Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lord of the Flies (1954)

     A couple of things first.  Yes, I should have read this some twenty-odd years ago.  Yes, my vision of Ralph is a young, skinny Balthazar Getty – before Young Guns II (1990) and Feast (2005) – because seeing that 1990 version of the story had been my exposure to it (and I saw it in the theater opening weekend).  Clearly one could never film the story as written, because nobody is going to make and mass market a story with scores of naked British boys running around on a tropical island.  I hope that much is true.  How did I come to read it now?  Well, I have a stack – and list – of non-fiction books I want to read as part of this year's reading project, but I wanted to get another novel in this month.  My mother has a couple of copies of this book, but the one I borrowed was her's in high school; I have a feeling that one cannot find this book with a $1.25 cover price at present.
Here is my mother's old address in central Pennsylvania (she didn't live in Spring Mills, but apparently there was no post office closer to her home).  Please take note of the phone number – EMpire 4-1537.  This is just 52 years ago, and rather than listing it as 364 -, they used EMpire 4.  Pure craziness.  Apparently only a handful of years prior they were still using five digit phone numbers in those hills.  It is realizing moments like this that make me feel as removed from her background as civilization becomes to Jack's band of hunters.
     I am not going to pretend to offer any insight to Lord of the Flies (1959).  I read it for enjoyment and on that level it is a fine, though not earthshaking, book.  Perhaps because I know the story, the impact and message feels weaker than if I were discovering it for the first time.  I did manage to get through the book in decent time – three days, doing the last 100+ pages and notes on Sunday while waiting to catch an encore presentation of The Walking Dead (2010-present).  If anyone were at all curious, Lord of the Flies is much more satisfying on all levels than the zombie show. 
     I would like to think I get what Golding was going for, even when he used relatively obscure meanings for commonplace words.  I thought the inclusion of the actual Lord of the Flies felt forced and out of place, as though Golding had his manuscript together but lacked a proper impetus/plot device to drive the big change while simultaneously giving it another level of meaning.  Maybe I'm wholly wrong on that note.  I did have some slight difficulty keeping some of the minor players straight – another result of knowing that only three of the characters really matter in the scope of the story – but that quickly resolved itself.
     What did strike me was how uncharacteristic of my experiences were Golding's expectations of these children.  While I do not want to equate Indian Guides or Cub Scouts to British schools (I imagine the latter to be much more strict and regimented, especially in the 1950s), I do know that when I was a child, we children made good account of which of us were where and who was in charge.  Moreover, we didn't seem to have any problem trying to organize (though we clearly lacked any know-how and most ability to do anything worthwhile without great direction and guidance).  Golding's boys don't know who all is on the island – and that is amongst themselves – and fell that there is still a great need to indulge in endless play.  That seems very contradictory to the human nature I've witnessed.  Then again, I grew up in a world that had already read Lord of the Flies, so perhaps we were being slightly readied for better behavior should we ever crash land on an island and have to fend for ourselves.
     Yes, the cruelty of the boys – when it is finally allowed to come out – feels true.  So does the ever returning sense of uncertainty that all of the boys experience.  There is something very real that Golding is touching on, but he seems to dance around it at times, content to have his characters dash off for a swim or talk over one another rather than delve deeper into their beings.
     Now, Lord of the Flies is not to be confused with the Cheapass Games product "Lord of the Fries", itself a disappointing follow-up to the great "Give Me the Brain".  By the way, "Give Me the Brain" is also better than The Walking Dead, but as it is an interactive that should be expected.  No, this is a good book (that I guess I can't quite accept as great) that most people read when they are closer in age to the victims of circumstance that people it.
"Give Me the Brain", in all of its original Cheapass glory.
"Lord of the Fries" goes deluxe.  There just seems something contradictory about a deluxe Cheapass Game.

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