Survival of the fittest – it is perhaps the most true of all laws. Whether it is in the darkest jungle, the hottest desert, the frozen wastes, the deepest oceans, or on a school playground – the strongest survives by preying on the weakest. That last example is important, as children following this rule are perhaps the cruelest. This covers many stories in our culture, most chronicling a descent from civilization into savagery. We’ve seen it recently in The Hunger Games, before that in Battle Royale, but we’re going to go back a bit further, to what some may call the original Hunger Game… Lord of the Flies. More savagery after the jump…
The book “Lord of the Flies written by Sir William Golding was published in 1954. He was the author of over a dozen books, one of them winning the Nobel Prize in 1980, but it is “Lord of the Flies,” his first novel, for which he is chiefly remembered. His tale of young British schoolboys, abandoned on an island during wartime, who form their own form of society, and lack thereof, became an instant classic, and made the shelves of high school literature classes ever since.
Once on the island, a loose civilization is created, a democracy with an appointed leader. When the hunters of the group begin to make a show of power, fascism and fear take root, with sacrifices made to a beast on the mountain. Survival of the fittest at its darkest takes hold with the boys becoming murderous savages in the absence of adults and rules. The story is an allegory that has stood the test of time and lent much to our everyday vernacular, like ‘passing the conch,’ and even the title of the book itself is shorthand for the breakdown of society.
As with any successful book, eventually it is made into a movie. Filming began in 1961, for director Peter Brook and producer Lewis Allen, both known for making films and stage plays based on literature both modern and classic. It was filmed in black and white, and in beautiful tropical Puerto Rico. It was done improv style, much like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” as the boys were given copies of the book, sans commentary, and sans ending. Guided by the director, they created the scenario, almost as if they were driven wild by the lack of authority, just like in the book.
The plot details how all the boys are gathered together on the island by Ralph calling them with a conch shell. His second-in-command, or better, his hanger-on, is a plump bespeckled boy that the others call Piggy, obviously the school’s scapegoat. Ralph tries to keep democratic rules, but as the boys get hungrier and hungrier, Jack and his gang of boys become hunters, providers and the power begins to shift.
Jack and his gang begin to become savage, almost devolve, painting their faces with blood, sharpening sticks into spears, and worshipping a monster – the beast on the mountain (actually a dead paratrooper), guarded by the lord of the flies – a horrific rotting pig’s head on a stick with flies buzzing about it. Society degrades into chaos as you might imagine from there.
For the trivia buffs out there, look for a young Nicholas Hammond as Robert, years before he would play “The Amazing Spider-Man” on television.
The film was remade in color in 1990 to moderate success, but it made the mistake, I think, of trying to update it for audiences. It also seemed to be riding on the cute boy of the week wave to get young girls into theaters, making it more about money than art or teaching. The less said about it, the better.
Mankind the Real Monster
I’ve talked about this before, briefly in my review of Nightbreed and again in a recent Biff Bam Popcast (The Horror The Horror), but I’m not afraid of monsters. I know in my brain that they just aren’t real. Dracula, Frankenstein, Freddy, Leatherface, Godzilla and the Alien are all make-believe – they can’t get me.
But Scarface, “The Sopranos,” Goodfellas… those things could actually happen – that’s the kind of stuff that scares me. I know Jason is an actor in a hockey mask, but I have a fear of going through tollbooths thanks to The Godfather. You could take it farther if you want – man made Frankenstein and Godzilla, man killed Bambi’s mother and burned his forest, man is the real monster.
Lord of the Flies is all about this. Anyone who suffered through bullying school will tell you that what happened on that island happens every day in every school across the land. Survival of the fittest is the horror of reality. For every Piggy, there is a Jack, sometimes many Jacks. This is why Lord of the Flies scares me so much.
As I said, today just the phrase ‘lord of the flies’ implies chaos, the fall of civilization, the breakdown of society. It is survival of the fittest, it is a study of the strongest and the meanest ruling by force. That’s what scares me, because it’s real. It’s not Count Dracula, or Freddy Krueger, or a herd of zombies that’s going to get me walking late at night in North Camden, it’s man – it’s Jack the hunter, making a sacrifice to the Lord of the Flies.