William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is one of those books that has always filled me with a deep disquiet. If I tell you I don’t like it, you will assume I think it isn’t any good. But that’s not true – I think it’s brilliant. It’s just not very nice.
It is, however, pivotal in the work of many of today’s most famous pop culture writers and creative artists: with everything from Stephen King, to Lost, to Terminator, Mad Max and Zombieland being descendents of Lord of the Flies, it can be argued that in some ways all modern post-apocalyptic writing and cinema has derived from Golding’s dark view of humanity.
John Carey, author of the recently published William Golding: the man who wrote Lord of the Flies: a life, is an accomplished speaker, and despite the fact that he began quietly, in an auditorium overflowing with rambunctious teens, he had them mesmerised within minutes. Much of the information should be familiar to those who have even a passing acquaintance with the book and the author, but there were a few surprises even for Carey, he said, as he began to research using Golding’s extensive collection of diaries and papers. Marion got to have a chat with him this afternoon, and no doubt she will shed much light on both Carey and Golding, but there were one or two things that stood out for me from this morning’s session.
Firstly, that as a teacher, Golding would use what he described as a “measure of experimental science” in his teaching, in essence using the students as illustrations of his own theories about the nature of humanity and the darkness within. Carey described a particular incident where Golding packed up all the boys and carted them all out to a local landmark, and basically set them against each other in a war-strategy type of situation, only intervening eventually when it became clear that someone was going to be killed. He also apparently would frequently stir up his classes and deliberately antagonise them so as to observe their behaviour.
The other point I hadn’t heard before was that Golding’s final published work differs significantly from his initial submitted manuscript; this due to his fiercely agnostic editor, who insisted on removing all obvious traces of religious symbolism and deeper spiritual meaning. From being a quite clear tale of hope and spiritual strength in the face of adversity, it was transformed into a book whose message was that ignorance and terror invent religion, and that only bad can come of anything spiritual. Later in his life, Golding very much regretted ‘giving in’ to Monteith’s demands, but Carey makes the argument that without this interference, Lord of the Flies would not have become the enduring piece of literary success that it is today.
A fascinating session, and I am very much looking forward both to reading Marion’s interview, and to the Michael King Memorial Lecture on Sunday, which promises an adult slant on Golding’s life and work.
It would be interesting to see Golding’s original manuscript published. I’d also be interested to know what other books went through this editor’s hands, because he sounds like a writer’s worst nightmare: one of those editors who insist their authors write the books THEY would have written rather than one who helps a writer turn a good story into a better one.
Yes, as soon as Carey said that, I too was desperate to see the original. I wonder if someone will produce a ‘directors cut’?
very interesting that the original manuscript was significantly altered from what william golding intended. personally, i am relieved that the heavy religious references were removed – I *loathe* books with heavy religious overtones, it just ruins it for me. So I am thankful for the editor’s “intereference” 😉
It does bring up that debate about what the role of editor is – if it improves the manuscript, makes it more readable, makes it more saleable, then isn’t that the real point? an editor is part of the process, but the author starts the process by creating the manuscript. a good editor is worth their weight in gold.
So true about its enduring influence. It’s everywhere.
Check out this brilliant song from I Blame Coco called “Caesar” – killer line of “And it’s the Lord of the Flies all over again”
We talked about editing a bit at breakfast today. Apparently they were close friends as much as professional colleagues, which must have made for interesting conversations. I guess for me the question has to be whether the editor is doing it for professional reasons, or personal ones – does he really care about the shape of the book, and the author’s unique voice, or is he only focused on pushing his own beliefs?
Golding owed a lot to his editor because he rescued Lord of the Flies from the reject pile. Rick Gekoski has an interesting chapter on the whole saga.