Lord of the Flies – A Review

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Cover of Lord of the Flies

I wasn’t quite sure what I’d taken on when I started reading Lord of the Flies. The book starts off with a bunch of ship wrecked boys on what they later ascertain to be an island. A conch is found by Ralph and the boy with the glasses. The piercing note gathers the scattered littluns and the biguns into a rag-tag assembly and here starts their fledgling attempts at doing things like the grown-ups.

I thought I knew where the book was going, when I read: “We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything.” It reminded me of this exchange from the film version of The Bridge on the River Kwai:
Commander Shears: You mean, you intend to uphold the letter of the law, no matter what it costs?
Colonel Nicholson: Without law, Commander, there is no civilization.
Commander Shears: That’s just my point; here, there is no civilization.
Colonel Nicholson: Then we have the opportunity to introduce it. 🙂

Little did I know that Golding’s book went deeper, and certainly beneath the veneer of civilization. Ralph and the voice of reason have a wobbly hold on the rag-tag team, trying hard to keep up a smoke signal that would aid their rescue. Jack has his merry band of choir-hunters hunt and the others rig up shelters. However, the inevitable, impending future looms eerily, like the creepers that envelope the forest, till finally the Beast takes over. And Simon sees it first. A land without rules or repercussions, the spirit daring to dream and do like never before. What will it choose?

It is heart wrenching to read of Ralph’s hope when he thinks that they are only human, and what could they possibly do, when he slowly realises that the ‘Beast’ is real. As real as fear, as real as him. Golding’s telling commentary of human nature ‘Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!’ and ‘You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?’ as he speaks of the lurking savage in the heart of Man, was spot on and weaves through the book, through the characters of the various boys, leaving us to think ,as we put down the book we’re not so different after all. One could despair of this realization. Or one could realize that it’s not such a new thought after all.

Romans Chapter 8 chillingly says “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the (Holy) Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so“. Lord of the flies is a stark example of this truth. But, not surprisingly, the Book with all the answers says in 2 Peter chapter 1, “He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may particiapte in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires“. Golding gave us the truth, but Jesus gives us the truth that delivers.

My first love

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Doesn’t almost everybody who is not a punk rock musician or a star athlete have reading as their favourite hobby? Long before trekking, photography, and collecting memorabilia (with the exception of stamp collecting) were the “in” things for which your life had a passion? Reading was the sad excuse that every kid who didn’t have any original or congenital talent/desire stooped to.

I didn’t know that. Coz I loved reading. So much that when I was a little kid, my dad enrolled me in the British Council Library, where I devoured the books on Greek and Roman history and mythology feeding the voracious appetite for reading to a frenzy…till when I reached the teen age, books were banned at home, because seemingly, I spent more time with them than with my textbooks. At 13, I hadn’t seen enough of the world to know that that was the most natural thing on earth – to have a life other than school, and so, unwilling to appear rebellious, the books I borrowed from friends were always read in the bathroom. My Mother to this day wonders why bathing took such a long time for me once I hit my teenage years.

But, it wasn’t just books I read. The newspaper, cover to cover, the editor and his column becoming my best friends. The magazines at home, my mothers book of anatomy and physiology, the whole volume of Encyclopedias at home, the users manual of the new VCR/camera, brochures, anything….my classmates had the wrong impression that I lived to eat, but the truth was I lived to read.

I wasn’t too picky on what I read – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators, Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew and Franklin W Dixon’s Hardy boys. Well, maybe I was…I was a sucker for the mystery genre, gradutating to Agatha Christie’s Ms Marple and Hecule Poirot and Arthur Canon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Moonlighting, Remington Steele and in the age of cable TV, Fornesic Detectives (on Discovery Channel) and CSI. I even wanted to join Medicine and become a pathologist. That’s one of the influences my reading has had on me.

When I was about 14, I read about Atticus Finch and what he did, about how and why he did what he did. A not-so-young, upright, courageous, patient and just man, who expected (somehow that has become such an aggressive word!) nothing less from his children and those around in Harper Lee’s book. He was a man that made you think that there was reason in being human, justice in principles, and joy in hope. To a 14 year old, there was meaning beyond existence, and I decided books and authors had a responsibilty to make you a better man than you were before. That’s the other influence reading had on me.

My reading habits have not remained as voracious as my teenage years nor as faithful (in  partaking the joy of the world created by the author), but I am astonished that readers of the world never have to despair, since I’ve always had a source – the pirated books near Churchgate Station, when I was stationed in Mumbai. I lived in Borivali, the northen most corner of Mumbai and  took a Rs.9 ticket to travel all the way South, to enter the world of Anna Karenina and the Mill on the Floss. It was odd that I would read one of my favourite Indian authors, Rabindranath Tagore, for the first time on a short term assignment in Toronto, from the Toronto Public library at Nathan Philips Square. More Greek and Roman History followed and I fell in love with Spartans, long before 300. Back in Mumbai, I travelled again South for my books. The law had by this time swept away 4 decades of pirated history, and I resorted once again to the British Council Library to understand religion and renaissance.

This was when I started buying books. Filling shelves in the hope that one day when I’m retired and bored, I would die happy in my armchair ensconced in a book. I did get around to reading My experiments with Truth, but stopped halfway though An argumentative Indian. I liked Sen’s appraisal of the Indian psyche, that Black was right and White was right, depending on the context from which you measured them. But there in lies the danger. If ever I looked at life from the wrong context, everything I did could be justified…perhaps that’s why I would shudder at Lolita, and think that Uncle Tom’s Cabin should be read by every human on earth. It also lent credence to the belief that truth has to be absolute, else somebody would get hurt, and according to the Butterfly effect, that would lead to chaos in the world. It did, don’t you think?

Perhaps this chaotic, seemingly meaningless world is the reason I wanted to know why Christ said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…I found out, and this was the influence that changed my life. Someday, you should give it a try too…