I promised a discussion of a great book, a book with real weight, so here it comes. Brace yourself.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding was published in 1954, and it is one of those rare novels that creates TRUTH. By definition it is fiction, but this particular fiction manages to reveal the truth of mankind, our brutal dilemma, as understood by the author. It begins during a time of war, and a group of British boys are stranded on a Pacific Island. Through twelve chapters Golding tracks the fall of man across the span of about a year.
Now, first it’s important in Golding’s telling that these are British boys. They are children of a great and terrible empire that has exerted itself across the globe. Part of how they did it was convincing themselves that they are superior to other types of people. They’re English. That sense of superiority and power proves to be dangerous, a key to what eventually happens on the island.
It’s an utterly artificial construct. All the boys are pre-teens. The largest boys are probably thirteen. One is Ralph and the other is Jack. I could write a doctoral thesis about this book, but I really want to talk about Golding’s genius in his LANDING. To appreciate it we must take a glimpse at his lift-off. The first sentence of the book reads as follows: “The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.” It’s a direct and readable sentence, and much of the matter of the book is immediately established in obvious and subtle ways. Golding is going to use boys to examine the human dilemma. He’s is going to use a tropical setting, which always has the promise of menacing beauty. Finally, he is going to reveal what’s fair and how delicate and/or resilient fairness is. That’s just in the first sentence. The first paragraph is the whole book. But, I shall not digress.
The second sentence I will examine is actually the last sentence of the penultimate <<second to last>> paragraph: “And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, 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.” Any reader (and I mean a person who read the ENTIRE BOOK, not just part of it) will remember this sentence as the ending, though there is a hint of a little extra darkness in the last short paragraph. The thing about this book is that sentence is TOTALLY EARNED. Golding manages to write a book that can assert it has shown you the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend. To earn that sort of sentence does not come easily. You have to be willing to put a whole lot on the line as a writer. You have to claim you know what people ought to know. You have to offer the real unvarnished truth. This book is not fantasy, and there are plenty of people who would not be able to read it. It isn’t a “beach read.” It’s a grinding journey that tests your fortitude and your courage. Most people don’t want to see that deeply into themselves or others.
It wasn’t easy on me the first time I read it, but I did read it, and I have read it numerous times sense. It has flaws, like all works of art have flaws, but those don’t matter. The truth Golding offers rises above mere circumstance into metaphysics. The book is a treatise of faith, and like a rare and fine Scotch Whisky, it takes an experienced palate to appreciate it.
Tomorrow, I’ll try to look at a read that has less intense flavors, a wider commercial appeal, but I think it has a great landing.