Saturday, May 8, 2010
Reading: Lord of the Flies
In high school I was never assigned the novels CATCH-22, CATCHER IN THE RYE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or LORD OF THE FLIES. So I never read them. I remember reading some Dostoevsky, THE GREAT GATSBY, a lot of Shakespeare, and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. The program I was in was advanced--and it was the seventies. Academia was making stuff up as it went along.
Maybe the curriculum writers thought that the above-mentioned books were too commercial? Too un-literary? How odd. They were certainly good enough for the regular students. At the time I remember feeling a little superior for not being required to read those books. Funny. Now the whole distinction seems absurd. There's no reason the other classes shouldn't have been reading more Shakespeare than Romeo and Juliet. And now that I've read LORD OF THE FLIES, I feel like I was robbed.
Allegory--as in (forgive me for this, fellow Christians) PILGRIM'S PROGRESS--can be dull stuff. I like my allegory unrecognizable and entertaining. That's the only way it works. Lord save us all from stick-thumping morality tales. Yes, they're fine for the youngest children. Take THE POKY LITTLE PUPPY, in which the puppy who spends all his time messing around and not paying attention to the puppy schedule doesn't get dessert. (Sadly, it didn't make much of an impression on me as a child.) Now there's a good and useful story. LORD OF THE FLIES is certainly allegory. William Golding said as much. Were the curriculum writers thinking that the regular kids were better suited to or only prepared to understand easily-identifiable allegory?
Isn't all fiction, at some level, allegory for the way we are?
From the first paragraph, I was immediately immersed in LORD OF THE FLIES. Because I'd never read it, or the Cliffs Notes version (which is what many of my friends read), I wasn't thinking about the Garden of Eden as Golding wrote of the delights of the island. I wasn't thinking of Jack's red hair and his unpleasant visage as representative of human weakness and potential evil. I certainly wasn't thinking of Simon as Jesus. I was just sucked into the story, feeling just the way I did the first time I read JANE EYRE and TREASURE ISLAND--as though there was no other story in the world in that moment. Nothing else mattered.
As a writer I'm drawn to the simplicity of Golding's prose. But also as a writer I notice that he spends waaaaaaay too much time on the way Ralph pushes his hair out of his eyes, the color of palm tree shadows, and how grubby the boys are. As a reader...Oh! The the way the wind and the parachute animate the body/beast caught on the mountainside... It's a vision of horror that touches me in a visceral place. When I heard it--I listened to the audio version narrated by Golding--I experienced a kind of deep, childish pleasure that is so rare and precious that I wouldn't even want to experience it more than a few times in my life, lest it be cheapened.
Perhaps I wasn't meant to read this novel until now. Perhaps I wouldn't have experienced that same pleasure back when I was fourteen. By the time I was fourteen, I was almost too distracted to be deeply affected by literature--I can only compare it to the way teenagers are often turned off by church and talk of God. They must leave it and be at their most skeptical for a while in order to look at it with mature, more discerning eyes when they're adults.
Goldman does a wonderful intro to the audio, talking about the origins of the novel and why he wrote about boys instead of girls. And here's a link to a Times U.K. online piece about the most recent Goldman biography. It's definitely worth a look if you like to know how a book comes about.
If you haven't read LORD OF THE FLIES, I hope I haven't spoiled it for you. If you have read it, you should definitely read it again.