Lord of the Lies

There are two books I wish I had never read, or never been made to read, more accurately. Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was still a curriculum favorite when I was in eighth grade, because, “Boys will read it.” There is not one female character in the whole tale, not even off the page. (Rant of choice goes here.)

LOTF is small (about 60,000 words) which means cheap to buy in quantity. At the time I was forced to read it, the book was already more than 20 years old, but like the same old thing for breakfast each day, it was still slopped into the educational  hog trough year after year.

This dark little story purports to chronicle the descent into murderous savagery of a group of British schoolboys marooned on a tropical island. Three of them, including the lone inherently decent character, either die or are killed by their peers. The surviving  boys finish out the book wishing human nature wasn’t so gosh darned awful.

Golding was a depressed, anti-social, alcoholic who’d endured two world wars and a pandemic. He had reasons for publishing this grim little allegory, and in 1954, with Cold War well under way, they were probably pretty good reasons. That context wasn’t provided to me as I stumbled into his work at the age of fourteen. The message the came across was: People are basically violent, selfish, and stupid. Even children are violent, selfish, and stupid if left to fend for themselves.

Golding did say the book would never have worked with girls, which is puzzling, because as far as I was concerned, the book didn’t work with boys. Turns out a group of six boys were in fact once upon a time (in 1965) shipwrecked on a tiny desert island and stranded for fifteen months. One of them even broke his leg.

They were rescued by merest happenstance, and found to be in great good health if a bit shaggy. The busted leg was perfectly healed. When squabbles broke out among them, the combatants would go to different corners of the island for a few hours, then come together to talk out their differences. They shared all of the work, developed a routine that included music, prayer, exercise, and food gathering, and generally set up a mini-civil society under very trying conditions. One guy figured out to get a fire going and they did not let that flame burn out once in 15 months.

You can read about them here, and I’ll have more to say next week on the book from which that article was excerpted. This was the rebuttal I wanted to make to William Golding: Most people are basically good. We want good things for others. We love much more effectively than we hate. Reality TV isn’t reality. It’s poison masquerading as entertainment.

Back in eighth grade, all I could do was shrug and pronounce Golding’s book stupid. (Fourteen is not the most analytical age.) Maybe the story can now be read as an indictment of toxic patriarchy rather of human nature. I don’t know and I’m not planning on re-reading it any time soon. All I know is, Golding was wrong, love is the answer, and every one of you is welcome on my desert island.

Are there books you wish you could un-read, movies you wish you could un-watch? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of A Lady’s Dream Come True.

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20 comments on “Lord of the Lies

  1. 1
    Marianne says:

    Lord of the Flies makes my list, too, both as book and movie. I didn’t run into it until I was in my 20’s and substitute teaching 5 sections of it a day. I understood it could be a yearly assignment if I were up for it.

    I’d like to unread a book that fell into my lap at about 14, mostly because I was 14. Had I been older, I think I would have put it down. It seemed to be sex of some sort on every page, bestiality, incest, orgies … Perhaps I owe my education to that book but I can’t seem to unfeel the fascinated horror with which I read it. It was in my junior high library. I didn’t even feel I could say it was “stupid.”

    Thanks for the invite to the desert island. I’d just as soon not do more quarantine, at the moment, however.

  2. 2
    Mary T says:

    I never read Lord of the Flies, but I saw the movie. It was awful!

    In my younger days I read a lot of books just because I thought I ought to. I remember plowing through Gone With The Wind even though I couldn’t stand Scarlett O’Hara. I read War And Peace as a challenge to myself. I actually did enjoy it even though I thought it was never going to end (smile). Then there were some books I wanted to enjoy (like Lord Of The Rings) but just couldn’t really get interested in them. Read every word, but can’t remember any of it.

    When I retired, I decided I would read only what I actually wanted to read. Decided I didn’t want to waste me time on anything that didn’t end well. So most of my reading now is romance, mysteries and biographies.

    That’s when I found one of your books in the library. I now have almost all of them. You are such a talent.

  3. 3
    Teenie Marie says:

    There are plenty of movies I wished I hadn’t seen, including “Lord of the Flies” which I saw *back in the day* before VCRs and streaming services etc. I don’t think it worked well with commercials and I know it had been heavily edited but I hated the premise. And, like you, I thought adolescent girls would have worked better. I still would have hated it, but I would have believed it.

