Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ralph wept for the end of innocence

Lord of the Flies, what the hell? As if I wasn't already afraid of kids. And not those children of the corn, demon kids. This is worse because these are normal kids. Little British schoolboys. Choir boys.

I hadn't read William Golding's novel before. There was a chance my freshman year of high school, but I was put in the group reading 1984*. I'm not sure which was worse. That doesn't mean that this and 1984 are bad books. They're not.  But in terms of "WTF humanity", it would be good battle. I had a very vague idea about what Lord of the Flies is about, mostly from the Simpson's episode "Das Bus". What I'm saying is I was unprepared and there was very little model UN and a lot more kids showing us the worst of what people naturally are. Upbeat and whatnot.

It's difficult to review a classic because what am I supposed to say? Hey, have you heard of this book? Oh you have? Right, of course. Well then, what'd you have for lunch? If you haven't read this before, go ahead and do that. Cos this is mostly going to be a random collection of my thoughts and will be all sorts of spoilery. Not that I actually think it matters if you already know the details of this one, but in case you care.

*Spoilers. Like I said a second ago but in case you weren't paying attention*
So the basics: these kids are stranded on a deserted island. And they are kids. The oldest are about 12, the youngest 6. The kids try to make due, they elect a chief and plan to keep a fire burning so hopefully a passing ship will see the smoke and rescue them. Look how responsible they are and there is hope! And then this quickly gives way to insanity.

A boy is burned to death (probably) and everyone is just like "nah I'm sure he's fine. Let's not worry about the fact that we never see him again." The antagonist (one of those choir boys, which makes him adorable but under normal circumstances, not frightening) gets scarily obsessed with killing a pig. Like "oh our only meas of rescue went out while I was supposed to be watching it and a ship passed by and we'll all probably die on this island. But you guys, I totally killed something! Here, we should act it out on this boy."

Things grow tense between the rational boys and the hunter/choir boys which culminates in a frenzied dance where they literally tear apart, with hands and teeth, the only good kid in the whole group. Murder. With bare hands. By a bunch of children. WTF? After that, the death of Piggy, murder by boulder, was nothing. Or at least was a lot less because what the hell, children should not be murdering each other with their bare hands. Or boulders. Children should not be murdering. We can probably leave out the qualifiers of "with their bare hands" or "with boulders".

Now there's only one non-savage boy left (our protagonist Ralph) and the rest of the boys on the island are hunting him! In an effort to find him they burn the whole forest down, because children don't understand subtlety. Luckily they're saved from starvation (cos they just burned down the forest where the fruits, nuts and pigs they eat come from) when a ship notices the conflagration and rescues the boys. He laughs when he sees the boys because he assumes they've been playing fun, not-at-all-murderous games and then gets freaked out when the kids start crying. But they're saved and go back home to probably a lot of therapy.

I knew going into this Piggy dies. I didn't know how. I didn't expect death by boulder so kudos for the surprise there, but I knew he didn't make it. So when I started the book I was thinking how Golding was going to make me super love Piggy, just to take him away. But that didn't happen. I didn't want Piggy to die, but I certainly didn't love the kid. He's And whiny. It seems mean to get angry at a child for being whiny when they're stranded on a deserted island, but I'm a cruel person apparently. I wanted the boys to be nice to Piggy, but every once in awhile I wanted someone to smack him upside the head.

The death that really got me was Simon's, he of the torn apart murder. Why do people go on about poor Piggy? What about Simon? He was so good and so innocent. He was helpful and kind to the little kids when all the big kids were being just assholes. He has his little quiet time in nature. OK, so he goes a little crazy for awhile and pictures the sow head on a stick (the Lord of the Flies) talking to him and telling him that the true horrors are inside him and all mankind. But that doesn't make him go on a murderous rampage, as I'm sure it would have driven the other boys. Instead he realizes the beast they've all been afraid of is actually a dead parachutist (which is creepy in and of itself) and he goes to tell the others they don't have to be afraid. And they kill him. They all kill him, even rational little Piggy and Ralph, even if Piggy won't admit that's what happened.
*Spoilers contained*

So there you go. This was an excellent book that crams a lot of deep thoughts and difficult questions into a simple story. I didn't go into all of the symbolism up above but it is there and people smarter than I have written about it. I'm very glad I read this so thank you Strand in NYC for having it on sale and thank you Classics Challenge for pushing me to read a classic I previously missed.
*So don't worry, I still got scarred, just by a different book.

Title quote from page 225

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Faber Firsts, 2009. Originally published 1954.