Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review - Lord of the Flies

Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies is another one of those classic English novels that I somehow made it through school without ever reading. It was often referenced in other book discussions in classes and I had a very general feel for the overarching plot of the book, but I'd never actually read it. So, I finally did.

For those who somehow haven't heard of the book or know anything about the story, it basically involves a bunch of British schoolboys (probably aged 6 or 7 through early/mid-teens). During wartime evacuation, the kids all crash land on a deserted island and are the lone survivors (no adults). Timeframes are somewhat ambiguous but over time, one of the kids, Ralph, becomes a "chief" of the group and comes up with plans for survival (shelters, food, etc) and escape (keeping a signal fire going with green wood/leaves nearby to send up a flurry of smoke). As time goes on, order is pulled apart either from youthful desire for fun over work or from coercion from Jack Merridew and his group of boys, "the choir."

The general plot of the story is interesting and reminded me a little bit of Robinson Crusoe and his desire to bring civilization and order to his little island. This book had more psychological themes going on though since there were many people on the island and they were all either very young kids or young teenagers pushing into self-consciousness and evaluation.

The book provides interesting insight into the thoughts and desires of kids as they work towards adulthood. These kids are generally younger than what one might consider a "young adult" but they're forced into a very adult situation. We get to see a number of different reactions. These range from the strong desire to maintain order and civility by creating and enforcing rules based on ideas from the adult world to the youthful desire for fun unbridled now that there are no adults to stifle entertainment to the completely savage nature of play as the kids revert back to their savage natural state in the wild.

Most of the people who saw me reading this book were quick to let me know how much they disliked it. I can see the reasons for distaste. The themes are harsh and uncomfortable. The end result of the story, even though it has a "happy ending", are does not provide a happy, enthusiastic view towards humanity.

A lot of the writing style was very descriptive and evocative and just plain lovely to read. A lot of the theme and tone of the book was very unsettling and hard to read. This juxtaposition left me feeling mixed about the book. While I may not like the story or what it proposes to say about humanity, I can certainly appreciate the message it's trying to convey and the way it does it.

There's a lot going on in this book and I certainly don't feel like I've unpacked it all. At the same time, I'm not particularly eager to go back and read it again to try and unpack more. I saw some definite commentary on humanity, on "civilization", on war, on psychology, religion, etc. I can see why it's taught in schools and see how it could provide intense discussions.

However, I worry that some of the themes and concepts may be lost on too young a reader. And it may not even be an "age" thing as is shown by some of the events in the story. Just like some of the kids in the story were not ready for what they were forced to undertake, I would worry that if a child is too young or emotionally/intellectually immature, they may not recognize the message and allegory in the story and will either leave thinking it's just a fun adventure and (who knows) will strive to go out hunting boars themselves, or they could come away emotionally troubled without a good outlet to deal with it.

I'm glad I read this. Not one of my favorites, but very thought provoking. I have no intention to hand it to my 11 year old to read (even though he's begged me to let him) but I'll gladly discuss it with him if/when it's assigned to him in High School.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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Matthew MacNish said...

I remember this book from school. I enjoyed it but was also a little disturbed.

Brian Miller said...

this is one of my still sits on my bookshelf...i think it captures well that time between boy and man...i agree though it is something of a certain age...

Oddyoddyo13 said...

Some books are good, but their messages are painful to take in. I loved your description of the book-never read it, but I have a general idea on what it's about. Thanks for the review!

logankstewart said...

This was one I read on my own back in high school, and I remember really liking it then. I wonder if I would still feel that way if I re-read it now.

Great review, though.