    There have been only a few books I wished I hadn’t read. The novels I find unreadable I don’t finish–and have given a couple of bad reviews. But one novel I DETESTED I thought I should complete so others wouldn’t have to. In fact, I told my kids and my Mom (who was still alive when this book came out) I would *take the hit* for them so they would not feel obligated to read it. What was the book? “Set a Watchman” (I think that’s the title) by Harper Lee. It was essentially the prequel/sequel for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and I can see why her publisher would have wanted to publish the book they did, and not “Set a Watchman.” It’s my understanding Harper Lee didn’t want it to be published EVER but her heirs/estate decided to publish it anyway. I HATED IT! It took me about 2 months to finish because I would read for a while, get angry and not touch it for a bit, and go back to it. I finally finished it because I was infuriated it was making me angry. 🙁 Read it if you’re curious but you’ll probably think less of Harper Lee.

  4. 4
    Susan G says:

    As an English major, I had to read a variety of novels that I didn’t care for in the least.
    James Joyce’s Portrait if a Young Artist was one book I couldn’t “Get”. Maybe it was the stream on consciousness aspect? I never read Lord if the Flies or watched the movie…the subject matter didn’t appeal to me.

    I believe most people are good at heart. Experiences shape people and sometimes love cant fix it.
    Don’t enter me in the contest as I am reading Oak and Vera’s story now.

    Have a great week and keep cool.

  5. 5
    Make Kay says:

    Oh, that’s fascinating that there were real life marooned boys and they were so well behaved! I’m afraid I have to disagree, I do not think most people are inherently good. I think their circumstances allow them to act good most of the time. But I am definitely a pessimist.

    Movie I wish I could unwatch: The Princess Bride. It’s a great movie, but it erased the much better images that I had in my head when I read the book. Although I’ve never watched it, Claire and Jamie from the Outlander series have now replaced the images I had for years in my head while reading the books. That makes me so angry how there is no way to get away from the insidious insertion of tv and movies into my life, even though I don’t want it to happen. I don’t watch tv or movies any longer, haven’t for years. But billboards & social media shove these things into my eyeballs anyway.

  6. 6
    Karen H near Tampa says:

    Even though I hated the ending of “Gone with the Wind” (I threw the book across the room–and I don’t even crease the backs of my paperbacks!) and I hated “Outlander” (for all the rapes and witch hunts, etc.–I don’t care if it was sort of historical, I think it was violence porn), I don’t regret reading them because they are such a part of the literary (hah) landscape. I cannot contribute to the conversation if I have no basis. Yes, I read “Lord of the Flies” but I think it was in my 20s and I just put it away. I also read “Go Set a Watchman” and I don’t regret that either. It made Atticus a more real Southern man in my opinion (I grew up in and currently live in the South so this was not new to me). I did recently censor my mother’s reading, however. We share a love for cozy mysteries (and previously romance as it was her bookshelf from which I picked up my first romance novel) and one series we used to love involved a group of sleuthing seniors in southern Florida. The most recent book contained a man who was literally preying on women, but it was laughed off as just a symptom of his age (he didn’t physically attack the women but he did psychologically/emotionally frighten them badly). And it was never treated as a serious problem. I wrote a letter to the author pointing out his horrific behavior and the even more horrific response by the characters in the book. She did respond but with a “sorry you didn’t like it” brushoff. So her books are permanently off our reading lists.

  7. 7
    Beth says:

    Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    I was force fed this my last year of high school by a hysteric (in the mental health sense) liberal arts dominatrix who went so far as to sketch a diagram entitled The Meaning of Life on the classroom board which she’d somehow abstracted from this dreck. Do Not Erase will forever be emblazoned on my memory, as will the D I received in the class as my final grade for applying everything else I’d learned in my scathing criticism of this which was, of course, the only question on the final exam.

    No one ever said I was discrete or politically minded at that point in my adolescence. But I had reached the point of no return listening to her daily brainwashing aka rants in the wonders to be abstracted from this torture device masquerading as literature. I was past my limits & using the only voice allowed at this establishment, namely pen on paper.

    Fortunately for me, between the time I turned in my act of rebellion & the call from my father to the headmaster demanding an explanation for his daughter’s sudden descent from stellar academic record to the abyss just as college applications were due, we received the results of my Advanced Placement exam in English. In another act of rebellion, I’d critiqued Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave for example questions on topics such as foreshadowing. (I still remember the joy of answering that question with a book of my choosing rather than the dreaded Zen Mrs M ordered we all use as our exemplar). My score was so outrageously high that it relieved me of the need to take the usual required freshman English classes.

    I will never, so long as I live, remember the satisfaction I felt sitting in that headmaster’s office with my furious father while a normally pompous windbag of an administrator turned his awful glare on Mrs M, then stalked down the hall with my father only to find that diagram of The Meaning of Life- Do Not Erase still on the board while my tormentor babbled that only her genius had resulted in my AP score. To which my father simply thrust my final exam paper with its flaming red D and giant crimson Xs drawn across every page of my exam booklet along with the word NO!

