Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lord of the Flies and Sir William Golding

Turner Classic Movies channel (TCM) showed the 1963 film adaptation of Sir William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies at the weekend. It's one of many books and films which have somehow slipped through the cracks for me, and husband could recall little of it from a long ago viewing, so we watched. Enjoyed would hardly be the right description of my reaction, but I did find it very interesting, compelling enough to get me diving into research on the book and its author. One thing I discovered: the title Lord of the Flies is a translation of the word Beelzebub.

The film was shot in black and white with a cast of young amateurs and no scripted dialogue, just boys working from the director's description of what he wanted from each scene. That sounds decidedly risky, but turned out to have been exactly what the subject matter called for.

For anyone else who has missed both book and film, a nutshell rundown follows. There is, by the way, a second purported film adaptation from 1990 which, by all accounts, bears little resemblance to the novel, and really should have been re-titled. (That film version is investigated briefly again, later in this post.)

The novel, with its 1963 movie adaptation, is an allegory reflecting on human nature, its inherent core of evil, civilisation and its breakdown. The author places a group of English schoolboys aged, roughly, between 6 and 12 on an unpopulated desert island. They arrive there, the only survivors from a group of evacuees fleeing a nuclear holocaust, their plane having crashed The boys come from varied backgrounds, most seem distinctly upper class, with a few middle and working class lads mixed in. As the story unfolds the older boys take control with two, Ralph and Jack, vying for leadership. The conflict between Jack and Ralph, representing the forces of savagery and civilization, is helped along by the boys' fear - unfounded but encouraged by Jack - of some ghost or mythical beast roaming the island. The group gradually morphs from early attempts to form a moral and rational community with a caring leader, into a society which becomes increasingly tyrannical and cruel with leader to match. There is bullying and teasing of an overweight near-sighted asthmatic working class lad (Piggy) whose pleas for common sense are routinely ignored and ridiculed by Jack and his followers. Without the strict rules of the English public-school system, this new freedom allows the human propensity for evil to emerge. Disaster ensues, There are murders.

This is an apt place for mention of an insightful remark among some reviews at Amazon criticising the newer movie adaptation of the book:
.........instead of proper little English tykes this (1990) film substitutes closer-to-home American military school kids, future Halliburton wannabes, but there's more that's changed as well. Instead of falling into depravity because it's their nature, in our nature, like in the first film and in the book, these guys do it because their leader said so. Maybe with yanks that's the relevant, resonant way to go, hmmm? Didn't the jerries (Germans) try that line of rationale at one point? Nevertheless the dark lord is underplayed as well, and so what remains is a watered down examination of our "civilisation".
(From reviewer "Universal Dreamer")
As well as being an allegory the book was a tragic parody of children's adventure tales, one in particular: The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean (1858) by Scottish author R. M. Ballantyne. When asked about the philosophy of his book William Golding's reply was "The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectful."

I was interested to find out more about Sir William Golding, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988 - maybe also to take a peek at his natal chart.

He was born in Cornwall - in the far south-west of England on 19 September 1911.
Here I'm including two excerpts from published pieces. I trust this will not get me into hot water copyright-wise. These are useful both for general interest and in order to discover more about the man himself and throw a little light onto his natal chart, which follows.

From Wendy Smith's 2010 review by of a book by John Carey "William Golding: The Man Who Wrote 'Lord of the Flies'," in the Washington Post :
The conflict between reason and faith, neither of which can wholly ameliorate human cruelty, was waged in Golding's breast long before it became the subject of his fiction. His father, a popular schoolteacher in Wiltshire, was an atheist, socialist and rationalist; his mother shared her husband's "advanced" views. Both endeavored to disabuse their sensitive, fearful son of what they saw as his superstitious tendencies. Yet his most powerful childhood memory was a vision of a benign spectral presence in his bedroom: "a glimpse of 'the spiritual, the miraculous,' " Carey writes, quoting from an unpublished autobiographical fragment, "that [Golding] hoarded in his memory as a refuge from 'the bloody cold daylight I've spent my life in, except when drunk.' "

Drunkenness became a problem early on; Golding was sacked from his first teaching job in 1939 at least partly for drinking too much. Alcohol may have blunted the humiliation of being judged "not quite a gent" at class-conscious Oxford. And it may have helped with the guilt he felt over jilting a hometown fiancée to marry Ann Brookfield, whose mother also worried about his alcohol consumption. Carey gently presents Golding's lifelong weakness as the self-medication of "a deeply self-examining and self-blaming man who, as he said more than once, saw the seeds of all evil in his own heart."

