Lord of the Flies was probably my first teenage, young adult, post-childhood novel and I read it when I was eleven years old. It shocked me to the core. I had just started grammar school in the 1960s and it was a rather old-fashioned place. The girls had their own separate little playground around the side of the school. We were not supposed to make friends with the older girls. But somehow Barbara, who was in the fourth form and I gravitated to each other because of our love of books. Lord of the Flies was Barbara’s set book for English. Lucky me!
We sat together on the back step, every playtime (there were three a day in those days) and shared the book, waiting quietly for each other to finish before turning the page. I don’t remember how long it took us to read and I don’t remember us discussing the content. But I do remember the profound effect the book had on me.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to the boys on the Island and how their behaviour changed so dramatically. Why had this happened, could it happen to my brothers, what if it had been a plane full of girls?
Lord of the Flies has remained one of the most profound reading experiences of my life because it shook my little world and the values I had been brought up, values of fair play and pulling together in a crisis – the values of the Blitz. I was a Londoner and so were my parents. They had fought in the war and this novel felt like a slap in the face after all the heroic black and white films we grew up on, where John Wayne and John Mills won the war almost single-handedly. They would never have allowed the merciless teasing of Piggy or the kicking to death of Simon. My goodness – it just wouldn’t be cricket.
I recently took my daughter to see the new production at the Regents’ Park Open Air Theatre and she loved it and is reading the book again. This is a modern version, with an entire crashed plane on the stage but the concept remains the same. It takes very little to strip away the veneer of civilisation.
I might have been a little young for this book but it certainly challenged me to think independently in a way that all the lessons in the world probably couldn’t have done, certainly not in those days when we weren’t encouraged to think for ourselves. This is contemporary gritty fiction about boys on the edge of the teenage years and stands alongside the best of YA fiction still today.
And haven’t you always wanted to find your very own conch shell?