Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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I detested The Lord of the Flies

Just as I hated most classics that were assigned in school, I detested Lord of the Flies. This was not JUST because it was unpleasant to read about boys descending into a state of barbarity; it was also because I just did not believe anything like this would happen. The end of innocence! The darkness in the human heart! Give me a break!

Or at least, that’s perhaps a reconstruction of high-school-me’s reaction based on an adult perspective, but I certainly don’t believe it now. I liked, and still like, castaway stories where that kind of slide into savagery doesn’t occur, like Heinlein’s . . . what was it . . . oh, right, Tunnel in the Sky. I didn’t like the ending of that one, but the basic plot was much more appealing. If I pick up a postapocalyptic novel, that’s what I want — you may have savages who think the end of the rule of law is a great chance to pillage, sure, but your protagonists had better pull together and rebuild civilization or I’m not interested. More, I’m not persuaded. I just don’t believe you can start with decent people, drop them on an island, and wham! The darkness in the human heart emerges.

Well, this article just caught my eye: The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months

I will quote some relevant tidbits:

Thus began my quest for a real-life Lord of the Flies. After trawling the web for a while, I came across an obscure blog that told an arresting story: “One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip … Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.”

The story concerned six boys who had been found three weeks earlier on a rocky islet south of Tonga, an island group in the Pacific Ocean. The boys had been rescued by an Australian sea captain after being marooned on the island of ‘Ata for more than a year. …

These days, ‘Ata is considered uninhabitable. But “by the time we arrived,” Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.” While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

While the boys of ‘Ata have been consigned to obscurity, Golding’s book is still widely read. …

It’s time we told a different kind of story. The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other. After my wife took Peter’s [captain who rescued the boys] picture, he turned to a cabinet and rummaged around for a bit, then drew out a heavy stack of papers that he laid in my hands. His memoirs, he explained, written for his children and grandchildren. I looked down at the first page. “Life has taught me a great deal,” it began, “including the lesson that you should always look for what is good and positive in people.”

I’m impressed by the series of lucky chances and the persistence that led to Rutger Bregman tracking down this whole story, which utterly disappeared from memory. Whether or not you personally enjoyed Lord of the Flies, by all means click through and read the whole article.

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8 Comments I detested The Lord of the Flies

  1. Elaine T

    If I still had a kid in an official school I’d agitate for getting this story paired with the Golding.
    We need more to contradict the grimdark takes pushed in classes.

  2. Rachel

    YES.

    I still can’t believe how unrelentingly awful all the classics assigned were, compared to the broader category of classics that exist.

  3. Allan Shampine

    Hear hear! Strongly agree. I reposted this story on Facebook as an anodyne to the current grimdark narrative of real life.

  4. Megan

    I was always a heavy reader, but boy, my high school English class nearly made me hate books. I didn’t care for most of the fiction, even though we got to avoid some of the truly awful stinkers (but I still read Emma by Jane Austin for my term paper, which was only because I got about one chapter into Hemmingway before deciding I wanted anything but that). Crime and Punishment somehow managed to make a story about a literal axe murderer the most depressive slog.

    To this day I’m a bit bitter I wasn’t allowed to write about themes and motifs and such using authors like Terry Pratchett, who were actually fun to read in addition to having some of those literary things crammed in.

  5. Rachel

    Megan, since Terry Pratchett has written probably the best and most well-known satire in the modern era, it is indeed a real shame that your teachers (and all teachers) didn’t realize this and assign something of his.

    Connie Willis has written satire described as SF too. What was it called? Oh, I’m thinking of Bellwether.

    You know what would have been fun? A course actually on satire, starting with Jonathan Swift and including Terry Pratchett and Connie Willis. Can’t you just see teachers of the day refusing to assign Jonathan Swift because it wasn’t really literature?

  6. mona

    I can totally see that grimdark bias in assigned reading! It’s mind boggling. Don’t you know we’ll read more if it’s uplifting?

    I’m so glad my teachers didn’t assign Lord of the Flies. It sounds terrible. White Noise and Heart of Darkness were bad enough. I don’t think I even finished those, and until recently I used to think I *must* finish a book once begun.

  7. Rachel

    I had to read Heart of Darkness. Ugh. Fortunately, I missed White Noise.

    I was such a dutiful student I always read everything that was assigned, no matter how much I hated it. Too bad I can’t go back to high-school-me and whisper, “Just read the cliff notes version, seriously, and here, try Jane Austen instead.”

  8. Mary Catelli

    There are books that I liked before reading them in English class, and (long) after, but hated during.

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