Service in the navy during World War II confirmed Golding's jaundiced view of human nature, especially his own: "I have always understood the Nazis because I am of that sort," he later wrote. Nothing in his outwardly ordinary postwar existence as a husband, father and lackadaisical schoolmaster justified such a comment, but Carey makes excellent use of Golding's personal papers to delineate the turbulent inner life that fueled both his creativity and his harsh evaluation of unexceptional failings.

In this context, "Lord of the Flies" - shamelessly written in the classroom while his students labored at make-work tasks - can be better understood as a salvo in the author's battle between dark impulses and the longing to transcend them. Charles Monteith, the Faber and Faber editor who plucked the manuscript from the reject pile, encouraged Golding to eliminate religious echoes that suggested Simon's death was a willing martyrdom. Golding reluctantly complied, and perhaps his more mystical original would not have been as popular as the published version. With subsequent novels, he would not so readily accede to demands that the action be "explicable in purely rational terms," and his critical reputation occasionally suffered as a consequence.

By the time "Lord of the Flies" became a cultural phenomenon, Golding had published three more novels, all well received despite some carping from the upper-crust intellectual establishment.

From Golding's obituary in the New York Times (1993)

His allegory achieved a cult status. The book inspired two films, was translated into 26 languages, sold millions of copies and became a standard on college and high school reading lists.

Sir William recalled that as a teacher he once allowed a class of boys complete freedom in a debate, but he had to intervene as mayhem broke out. That incident and his own war experiences inspired Lord of the Flies.

"World War II was the turning point for me," he said. "I began to see what people were capable of doing. Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head." Another time he said: "Look out," he said, "the evil is in us all."

He confessed that as a youth he was sometimes a spoiled brat and a bully and "I enjoyed hurting people." ...................................He spent his last years quietly with his wife of 54 years, the former Ann Brookfield, at their home near Falmouth in Cornwall.

In 1983, Golding received the Nobel Prize for literature for his novels which, according to the Nobel committee, "with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today."

I was half expecting some emphasis on philosophical and religion-oriented Sagittarius, but was wrong. Sir William was a rather Earthy individual: Sun Mercury and Venus in meticulous Virgo, linked via two 120* harmonious trine aspects to Saturn in Taurus and Uranus in Capricorn - an Earth Grand Trine. I have one of those myself - like to think it keeps the old feet on the ground! That trio of personal planets in perfectionist Virgo reflect the biting self-criticism mentioned in the first quoted piece above ("...jaundiced view of human nature, especially his own: "I have always understood the Nazis because I am of that sort....")

Neptune (creativity and potential for overdoing alcohol) in sensitive Cancer helpfully sextiles both Saturn and Sun/Venus so forming a kind of mini-modification of the Earthiness of his Grand Trine, loosening it up some, bringing imagination, sensitivity and a potential vein of alcohol addiction into the picture.

There's another sextile, this time between Mercury (writer's planet) and Jupiter (links to religion and philosophy)- that fits the pattern.

Moon would have been in Leo whatever Sir William's time of birth - the Leo spotlight may have been late to fall upon him, but fall upon him it did, eventually, and there it will remain, with at least one of his books becoming a classic of its kind!

His hopes for the human race are pessimistic - where's that trait in his chart though? Moon in Leo isn't pessimistic, Earthiness isn't necessarily so either.It could come from his ascendant - we can't know that without a time of birth. Pluto or Scorpio on the ascendant could provide an aptly dark lens through which he's viewed by others and through which he viewed the world and himself.


mike said...

