The Beastie Within

In the back of my mind, I hear the opening credits of Survivor with the plaintive and haunting cry of a conch summoning the castaways to Tribal Council. After reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I will never hear that little bit of reality television the same way again

One great thing about #theLIST is that it has brought me face-to-face with my own deepest emotions. I am going to make a giant leap in mental association and assert that this very reason is why each of these books made #theLIST. Staggering works of heartbreaking genius have been my fare and Lord of the Flies is heartbreaking.

Golding has challenged my view of children by marooning them on an island and letting them, in the immortal words of Jeff Probst, establish a new society. The setting is World War II and the children are the British children who have been taught to “do the right as we see the right”. It does not matter what the war. It does not matter what the nationality of the children. It matters only that “the right” quickly gives way to the myriad of beasties that lurk in the hearts of men.

Children, freed of the restraints of “grown-ups” begin by establishing an imitation of the order that they had enjoyed under adult rule. The conch – the symbol of power – is used to call assemblies where children decided important matters. However, soon they learn that deciding something is entirely different than carrying through the idea. Ralph clings to the rules and ranks of the other world, working quickly to be elected “chief”, recognizing that, if he does not act quickly, the other strong leader, Jack, will usurp his honors. He labors to create a civilized environment, complete with signal fire to facilitate rescue.

Golding does not give timelines except there is a vague mentioning of the passing of seasons and hair growing longer. Clothes fall into disrepair or are discarded. Bit by bit, the beastie that lives in the creepers or falls from the sky begins to live in the nightmares and day-terrors of the Littl’uns. The tribe divides into hunters and gatherers – Jack is the hunter, seeking the elusive pig for meat, while Ralph and Piggy and the little ones are gatherers, living on scavenged fruit, coaxing fire with Piggy’s specs, and struggling to maintain shelter and order.

Hunters hunt. That is what they do. And as they hunt, the last vestiges of civilization fall from them. Ralph and Piggy cling to the conch and the smoke, barely hanging on to their last alliance with Samneric, a set of twins who somehow merged into one name. As the hunters kill a pig and leave an offering for the beastie, they feed the beastie within themselves. They feast – not only on meat but also on power. The power of life and death is heady and they fan the flames of power within their own breasts until they hear nothing else. Painted in red and white clay, with their hair hanging down, they no longer fear the beast. Rather, they are the beast.

And in the midst of it all, Percival incessantly recites his address as if that one magic piece of information will help him hang on to his identity. His recitation is replaced with the hunter’s chant. Simon assumes a new identity and has critical information, but the beastie has already possessed the hearts and minds to such a powerful effect that no one hears or cares. The dance of the hunt must be satisfied.

Golding inexorably leads us down a path to an unwelcome knowledge – that we all have a beastie. If the beastie is fed, it demands and consumes, just as the island is consumed with the flames. Having never much believed in the goodness of Man, I am generally not surprised at his foibles. But I have believed in children, and my faith is shaken to its core.

A man has two wolves within him, one who is vengeful and mean and one who is gentle and noble. Which will win?

The one he feeds.

I must tend closer to the garden of my soul. Lord of the Flies reminds me which wolf to feed.

8/10 hearts. I am ineffably saddened and unsurprised, which makes it more sad in the end. The conch sounds plaintively in my heart.


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