I picked out this book for Mr. Curiosity and read it to be able to discuss it with him. He recently finished Swiss Family Robinson and thought this book might be a contemporary, contrasting take on the “stranded on a desert island” trope.
Genre: YA fiction
Length: 202 pages
Setting: a desert in the Pacific Ocean, during WWII
Summary: An airplane has crash landed on an island in the Pacific, leaving a group of boys stranded with no adult supervision. They are all called to the beach by Ralph, blowing a conch. The boys elect Ralph to be their chief. He decrees they need to build shelters at the beach and keep a signal fire going at the top of the mountain. Jack, as leader of the choir, is put in charge of keeping the fire lit. Unfortunately, he’s more interested in hunting the pigs that live in the jungle. Over everyone hangs the specter of a Beast in the jungle, stalking the boys. The Beast becomes real when a dead pilot parachutes onto the mountaintop, scaring the boys away from the signal fire. Ralph tries to hold the group together and work towards rescue and shelter, with Piggy’s help, but most of the boys just wander off and do their own things. Jack, especially, degenerates into a killing fiend, with no respect for any boy who isn’t also a hunter. He’s able to work his hunters into such a frenzy, re-enacting killing pigs, that Simon, stumbling out of the jungle into the ring of dancer, is killed. Piggy is also killed and Ralph is being hunted before everyone is saved by a navy cutter coming onshore.
Final thoughts: Wow, this is a really intense YA book. I realized quickly that I never read it in school, so the whole book was fresh to me. I only knew the basics (something about pigs, and the boys do bad things to each other). Ralph was the voice of reason on the island, and he slowly lost that voice over time. Piggy was able to remind him what the ultimate goal was (smoke=rescue), but no one else really got it. Jack was certainly more interested in playing savage hunter, and he swayed most of the boys over to his approach to living on the island. I found it quite ironic that they were rescued because Jack set half the island on fire to flush out Ralph in their hunt.
I wish there was an explanation for why all the boys were on the plane and there weren’t any adults with them. But, even without that, it’s quite a powerful story. All the named characters reacted differently to the situation. Ralph stood up and tried to lead, but just couldn’t think through everything. Piggy had the mental capacity to lead and think ahead, but his physical limitations and appearance prevented him from being more than the butt of jokes. Simon was the dreamer who saw how evil the boys were becoming, but he couldn’t share that vision so others could understand. Jack was in his glory, finally with the power he’d been striving for in society grabbed by force and killing. I can’t wait to talk to Mr. Curiosity about his opinion and comparison with Swiss Family Robinson!
Title comes from: At one point, Simon is off in a clearing. Jack and his hunters kill a pig and leave the head as an offering to the Beast. Simon has a fit and the head, covered in flies, starts talking to him. He calls it the Lord of the Flies, referring to Beelzebub.
Reading challenges fulfilled: book #27 for the year
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