Jack’s tribe takes Sam and Eric captive, and Roger, one of the most sadistic older boys, drops a boulder on Piggy, instantly killing him. Ralph manages to escape, but Jack is relentless, and has his boys scour the island until they find him, setting the forest on fire in the process --- which, ironically, attracts the attention of a passing ship. The boys are rescued at the end, but also scarred for life, so I’d say it’s pretty much a wash. 

Okay, that was pretty dark. Now let’s all listen to a bunch of One Direction, and thank our lucky stars that we have cell phones and we’ll never be stranded on an island with nothing but our own conflicted natures to guide us.