Digested classics: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

'"I found a conch. It's ever so symbolic as it's the only one on the island," said Piggy. "You can summon the boys by blowin' into it"'

The boy with the fair hair wasn't in the least perturbed that the plane he'd been flying in had been shot down or that the adults had been killed while all the boys had survived without a scratch. Instead, he played contentedly on the golden beach in the Garden of Eden.

"I can't hardly move," said a far-off voice.

Ralph looked up. "Who are you?" he asked.

A fat boy with glasses clambered over some fallen tree trunks.

"I don't care as long as you don't call me Piggy like people done before."

"Then I shall call you Piggy, too. Piggy, Piggy, Piggy." Ralph shrieked with laughter. "And you have ass-marr! How very lower-middle class! As I am officer material, I shall be your leader. Now let's try and round up the rest of the boys."

"I found a conch. It's ever so symbolic as it's the only one on the island," said Piggy. "You can summon the boys by blowin' into it."

An eerie sound boomed into the distance as Ralph pressed his lips to the shell, and before long a large group of Bigguns, as the 13-year-olds liked to call themselves, and Littluns were gathered together amid the sweetly aromatic, brightly-coloured foliage.

"We need a chief," Ralph said.

"Then it had better be me," exclaimed the red-headed Jack. "For I am in charge of the choir and head boy."

"I think we need a vote," Ralph replied. "Oh, wizzo! I've been elected. Now, let's build some shelters, light a fire so ships can see us, and scout out the island."

Jack flushed till his face was as red as his hair. "Then the choir shall be the Hunters and I shall be their leader."

Ralph, Jack and Simon, above whose head a halo could be seen, set off through the undergrowth. And, lo, a piglet appeared before them. Jack held his knife aloft, but could not strike for his soul was yet pure, and the piglet ran free. "Let us eat of fruits," said Ralph, as he used Piggy's glasses to light a fire on the mountain ridge and all was well.

For several days the Bigguns gathered wood while the Littluns frolicked gaily in the azure lagoon, until one night the twins, Samneric, fell asleep and let the fire burn out.

"You have done a very bad thing," Ralph said, before he was interrupted by the sound of a wailing Littlun.

"I have seen a snake-like Beastie," cried Percival.

"A Snakie! A Snakie! We have bitten from the apple of Original Sin! We are doomed!" the Littluns chorused.

"The Beastie is the Beastie within us all," Simon observed, polishing his halo. Yet no one listened unto Simon for a prophet is without honour in his own country.

"We'll search the island to prove there is no Beastie," Ralph declared, holding the sacred conch aloft.

As the boys lay sleeping, a dead fighter pilot parachuted softly through the starlit night, coming to rest in a copse at the top of the mountain, where eddying zephyrs rocked it from side to side.

"There is a Beastie after all," Ralph shouted. "Man has Fallen."

"Then let's go hunting," Jack laughed maniacally, tying back his hair that had become long and unkempt overnight and painting his face in a mask of red dye. The boys cheered with orgiastic lust, bathing their hands in its squealing, bloody entrails.

"We must impale its head on a stick and make an offering to the Beastie," Jack said.

And, lo, Simon walked alone to the mountain to converse with the pig's head that appeared unto him as the Lord of the Flies.

"There is no Beastie," said the Lord of the Flies, and Simon observed that the Beastie was a dead airman and that it was good. He ran to spread the Good News, even as the airman was blown to the sea, never to be seen again. But the boys were crazed with the sins of the flesh and had abjured the Path of Righteousness, and when Simon crawled on to the beach they mistook him for the Beastie and clubbed him to death.

An ethereal phosphorescent glow surrounded Simon's body as he ascended into heaven and Ralph knew that he had done wrong.

"We must return to the way of Truth," he said. But the hunters had seduced the Littluns with the lure of the Flesh, and only Piggy and Samneric came back to the camp with him.

"You are still my Chief," Piggy cried as Jack led a raiding party to steal his glasses to light the fire.

"They must see reason," said Ralph as he led his saintly band of disciples back to the hunters. Yet reason saw they not. Samneric were tortured into changing sides and sacrificial Piggy was dashed to the rocks by a falling boulder.

Ralph was alone. "There can be no rescue from this darkness," he wept as he sought to avoid the painted mob. Yet even as he despaired, the hunters set fire to the island to smoke him out and a passing ship heard his ululations.

"I would have expected better from British boys," said the officer.

"We're sorry," the boys replied, having brushed their hair and put on their starched school uniforms. "We promise never to do it again."

• John Crace's Digested Reads appear in G2 on Tuesdays.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 100 best novels: No 74 – Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Dismissed at first as “rubbish & dull”, Golding’s brilliantly observed dystopian desert island tale has since become a classic

Robert McCrum

16, Feb, 2015 @5:45 AM

Article image
William Golding's The Spire
William Golding's 1964 novel about the building of a spire is a study of bringing the near-impossible into being. His writing is no less miraculous, argues Craig Raine

Craig Raine

16, Sep, 2011 @9:55 PM

The digested classic: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

'Durn that road. Durn that rain. Durn them boys. They should be here for her dyen'

John Crace

22, May, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Monique Roffey: ‘William Golding’s The Inheritors gave me ideas for how I could write a mermaid’
The Costa winner on the James Baldwin novel she most cherishes, devouring Willard Price adventures as a child, and the sex scene she wishes she had written

Monique Roffey

09, Jul, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
The Children of Lovers by Judy Golding – review

William Golding's daughter attempts to bring him to life. By Ian Sansom

Ian Sansom

13, May, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
Rutger Bregman: the Dutch historian who rocked Davos and unearthed the real Lord of the Flies
The historian offers a hopeful view of human nature in his latest book, Humankind. It couldn’t have come at a better time

Jonathan Freedland

09, May, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Stephen King joins William Golding centenary celebrations
Horror master jumped at request to write introduction for new, anniversary edition of Lord of the Flies, says publisher

Alison Flood

11, Apr, 2011 @2:35 PM

Podcast: John Carey on William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies

The distinguished critic talks to Claire Armitstead about his controversial biography of the Nobel prize-winning novelist


04, Sep, 2009 @1:28 PM

April's Reading group: The Spire by William Golding

A lofty choice this month, said to be a little forbidding. But I don't doubt it will be a rewarding ascent, and the more satisfying if we make it together

Sam Jordison

03, Apr, 2013 @8:31 AM

William Golding

"The War taught us not fighting, politics or the follies of nationalism, but about the given nature of man."

22, Jul, 2008 @2:40 PM