Since I was a choir boy during most of grade school, Lord of the Flies by William Golding had a special place in my imagination. When I first came across the book, the dark tale of British choir boys gone native on a deserted island was the perfect denizen for my eighth-grade adolescent psyche.
Today marks the hundredth anniversary of Golding’s birth, a writer who won both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Booker Prize. He is the author of many fine novels, plays and short stories, but Lord of the Flies continues to be his signature piece.
The irony in the book is arresting. The most “innocent” in society (not just children, but choir boys!) from the “most” civilized of societies (England), slowly shed the trappings of both civilization and Christianity. Step by step mild taunts become acts of violence, and the religion of the empire dissipates into paganism. Indeed, “Lord of the Flies” is the translation of Beelzebub. Only in the end are the children rescued by a British naval officer, who is himself involved in a much larger war effort.
The book raises many fundamental questions about human nature. Are we inherently good or inherently evil? How does civilization constrain our violent impulses—or does it simply channel those impulses into more “acceptable” avenues such as sport and war? What is the character of our spiritual nature? Why are we so often drawn toward the forces of the Prince of Darkness? How do we overcome that?
I have continued to sing in choirs for most of the years since I first read Lord of the Flies. And the questions the book asks continue to be central to our lives.