Lord of the Flies : Books in the Blood # 12

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

The Romans believed that human beings were not born properly formed, that they need shaping to enable them to grow into decent citizens. This is why they beat their children as a matter of course – how on earth were you supposed to breed effective conquerors and Empire builders if you didn’t punch all the softness out during the formative years?

In the Middle Ages, people thought bear cubs were born as a formless lump and the reason their parents licked them so much was that they had to be pushed into the right shape – imagine a blob of furry modelling clay and you’ve got the idea. Hence the expression ‘licked into shape’.

‘Where are you going with this?’ I hear you cry, and by the way I do wish you wouldn’t do that – it’s like having a virtual Greek Chorus following me across the webby-sphere. Stick with me – a point will be made.

I can see where these ancient thinkers were coming from. Maybe not with the bears, but to be fair they probably just made that up – I’m sure you could count the number of Medieval thinkers who got close to a bear cub and lived on one hand. Not one of their hands, of course, because presumably they’d come away without digits to do any counting on. But I digress.

But the Romans had a point, because human’s are born only partly formed. We lack in experience and knowledge, of course, as anyone who’s ever watched a toddler try and do almost anything can testify. They fall over,  bump into furniture, burst into tears seemingly without reason, burble nonsense then start throwing things when you can’t understand them … They are my Uncle Stan after a Payday Friday visit to the Squint and Spyglass pub.

And emotionally, small children are bit … Odd. This may be controversial (and completely unproven), but it seems  to me children are born without empathy – it’s something they learn with experience. Ever seen a toddler fall and hurt itself whilst surrounded by other toddlers? The rest of the crowd carry on pushing building bricks up their noses and eating the contents of the sandpit.  I’m not really suggesting that we’re all born sociopaths and that it’s only with experience and example that we learn to care for others … Or am I?

Which brings me onto today’s Books in the Blood,

Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Now, this is another Secondary School set book that many of you will have read. I already know from previous conversations online that some of you  REALLY didn’t like this book. And who can blame you? To be honest, I’d be a little worried for anyone who read this book time and time again. If this is your go-to book when you’re feeling low, when you want to snuggle up in your onesy, a big mug of Horlicks in hand … You should be wearing that rather fetching jacket with the fastenings at the back – you know the one with the long sleeves and the buckle motif.

This is a book to admire, but is it one to love?

It’s very well written – remember the scene on the beach at night, the description of the light on the waves, of the bright fish swimming around a body?

But the bodies, of course are one of the problems. Because Golding creates a world devoid of adults, stuffed with young boys and once they’ve shrugged of any semblance of civilisation, they revert to that primal state the Romans were so worried about. The world the boys create is nasty and brutish, where there’s no room for the soft, the sensitive or the weak. It’s an unjust world where those with a sense of decency won’t survive long. (I can hear you students of history shouting ‘But that’s what Roman society was all about.’ A discussion for another time, friends).

I suppose it’s many people’s first introduction to dystopian fiction and there’s little out there that’s more dystopian. Have you heard anyone criticise the plots of The Hunger Games and other YA books for being too violent for the young, as if this is a recent phenomenon, a symptom of the modern era’s degradation? Just remind them of this book and the fact it was school that made us read it.

I remember finding it creepy, disturbing, genuinely depressing, making me want to flee back to the reassuring comforts of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. If this was what ‘adult reading’ was all about, give me the Beano.

I’ve said this before on Word Shamble, remember Golding taught at a boys’ school – if anyone knew about how heartless children can be, it was him.

A sobering thought.

10 thoughts on “Lord of the Flies : Books in the Blood # 12

  1. Reminds me of just how thin the veneer of ‘civilization’ really is. It also reminds me to leave our two boys, who are almost exact copies of Jack and Ralph, alone for more than a few hours 😉

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    1. Wise words, Doug. There have been many times at school pick up, as I watch some kid run past screaming, holding a stick bigger than his arm, seeing them chase each other, chase pigeons, whooping, throwing stones, when I can’t help but mutter, ‘It’s all a bit ‘Lord of the Flies.”
      All you need to do is watch a city riot to see how thin that veneer of civilisation is – let’s try not to over think it, or we’ll never sleep again!

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    1. Oh, yes – it’s not a light weight plane read. Have you read it before? It is grim stuff. It’s that very subject – kids killing kids. And it was written in 1954. Horror is forever with us.

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  2. I love your run up to the actualy discussion of the book. Esp. that bit about small children. I totally agree, they can be pretty pitiless. As for the book, I hated it, but still think it’s very well done. And I haven’t read it in about an eon-and-a-half, but as I vaguely recall, the adults who picked up the boys and criticized them for their savager were on a battle ship of some kind. So, who’s really the savage there?

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    1. Oh, very nice point about the adults on the battleship. I’ve yet to find anyone who can actually say they ‘liked’ it – it’s a peculiarly shared experience. Most books have lovers and haters, this one seems universally respected but disliked.
      Yes, small kids can be utterly ruthless. They really do have to be taught to be kind. I wonder how much empathy would come out of them if they were left alone, without adult intervention from the start? Let’s not attempt to find out 🙂

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    1. Absolutely. And I think it’s the fact it’s all children. We have a – possibly unrealistic – view of children as innocents, as incapable of true evil. This book declares otherwise. I also think it’s the age at which most of us read the book – we were all young, hopeful, believing we were indestructable. Then this book comes along, showing us all the dark heart of childhood, scarring us all for life! A great book which isn’t a great read 🙂

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  3. I HATED it when I had to read it for school – but that may have had to do with the awful English teacher I had that year who managed to spend half a year on it. There are only so many times you can deal with homework about the relationship between Ralph and Jack…

    I read it again a decade or so ago when I was tutoring and I actually enjoyed it that time. By then I was interested to learn how fiction worked, though, so that might have had something to do with it.

    Golding must have known more than most about human savagery – not only was he a teacher, he was also in the navy and fought in Normandy during D-Day. The things he’s seen are probably a hundred time worse than what’s in LotF…

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    1. Interesting that you liked it more the second time round. I’ve found most people disliked it at school but is this partly to do with having to read, having to analyse, having to dissect it?
      I think I might appreciate it more now – as you say the skill of the writing, the imagery. And the death scenes would be less disturbing now as Ive read so many more in the meantime – though not involving children.
      I didn’t know Golding fought in the war – as you say, his reflections on the darkness in people makes complete sense in light of that.

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