    I obtained college placement despite the grade remaining on my transcript. My father set me to write an essay on the quality of mercy based on his own ancient copy of Shakespeare, followed by lavish love, praise for having done so well on my exam, and a stern reminder to never be afraid to come to him about any abusive figure of authority, no matter how advanced my age. I have no idea what happened to Mrs M. But the trauma of that class lingers to this day and I still love The Crystal Cave for showing me that a good story can serve as a beacon of hope in the wilderness of terrible times whether “experts” recognize it as great literature or not.

  8. 8
    • 8.1
      Beth says:

      Thanks! Nice to read after the dismal tripe broadcast constantly when I’m foolish enough to look.

  9. 9
    bn100 says:

    yes, some poorly written books

  10. 10
    Sarah says:

    Actually, I hated Catcher in the Rye. I read it as a teen knowing how abusive real life Holdens were. I also wish I hadn’t read John Dollar by Wiggins which is a LOTF with girls. It likewise suffered from being an allegory and not very psychologically believable.

    What was the other book?

  11. 11
    Glenda M says:

    Lord of the Flies is definitely one book I wish I had never read. They are still making high school students read it in some schools. There are quite a few movies I wish I had never wasted the time sitting through. The one that comes to mind first is Teeth. It’s labeled as horror/comedy but is one of those movies that is so bad that those who like it do so because it is bad. I’d be happier never having seen it.

  12. 12
    Brenda U K. says:

    The film I wish I had never seen was “Oh what a lovely war”.I was just twenty when it was made into a film in 1969.Many famous actors/actresses started in this comedy musical about world war one.I get that it was a satirical view on a tragic and costly waste of human lifes.But actors dressed up in clown and dresses and dancing about mocking the cruel situation.I could only see young men being cut down when they went over the top.War kills,I cannot laugh about it I can only cry.It’s a lesson still to be learned.

  13. 13
    Ellen Ziegler says:

    I was a Lord of the Flies lover either. It seemed fake to me. The Author somehow tried to say that conditions made people do things they normally repressed or maybe it was a statement of bad conditions created evil people. I do agree that desperation can make people commit horrible acts. I have often thought that if necessary I could kill someone who was attacking my kids. However, I also agree that most people are inherently good. I believe everyone wants to be loved. Though I do believe that some people are evil. I believe there are some (very rare) people walking the earth that have no conscious, that focus on overpowering others and like to hurt others. I think there are rare people born with anti-social abnormalities. BUT by far, I believe in the inherent goodness of most people. I personally never liked Catcher in the Rye. I do not understand it to this day.

  14. 14
    Ellen Ziegler says:

    I was never a Lord of the Flies lover either. It seemed fake to me. The Author somehow tried to say that conditions made people do things they normally repressed or maybe it was a statement of bad conditions created evil people. I do agree that desperation can make people commit horrible acts. I have often thought that if necessary I could kill someone who was attacking my kids. However, I also agree that most people are inherently good. I believe everyone wants to be loved. Though I do believe that some people are evil. I believe there are some (very rare) people walking the earth that have no conscience, that focus on overpowering others and like to hurt others. I think there are rare people born with anti-social abnormalities. BUT by far, I believe in the inherent goodness of most people. I personally never liked Catcher in the Rye. I do not understand it to this day.

  15. 15
    Barbara Schelin says:

    I truly hated Lord of the Flies. It must have been the in thing to read in 7th or 8th grade. I wrote in my book report that this is what happens when there aren’t any women around to straighten things out. I got a B. Unusual for me, I mostly got A’s in English classes. My mother, an aeronautical engineer turned elementary school teacher just laughed. My teacher was male.

  16. 16
    KarenM6 says:

    “Little Dorrit” by Charles Dickens
    “The Sun Also Rises” and “Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway

    I’ll list movies I’ve disliked to hated, too:
    I really did not like “La La Land”. I dislike movies that pretend to be romantic and end up just being totally depressing. And, I didn’t like the music… it was all the same song.
    When I was in school, I was forced to watch a movie from 1932 called “Freaks”… haaaaated it.
    “Harold and Maude” – ugh! hated it. I don’t even like thinking about it or writing the name down.

    I’d much rather think of books and movies I like!

  17. 17
    Julie says:

    Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” is on my to-unread list.

    All the characters (the supposed Idiot excepted) behave so incoherently that, when I emerged from the book, I was deeply unsettled to be facing a (mainly) logical world again. I had to go and talk to someone to reassure myself that real people did NOT do crazy, stupid, incoherent things all the time.

    Weirdest feeling I ever had on finishing a book!

  18. 18
    Ann G says:

    I, too had to read Lord of the Flies in Middle school, it is one, along with Zen I can’t undo

    As students, we are at the mercy of our school districts