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

Now Twilight, I hope I'm not spilling the can of beans...anyjazz may be planning this as a surprise, but we already know you know. Dress warmly tonight...deep Ohio is a cold place for a birthday party. I suspect anyjazz is excited to finally ask the mystery couple (wearing the leis) about their namesake and place of residence.

Don't forget to sober-up the lush. You may want to consider setting her coordinates correctly yourself for the Waistdeep Nature Club...coffee...lots of coffee for her. We already know she imbibes way too much tonight.

Have a great time on this special day of yours...don't play with Ms. Lush's time machine...curiosity killed the cat, you know.

Wisewebwoman said...

I've been a fan of this work for a long time.

Great post, T.

We are in total denial if we don't perceive that evil lies in everyone given the opportunity.

I've never forgotten a survey taken anonymously years ago where men were asked if they could get away with it would they rape and 8 out of 10 said yes.

...in the heart of man, yes. It lurks.


mike (again) said...

Mercury in Virgo is the final dispositor of all his planets, which further enhances your comments regarding his Mercury placement and aspects.

Years ago, I asked a professor of Molecular Genetics whether she thought aggression, selfishness, and self-centeredness were genetic or learned traits. At the time, I thought it to be learned. She replied that I should simply watch children play...it was most certainly a genetic predisposition in her opinion! I now, sadly, confer.

Richard Dawkins was my first exposure to the "selfish gene", aka "The Dirty X Gene". Dawkins has his own problems, but he did get this part right!

Twilight said...

mike ~~~ Well, thank you kindly, but my birthday was on Sunday, your good wishes are nonetheless appreciated! :-)

No surprises this year, both still flagging a bit - after effects of the virus, no doubt. We shelved plans we'd made for a trip to the wild life refuge not far away, and a meal out. It'll keep! The Waistdeepers were all blotto so didn't notice our absence. ;-)

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Not a feel-good factor is it, WWW. It applies to us all, both genders, all ethnicities, all ages, none is exempt, it's buried within our "seed"; and as I've probably written before, I believe it's somehow due to our place in the solar system, and our solar system's place in the universe.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ I haven't read any of Dawkin's writings - he annoys me too much. Seems he did get something right for once though.

I suppose we could also add that though the "seed", the bad seed, is there buried within us all, perhaps our date, time and place of birth will determine how strongly the "seed" can germinate and bloom - or remain mostly dormant, within each one of us?

mike (again) said...

Eewwww...your comment about the bad seed...reminded me of a book, then movie, "The Bad Seed"...excellent. I saw this as a child, then later as a young adult...gave me the heeby-jeebies. Similar to "Lord of the Flies", but a single child, not a group.


Twilight said...

mike ~~~ I haven't seen or read that one - don't think I shall seek it out either - I avoid horror movies, apart from post-apocalyptic or dystopian stories which I seek out - which is, I guess rather odd of me. ;-)

Chomp said...

It is a great book, a meditaion about the weaknesses contained inside the social bonds in themselves or as such, how mankind, left to itself, cannot but enter into a sort of regression...

Society is weak for it is based on a pact, and every pact can be broken especially when the known situation wanes or dissolves...

The dissolution of civilizations always carried with it disasters and crimes: We do live in a period like this...

But the film adaptations, well, I do not find they focus on the right point...

James Higham said...

I've looked at LoftheF in some detail over the years and this was a most interesting take on it, Twilight.

Twilight said...

Chomp ~~ After reading your comment I feel I do need to read the book. Another one for my growling pile of "to reads"!

I suppose that the film adaptations must rely strongly on what the film makers and screen writers got from the book themselves. It probably allows for several interpretations, depending on the experiences of the reader.

The original book publisher insisted that certain parts were removed before they'd publish (parts relating to religion). That's something which must surely have slanted Golding's original intent somewhat.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~ Glad it was of interest, James. I don't know how I'd managed to miss both book and two film versions for so long, still - better late than.....