Monday, April 18, 2022

#1954Club - Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A year or so ago, I happened across the 'club' year posts from Simon (Stuck in a Book) and Karen (Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings), where they pick a random year in history and everyone who wants to reads a book (or several books) originally published in that year and posts about it. I've participated twice so far, when I read Nightwood by Djuna Barnes for 1936Club last April and Meridian by Alice Walker for 1976Club in October.

Image for 1954club, yanked from Simon and Karen's blogs, not sure of the origin

1954 is an interesting year for books, and also is the right timing for one of my reading goals for the year that I've not really done well - to read books by mid-century women. My first selection for the club this year still doesn't meet that goal since it's a male author, but perhaps I'll find another that will before the end of the week. I'd previously read The Story of O by Pauline Reage, translated by Sabine d'Estree, A Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (probably not since I was a child,) and Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns, in a delightful edition from Dorothy Publishing.

I have a copy of Lucky Jim on my shelves, a 1954 novel I purchased for a classics challenge to fulfill the category of a comic novel. I never read it, just went a different direction, but the academia angle is always compelling. But I went first with Lord of the Flies. A few months ago, our foster son at the time wanted to read it and I decided I should read it first, since he was 9. I wasn't sure it was age appropriate. I only knew vaguely it was about boys who need to survive on an island and turn to their animal natures, and that since the novel was published a lot of other books and TV shows have been roughly based on the premise (the most recent I saw was The Wilds, a 2020 TV show about a bunch of teenage girls that are dumped on an island for some kind of experiment for which they are uninformed.)

6 variations of book covers of Lord of the Flies

I understand some people read Lord of the Flies in school and while I had a very intensive English literature year in high school, Golding was not included for whatever reason. I found it interesting how many ways the novel is portrayed in the cover art - the bloodthirsty open mouth of the most recent, the calmer jungle type images, several pig-themed covers, a cover with glasses that is more reminiscent of Harry Potter, and a bizarre giant fly with a little boy. 

I read the edition with an introduction by E.M. Forster. I very brilliantly waited until finishing the novel to read his introduction, which would have spoiled practically every significant plot point besides suggesting broader themes that I'm not sure I agree with. I expected there to be memorable characters and there are - Simon, Ralph, Piggy, Roger, etc. - I don't think I expected some of the ethereal writing that I encountered. It made me wish I was reading the same author on different content!

Here is the first paragraph and a few more lines from Chapter 4:

"The first rhythm that they became used to was the slow swing from dawn to quick dusk. They accepted the pleasures of morning, the bright sun, the whelming sea and sweet air, as a time when play was good and life so full that hope was not necessary and therefore forgotten. Toward noon, as the floods of light fell more nearly to the perpendicular, the stark colors of the morning were smoothed in pearl and opalescence; and the heat - as though the impending sun's height gave it momentum - became a blow that they ducked, running to the shade and lying there, perhaps even sleeping.

Strange things happened at midday. The glittering sea rose up, moved apart in planes of blatant impossibility; the coral reef and the few stunted palms that clung to the more elevated parts would float up into the sky, would quiver, be plucked apart, run like raindrops on a wire or be repeated as in an odd succession of mirrors...."

Beautiful, dangerous, foreboding, yet somehow familiar. I know how this feeling he describes feels. I am like the kids, I identify with them, at least in some of these early moments, and then of course they do some terrible things, so of course the author wants the reader to ask what would you do? Would you try for democracy or anarchy? Fruit or meat? Mountain or beach? Survival is one of the quickest scenarios to see a person's true colors. Do we know this for sure or do we know this because of this book? It feels very much a part of the fabric of our culture, so when I realized it was one of the books on the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list, one of those silly lists I still would like to check off eventually, it made sense to me that it would be included, even if we never talk about any of the other works by this author.

Stay tuned if I read any more books from 1954. And thanks to Karen and Simon for hosting a fun challenge.

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