PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'Lord of the Flies' Still Reigns

Fear and brutality inherent in the human condition and the drive to survive are themes that have never gone out of fashion. The stakes get even higher when those involved are children, and that's obviously a big seller.

Lord of the Flies

Publisher: Perigee Trade; Centennial edition
Price: $10.88
Author: William Golding
Length: 304 pages
Format: paperback
Publication date: 2011-01

Lord of the Flies

Director: Peter Brook
Cast: James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards, Roger Elwin, Tom Gaman, David Surtees, Simon Surtees
Studio: Two Arts Ltd.
Release date: 2000-01-18

You can't blink twice without seeing The Hunger Games lately. While I haven't read the trendy book yet, its premise about children committing acts of violence against one another in order to survive in a post apocalyptic world is well known. It's no wonder that its predecessor, Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

Unlike The Hunger Games, when it was published in 1954, William Golding's first novel was not initially a great success. In fact, it sold less than 3,000 copies before going out of print in 1955. Luckily, Golding's novel became a best seller in the '60s and went on to become required reading in schools and universities.

The novel begins as a plane filled with evacuated British schoolboys crashes, and the boys find themselves marooned on a deserted island. The first boys to arrive on the page are Ralph and Piggy, who both go on to become central characters in the book. Ralph, the book's protagonist is a "fair-haired", pleasant and natural leader. Piggy, the witty, bespectacled and overweight boy ashamed, of the mean nickname he's been given in school, is in my mind the book's most sympathetic and memorable character.

In the first scene, the reader learns that the boys were evacuated due to a war breaking out. Iggy warns Ralph that the adults he believes will find them won't. "Didn't you hear what the pilot said? About the atom bomb?" Iggy says. "They're all dead."

When the two find a conch shell on the beach, Ralph uses it to summon other boys scattered about the island. A choirboy named Jack, who turns out to be the book's main antagonist, arrives with the other boys in his choir. Simon, another boy who has a pivotal role in the book, arrives as well. He's a quiet, somewhat otherworldly child whose later interaction with the decapitated head of a pig is significant to the book's title.

The boys eventually split into two separate groups: one led by Ralph, who focus on keeping a fire lit to serve as an SOS beacon for any passing ships; and the other led by Jack, whose domineering and aggressive nature leads his group to concentrate on hunting. The hunting group's bloodthirsty nature proves overwhelming, and eventually consumes all the boys, including Ralph and Piggy, who represent democracy and reason.

Golding's novel considers the fine line between human intellect and madness, and is often seen as a parable about democracy and anarchy. Published only a decade after the end of World War II and in the midst of the Cold War, Lord of the Flies is often considered an examination of the aftermath of collapsed regimes where the struggle for power and direction are often a result. Interestingly Golding fought in World War II and was part of the sinking the Bismark (Germany's key battleship), the invasion of Normandy, and D-Day. Obviously Golding was familiar with the cruelty humans are capable of.

Fear and brutality inherent in the human condition and the drive to survive are themes that have never gone out of fashion. The stakes get even higher when those involved are children, and it's obviously a big seller. Case in point: all the recent works comparable to Lord of the Flies including the aforementioned The Hunger Games and Japan's Battle Royal, a 1999 film recently released in the US, based on the book of the same name about high school students forced by the government to hunt and kill each other.

Many other fictional works are no doubt indebted to Lord of the Flies as well, whether it involves people struggling to form a society and survive on a deserted island or a group of boys attempting to manage a frightening situation in the wilderness. TV's Lost, The Beach, written by Alex Garland, and The Body (later adapted as the film Stand by Me) by Stephen King are just a few that pop to mind. Speaking of Stephen King, he wrote the introduction in the latest "Centenary" edition of the book. In it, he lauds the classic tale:

"I finished the last half of Lord of the Flies in a single afternoon, my eyes wide, my heart pounding, not thinking, just inhaling. But I've been thinking about it ever since, for fifty years and more. My rule of thumb as a writer and a reader – largely formed by Lord of the Flies – is feel it first, think about it later."

The 1963 black and white film version of the book, directed by Peter Brook, is a particularly faithful adaptation. It is pointed out in the DVD commentary of the Criterion edition that there was no screenplay or script to work from and the production team used the novel as the only basis for the film.

James Aubrey and Hugh Edwards were excellent choices to play Ralph and Piggy respectively. Aubrey captures Ralph's earnestness seamlessly and Edwards is a perfect Iggy, embodying his stumbling, sweet nature and grandmotherly wit like a pro. Tom Gaman nails the spiritual wisdom of Simon and Tom Chapin, who plays Jack, is also appropriately cast. From his first sentence in the film, Chapin is the crisp, shrewd boy who propels the boys' savagery in the book.

The film begins with an unnerving visual introduction made to inform the viewer of why the boys ended up on the island. Brook does this with a series of photo stills showing schoolboys, a nuclear missile, evacuation notices written on a chalkboard, and a plane going down near an island. The images are set to the sound of school bells and choir music.

Once you get past how pristine the boys look after the plane crash (particularly the choir faction who march up the beach in the beginning of the film as if they were going into Sunday mass), the film is authentic and beautiful in its black and white starkness.

There's an eerie otherworldliness to the film that captures the disconnect of the boys from the outside adult world, which is quickly coming apart. At one point, a plane goes hurling over the island, making a loud whine. It looks more like a missile than a plane, at which point Ralph looks up and cries out, "a plane!" in an alarmed tone. When one of the small boys claims there's a beast living out at sea, the silence as all the others look out at the dark stormy ocean is chilling.

The film's use of silence and music also add to the eeriness, which gives the film the sense of doom intrinsic in the book. It begins to ring so true it's easy to forget it's a film based on fiction and not a documentary. It seems unneeded that Henry Hook reshot the film in 1990, especially considering how many critics applauded Brook's version. The Criterion edition contains extras, including a full-length commentary by Brooks and others on the production team, a deleted scene, excerpts of the book read by Golding, and the original theatrical trailer.

Brooks was nominated for the Golden Palm award at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival and it's no surprise. The film is a meaningful adaptation of Golding's novel. Both the film and the book are still as gripping and as relevant now as they were 60 years ago.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.