(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 23)

The narrator, Edmund Talbot, is a young English aristocrat sailing on a decrepit, converted warship as it struggles toward Australia, where he is to take up a position in the colonial administration. FIRE DOWN BELOW, is, first, an exciting adventure story: Danger is constant, and Golding’s depictions of the perils of storms and of icebergs, and of the indignities and deprivations of the sailor’s life, are so exact and so evocative that readers will probably feel thankful that they are safely anchored on dry land.

The novel is also about character, in particular the continuing growth of young Talbot to maturity, and his changing perceptions of some of the other occupants of the ship. In particular he discovers, as he had done with the Reverend Colley in RITES OF PASSAGE, that those who at first appear ugly or foolish or pitiful may in reality be the true heroes in life. For example, Talbot dismisses one of the passengers, Prettiman, as a feeble-minded, conventional social philosopher, and because Prettiman is ill, bedridden, and apparently dying, Talbot finds him repulsive. As he gets to know the man, however, he finds himself inspired by Prettiman’s radical ideas, his wide learning, his vision of humanity as sparks of fire emanating from the divine, and his dream of creating an ideal society in the colony. Prettiman’s mystic temperament is in contrast to that of Talbot’s closest friend, Lieutenant Summers, who is in turn contrasted with the charming and clever Lieutenant Benet, whose flawed ingenuity costs Summers his life.

There are so many things to admire in this book, including the wonderfully uplifting and subtle conclusion, that it ranks with the very best of contemporary novels.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, October 15, 1996, p. 379.

The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 20, 1996, p. B3.

Library Journal. CXXI, December, 1996, p. 149.

The New York Times. April 18, 1996, p. C13.

The New York Times. December 10, 1996, p. C19.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, January 19, 1997, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, October 28, 1996, p. 57.

Time. CXLIX, January 13, 1997, p. 76.

USA Today. January 3, 1997, p. D4.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

From his reading of Ernest Hemingway, Ellison learned the importance of detailed physical descriptions. For example, the much of the drama in...

(The entire section is 628 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The stories in this collection were written between 1937 and 1954, many of them influenced by Ellison's friend Richard Wright. In theme, some...

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A dominant theme in Flying Home and Other Stories is racial prejudice and its effects. Regardless of their economic status, the adult...

(The entire section is 921 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As a student at Tuskeegee University, Ellison read the works of those writers who most influenced young writers of the 1930s: T. S. Eliot,...

(The entire section is 152 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As Ellison's literary executor, John F. Callahan, notes in his introductory essay, the stories in this volume date from the period between...

(The entire section is 86 words.)