William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" came out in 1954. Rejected by many publishers at first—21, we're told—its author received the 1983 Nobel Prize for literature "for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today." Along the way up, the story spawned three motion pictures, two of them in English, in 1963 and in 1990. Above is a screenshot from the latter, the visually more appealing, American. Bullocks to Golding's original telling.  3

The characters are all boys, isolated on an uninhabited island after their plane was shot down during WW-II. The narrative, in a few words, seeks to show that civilization is barely skin-deep, easily ripped apart by deceit. It is woven around a protagonist, Ralph, and an antagonist, Jack. Ralph represents civilization, flawed as it is. Jack personifies evil, deceit.  4

Twelve-year-old Ralph enters the story first. An aiguillette on his torn school uniform shows him to be a leader. He is joined by a boy with thick eye-glasses nicknamed Piggy. Piggy appears to represent learning and reason. More boys join them soon. The tropical heat makes them shed their school uniforms.  5

Jack enters the story commanding a troop of boys marching pretty well in step. They wear black cloaks with a silver cross on their left and which cover them from neck to ankles. He used to be their head boy as the chapter chorister. It is only after Jack gives the order to do so that the boys take off those togs.  6

An election is held and Ralph is chosen as the leader, but not without some grumbling resistance by Jack who then quickly proclaims support for Ralph. All agree that rules are to be made and adhered to. Anyone who wishes to speak will be handed a big conch to show he is not to be interrupted. Given names ought to be properly recorded, but Jack demurs; "Kids' names. Why should I be Jack? I'm Merridew."  7

Ralph suggests that Jack and his choir boys form an army, but Jack prefers to lead a band of hunters. It doesn't take them long before they begin intimidating the others with increasingly aggressive behavior.  8

Resembling adult society, most kids busy themselves well away from responsibility at the top, frolicking in a pool of water, and making sand-castles. Rumor about a beast gradually turns into paranoia. Ralph insists that no such beast exists, but Jack leverages fear to gain an upperhand over Ralph by promising to kill it. Civilization erodes and succumbs by the murder of two boys, Simon and Piggy, both active supportors of Ralph.  9

First killed is Simon, by a demented crowd in blind rage fired up by incessant lightning bolts and thunderclaps from a dark sky. "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!" The very telling of the story struck me as demented. Even Ralph and Piggy participate, to show they belong. They feel bad afterwards, but Ralph, the politician of the two, utters a justification. On another occasion Piggy is killed, struck by a falling rock puposely aimed straight at him.  10

Finally, the boys gang up to kill Ralph as well. Running to escape from the ululating mob, Ralph stumbles and falls as he reaches the beach. Looking up, he sees a British naval officer—in the American film substituted by a U.S. Marine—who had just set foot on the island. "Fun and games," the officer surmizes at first.  11

Approaching the end of the story, Jack is no longer in the picture and Ralph, still in his formative years, accepts the responsibility of leadership. Doesn't, I asked myself, the novel herald events history still holds in store?  12

The final sentences firmly bind Golding's novel to Joseph Conrad's 1899 masterpiece, "Heart of Darkness":

   "... Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

   The officer ... waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance."  

* * *

The narrative unfolds with descriptions, details, some hints, hidden meanings, what-have-you, all adding up to Golding's sense of human nature below a skein of civility. A reader is not likely to fully grasp anywhere near all the finely grained details by simply reading the novel right through. Rereading is necessary to gain a (some?) better understanding as well as appreciation of the author's literary art. A short-story takes a long time to read, it has been said. Just to be sure, a short-story is not the same as a short story. That hyphen bridges the gap from adjective to genre.  14

Somewhere I found the story's genre described as an allegorical novel, but once into it I felt that it is going deeper than that and ahunting I began. The surname "Merridew," I learned from browsing the internet "comes from the Welsh personal name Meredydd or Maredudd. The Old Welsh form of the name is Morgetiud; experts state that the first part of this name may mean pomp or splendor, while the second part is 'udd,' which means 'lord'." This explanation put me on a path to the story's title, "Lord of the Flies." After killing a wild pig for food, Jack put the pig's head on a stick where it was soon abuzz with flies. "The fly totem has also been known to represent lies, gossip, excuses, and anything that's dirty or impure," I read somewhere. The totem contrasts with the fly spirit, which "symbolizes abundance and prosperity during times of adversity. It sends the message that by being persistent, consistent, and determined even in the face of tragedy will result to victory." Aha; the nickname "Piggy" juxtaposes the pig's head.  15

Golding gave inquisitive readers a leg up by naming titles of works that may all have figured in his writing. I found them available on the internet, see the footnote. Sure, it is probably sensible advice to give the story just one reading, staying with or near the surface and pass over the depths of its interior, but then ... well, there are people who like, say, jigsaw puzzles, breaking them up once finished. How sensible is that?  16

* * *

It is almost a year ago that I wrote "Between the lines" about a course in literature I was required to take. Something I looked forward to became an ordeal. I don't believe there exist any school or university that makes doing jigsaws a required course.  17

Believing that the worker and his work reflect onto one another, here are some passages from a biography of Golding found on the internet:

   "When William was just 12 years old, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to write a novel. A frustrated child, he found an outlet in bullying his peers. Later in life, William would describe his childhood self as a brat, even going so far as to say, 'I enjoyed hurting people'."

