William Golding’s work has always been somewhat controversial, with many critics hailing him as a literary giant and others decrying what they see as a tendency to create contrived, manipulative works laden with heavy-handed symbolism. Golding’s reputation grew slowly. In 1955, when Lord of the Flies was first published in the United States, few readers had ever heard of him, and the book (which had been rejected by twenty-one publishers) sold only a handful of copies. Four years later, however, when a paperback edition appeared, sales of the work began to increase, promoted by word of mouth. Not long afterward, Lord of the Flies became required reading in many secondary schools and colleges, prompting interest in the author’s subsequent work. In 1983, Golding received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Born in Cornwall, England, in 1911, Golding attended Oxford University, changing his major from science to literature halfway through, and then, after publishing a book of poetry, became caught up in World War II. He spent five years serving with the Royal Navy, emerging as a lieutenant and embarking on a teaching and writing career. He wrote novels and novellas, poetry, plays, essays, and travel articles.
Lord of the Flies remains Golding’s best-known work. It is a superficially simple but densely layered tale that has been labeled, among other things, a fable, a myth, an allegory, and a parable. On the surface, it is an adventure story. A group of schoolboys await rescue on a deserted island, meanwhile exploring, hunting, and finally warring with one another. In Golding’s hands, the story becomes a parable that probes the nature and origin of evil.
The point of departure for Lord of the Flies is a nineteenth century boys’ novel titled The Coral Island (1858), by R. M. Ballantyne. In Ballantyne’s story, a group of shipwrecked British schoolboys (two of whom share their names with Golding’s main...
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