They had guessed before that this was an island: clambering among the pink rocks, with the sea on either side, and the crystal heights of air, they had known by some instinct that the sea lay on every side. But there seemed something more fitting in leaving the last word until they stood on the top, and could see a circular horizon of water.
Ralph turned to the others.
“This belongs to us.”
William Golding was born on September 19, 1911, which makes this year his centennial. In honor of the occasion, Faber & Faber recently published a new edition of Golding’s first and most famous novel. The new edition will feature an introduction by one of the most recognizable authors in the world today, a man who seldom writes annotations “but this one I’ve got to do.”
Enough suspense. The novel is Lord of the Flies and the intro-writing author is Stephen King, whose fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, is named after the most prominent geographical feature of Golding’s fictional landscape. Most of us know the story even if we’ve never read the book: a planeload of proper British boys are cast upon an uninhabited island after, or during, some nuclear catastrophe. At first they do an admirable job of sorting themselves out and establishing a democratic order that meets their basic requirements. They light a signal fire for the outside world and pledge to keep it burning until they’re rescued. But in time the inevitable rivalries develop and order begins to break down. Primitive ecstasies and violent impulses erupt through their lash-and-pole government, and a rough animistic religion takes shape. They worship the head of a pig. They whisper about a mysterious “beast” roving about the island. They kill the best among them, and hound almost to death the boy they earlier agreed to follow. Rescue comes in the nick of time, but has it come in time to save the boys from themselves?
It’s easy to see why Stephen King, who has carved out a literary kingdom from the evil that lurks in unexpected places, jumped at the chance to write an introduction to the anniversary edition. Lord of the Flies has provoked and disturbed readers ever since its original publication in 1954—a long time to be provocative and disturbing. It’s still strong medicine, even in this age of “dark” juvenile fiction where no subject seems out of bounds. It has earned a place on the American Library Association’s “Top 100 Banned Books” and seems a natural accompaniment to teen angst.
And there’s a lot of truth in it. I assigned Lord of the Flies to both of my children in their teenage years, mostly as a literary exploration into the doctrine of total depravity. Even though his novel, from the title on, is filled with biblical references, Golding was a confirmed agnostic, not a Christian. But thematically he seemed to agree with Jeremiah that the heart of man is desperately wicked.
Fortunately, though, wickedness is not the whole story. Redemption figures as much in the tales we tell each other as degradation; the image, though shattered, is still God’s image. We have a happy ending to look forward to: not Ralph sobbing in disillusion and despair on a beach, but Jesus taking disillusion and despair into his own mighty heart and redeeming it by his blood. Our disease began by looking around our beautiful world and boasting, “This belongs to us.” Our cure begins in learning that it all belongs to God.
Next Monday, we begin a two-week observance that parallels the American Library Association “Banned Books Week.” Banned Books Week, with its exaltation of controversial literature, has come to represent a lot of what we don’t like about contemporary culture: relentless secularism, liberal condescension, intellectual self-righteousness, and noise. So much noise, it’s easy to get distracted by sideshows and forget the real problem: not that our culture is so bad, but that it’s so lost.
The most controversial literature ever written was the Bible, because it shows us how lost we are. But it also shows us the way out. That’s why believers can take heart and be confident: “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). Over the next couple of weeks we’d like to shine some light in the library, and hope you’ll join us for the duration.