This is another in my ongoing series of “going back and reading all the classic literature I never read in my youth”. Lord of the Rings is surely a classic, and one well-known to most people whether they have read it or not. Many have seen the film versions.
I too was well aware of the plot lines and since I assume you are too, I won’t spend much time upon it. Quite obviously books such as these need no “review”. This is designed to simply register as my thoughts on reading it, rather than as some new analysis.
The premise is simple…a plane load of children crashes on a desert island and there are no adults. What kind of world will they create? What fears come to the fore? How will they be dealt with? Who will lead? Who follow?
It is not surprising to most readers that the situation soon devolves into chaos. A couple of the older boys seemingly think of the right things, food, shelter, rescue. The rest are either too young to comprehend it all, or locked in their own needs and wants. The camp followers are one group and the “hunters” another. Their interests initially one, diverge.
One boy, Ralph, becomes the effective leader, but another boy, Jack, becomes his almost instant rival. Jack represents the self-serving in all of us, who pursues his own interests without thinking of the consequences to the larger group. Ralph is no match for the enticing adventure that Jack offers. Jack denigrates the “adult” interests of Ralph and Piggy to secure some security as well as set up a smoke fire that will alert passing ships it is hoped. He encourages the rhythm of tribal chant, that raises the blood and encourages the blood rage necessary to seek out and kill one of the island’s native wild pigs.
Of course, eventually Jack’s barely contained homicidal rage wins the younger boys over and they paint themselves and engage in the hunts, the hunts that eventually ignore the difference between boy and beast. Playing deftly on the fears of the youngest, he gets them all to do his bidding, and when Ralph and Piggy try to turn the boys back to rescue pursuits, the violence erupts.
Two of the boys are killed in the rage. The chanting of “kill the beast, cut his throat, spill his blood,” reverberates through the mind as we seek our own peace with this circumstance. We ask ourselves. Would we do better? Are we but one catastrophe from chaos? Would we be Ralph or Jack? Would we be Piggy, desperate to be accepted, forced as usual into the roll of laughable buffoon. Would we protect Piggy? Or join the tribe?
There are endless questions. As usual, stories such as Lord of the Flies start so simply, as little stories. But the ideas and questions they raise go to the very guts of who we are but more importantly who we think we are. As such they locate their place in the pantheon of important literature, not so much for the grandeur of its writing or the loftiness of its ideals, but rather for the hard questions it raises about society and what we have created and how stable it is or is not.
Are we basically good? Or is it bad? Are we altruistic by nature or protective ultimately of only our own interests as we perceive them to be?
Read, and then sit and reflect.
Definitely a book everyone should read at some point.