   "In 1935 Golding took a position teaching English and philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury. Golding's experience teaching unruly young boys would later serve as inspiration for his novel 'Lord of the Flies'."

   "Although passionate about teaching from day one, in 1940 Golding temporarily abandoned the profession to join the Royal Navy and fight in World War II."

   "Of his World War II experiences, Golding has said, 'I began to see what people were capable of doing. Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head'."  18

William Golding died in 1993. Born that same year, a Jack Merridew, "an American author and YouTube personality. He is well known for his light-hearted storytime videos." The coincience kind of tickled me.  18a

"Lord of the Flies" is said to be Golding's, quoting again, "worthy of in-depth analysis and discussion in classrooms around the world." Well, I wonder about those in-depth analyses in classrooms. To even get near the depth of a piece of literature one needs to have many experiences in common with the author. It is to be doubted that young students fill that bill.  19

The novel, as said, is choc-full of meanings ranging in depth from barely below the surface story to deep down, hardly within scope even for readers with a wide spectrum of experience. Here, a random line from Chapter 4,

   "He squatted on his hams at the water's edge, bowed, with a shock of hair falling over his forehead and past his eyes, and the afternoon sun emptied down in invisible arrows."

Here is my attempt at analysing, teasing apart this one sentence, this one warp from an entire fabric that is the novel.  

"He" refers to Henry, a name of German origin that means "ruler of the home," but in German also means "ruler of the country."
"the water's edge" had, a few sentences earlier, been referred to as the edge of the Pacific, a word that confers a sense of peace, "pax."
Combine "the water's edge" with "bowed," and I am reminded of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", third paragraph: "The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four affectionately watched his back as he stood in the bows looking to seaward." In the next paragraph of HoD: "the water shone pacifically". I wrote about that some time ago, "Between the lines,' remember?
"a shock of hair falling over his forehead" could depict Hitler, the ruler. Viewing the above screenshot, I perceive Hitler as the right-hand man of the Devil incarnate, but then, returning to the sentence, that shock of hair falls past his eyes. Reminds me of pulling the wool over one's eyes. Purely some speculation on my part. The image might instead refer to a boy named Roger, who had shortly before been described as having a "shock of black hair, down his nape and low on his forehead." But another boy, Simon, too, had dark hair falling over his forehead. And so? What?
"arrows"—another allusion to HoD in which arrows came from a dark forest—"Arrows, by Jove! We were being shot at!" Marlow said in HoD.
Henry "squatting on his hams." Ham comes from pigs. Considering the fly spirit, "squatting on his hams" might be taken to mean squashing the good, pure." Maybe I have gone too far. Hard to tell with surmizes for which collaboration seems scarce at this point in the novel.  21

I like spicey food. What I do not like, however, is a mixture of spices, nicely balanced as well as they may be, with only so here and there a blade or stalk of green. And so with short-stories. But then, I probably went the wrong way about things. Scrambling for support, I found help on the internet, Cliffs Notes. A summary of the whole story is followed through by chapter-by-chapter summaries and analyses. But as for Golding's literary symbolism, even if some of it is fairly common, it takes loads of rereading and insight to perceive things the author perceives them. Brother, if you've got a rich imagination, standing on the corner, give it a whirl, give it a try. Still, with those notes, Golding's sense of human nature looks to me superior by far to what is found in a first-year college psychology text. An example, from the notes:

   "... neither boy [Ralph nor Jack] can communicate his perspective to the other, and neither considers the other's viewpoint. This lack of communication underlies innumerable conflicts, and the lack of understanding frequently has more to do with unwillngness on the listener's part than on the speaker's."

And later, showing a wide crack in the democracy we've come accustomed to:

   "... Ralph realizes 'the wearisomeness of this life, where ... a considerable part of one's waking life was watching one's feet.' With so much energy devoted to survival, little time is left to devote to the kind of conceptual thought or abstract reasoning available to those sheltered by the institutions found in civilizations."

"What university did you go to?" an academic visitor asked my wife years ago. "The university of life," she replied. With honors, I'd say.  22

* * *

It struck me while again reading "The Lord of the Flies" after half a century, how well it concords with what has been happening in the U.S. over the last few years. I like to refrain from putting my Canadian nose in American politics, but not with their weeds infesting my yard. Take that screenshot above that shows a boy visually reminiscent of Hitler. Or standing in for a neo-Nazi, especially with the choir boys doing Jack's every bidding and a blind following dancing around the flames of perdition, demonstrable falsehoods unrepentantly ladled out to kill any faith folk may harbor in established institutions. Con and connive and con. A shared Nobel Peace Prize with Kim Jong-un in the offing. Remember? Beat and beat and beat hard gained wits and a growing sense of fair judgment to a pulp. Lord of the Lies.  23


Lord of the Flies (with notes by E.L. Epstein)
Coral Island
Heart of Darkness
Swallows and Amazons
Treasure Island  *   fn1

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