11 Things You Might Not Know About Lord of the Flies

istock (blank book, background)
istock (blank book, background)

A fixture of English class syllabi, William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies keeps winning over new generations of readers. And if you've been hearing a lot about it in the news this week, that's because the Hollywood powers-that-be have decided to give it an all-female big-screen reboot—a decision that hasn't sat well with some fans of the book. So here are a few precious gems we dug up to celebrate the dystopian island.

1. NOBODY WANTED TO PUBLISH THE NOVEL.

Since it was Golding’s first book, Lord of the Flies was met with little interest from the multitudes of publishing companies to whom he sent his manuscript. Golding’s daughter Judy Carver remembered her cash-strapped father struggling with many rejection letters. “My earliest memory is not of the book itself but of a lot of parcels coming back and being sent off again very quickly,” she told The Guardian. “He must have been grief-stricken every time it returned. Even paying for the postage was a commitment.”

2. THE EVENTUAL PUBLISHER TRIED TO HIDE IT FROM T.S. ELIOT.

Even Faber and Faber, the London-based house that ultimately released the book, was resistant at first, yielding only because new editor Charles Monteith was so passionate about the story. The company even went so far as to not discuss the title within earshot of its literary advisor, acclaimed poet T.S. Eliot.

Eliot allegedly first heard about Lord of the Flies via an offhand remark made by a friend at his social club. In his biography William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies, John Carey recounts that Eliot’s friend warned him, “Faber had published an unpleasant novel about small boys behaving unspeakably on a desert island.” In the end, Faber’s fears were unfounded: The poet loved Golding’s novel.

3. THE BOOK WAS A COMMERCIAL FLOP.

Upon its release in September 1954, Lord of the Flies underwhelmed at bookstores, selling only 4662 copies through the following year and falling out of print shortly thereafter. Critical acclaim and the respect of the academic community steadily grew over the rest of the decade, and the novel eventually found enough of an audience that by 1962 it had moved 65,000 copies.

4. IT HAS ALSO SUFFERED ITS SHARE OF CENSORSHIP.

The American Library Association ranks Lord of the Flies as the eighth most challenged “classic” book in American culture, and the 68th most challenged book overall during the 1990s.

5. GOLDING WAS UNIMPRESSED WITH HOW HIS STORY TURNED OUT.

Although he was initially enthusiastic about the text, Golding’s appraisal of his breakthrough work dimmed over time. After revisiting Lord of the Flies in 1972 for the first time in a decade, Golding gave it a less-than-stellar review. According to Carey's biography, the author said he found his own book “boring and crude. The language was O-level stuff.” (O-level is the lower level of standardized testing in the UK, which assesses basic knowledge—so Golding was saying his novel was the rough equivalent of middle school English writing.)

6. LORD OF THE FLIES IS A PERSONAL FAVORITE OF ANOTHER FAMOUS AUTHOR.

Stephen King has cited Lord of the Flies as one of his favorite books. In a foreword to the 2011 edition of the novel, King wrote that, “It was, so far as I can remember, the first book with hands—strong ones that reached out of the pages and seized me by the throat. It said to me, ‘This is not just entertainment; it’s life-or-death.’”

King’s books even include a nod to the text. King named the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine—the setting for a number of his novels—after the geological structure featured prominently in Lord of the Flies.

7. THE BOOK HAS ALSO INSPIRED MANY POPULAR MUSICIANS.

A slew of bands have nodded to Lord of the Flies in their songs, including U2 (whose “Shadows and Tall Trees” is named after the book’s seventh chapter title), The Offspring (whose “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” references the book by name), and Iron Maiden (whose “Lord of the Flies” is a song about the book itself).

8. GOLDING FIELDED LOTS OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ALL-MALE NOVEL.

In an audio recording published on TED-Ed, Golding said that “When girls say to me, and very reasonably, ‘Why isn’t it a bunch of girls? Why did you write this about a bunch of boys?’ my reply is ... If you, as it were, scale down human beings, scale down society, if you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls will be. Don’t ask me why. And this is a terrible thing to say, because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This has nothing to do with equality at all. I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men; they are far superior and always have been.”

9. AN EARLY DRAFT OF THE STORY OPENED AND CLOSED DIFFERENTLY.

Golding’s original version of Lord of the Flies began not on the island, but aboard the airplane upon which the boys were passengers, just prior to its fateful crash landing. Additionally, the first draft closed its story with an ominous cataloguing of the story’s time and date: “16.00, 2nd October 1952.”

10. SIMON WAS INITIALLY MORE OF A CHRIST FIGURE.

One of Monteith’s more substantial edits involved toning down the Simon character’s “Christ-like” characteristics. Golding originally designed the boy as a sanctified, ethereal character, which his editor thought was too heavy-handed. The Simon that appears in the final draft of Lord of the Flies is indeed a good deal more peaceful and conscientious than his peers, but lacks the ostentatious godliness that Monteith found problematic.

11. GOLDING HAD A FUNNY EXPERIENCE AT A SCHOOL PRODUCTION OF LORD OF THE FLIES

Author Nigel Williams recalls accompanying Golding to a student production of Lord of the Flies at King’s College School in London’s Wimbledon neighborhood. After the performance, Golding visited the student actors backstage to drive home the novel’s lesson.

As Williams writes in The Telegraph, “He went backstage afterwards and said to the boys, ‘Did you like being little savages?’ ‘Ye-e-eahhh!!’ they shouted. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘but you wouldn’t like to be savages all the time—would you now?’ They looked, suddenly, like the boys in the story do when the adult comes to rescue them at the end—cowed and, indeed, awed by what the world might hold in store.”

The Gruesome Medieval Masquerade That Inspired Edgar Allan Poe

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In March 1849, Edgar Allan Poe published a short story with one of the most macabre dénouements in his entire body of work. Called Hop-Frog, it was the tale of an eponymous court jester who endures repeated humiliations from an abusive king and his ministers before finally exacting his revenge. Like other works of the great horror master, it may have been inspired by historical events—in this case, by a particularly grisly episode from 14th-century France.

In Poe's short story, both Hop-Frog and Trippetta are people with dwarfism stolen from their respective home countries and brought as presents for the king from one of his generals. Hop-Frog is described as having a disability that makes him walk "by a sort of interjectional gait—something between a leap and a wriggle." Forced to be the court's jester, he's the target of the king's practical jokes, and while enduring near-constant humiliations grows close to Trippetta, whose status at the court isn't much better.

One day, the king demands a masquerade, and as the evening draws near, he asks Hop-Frog what to wear. After a scene in which he and Trippetta are abused once again, Hop-Frog sees the perfect chance for revenge. He suggests the monarch and his ministers dress as escaped orangutans chained together, which he calls "a capital diversion—one of my own country frolics—often enacted among us, at our masquerades." The king and his ministers love the idea of scaring their guests, and especially the women. The jester carefully prepares their costumes, saturating tight-fitting fabric with tar and plastering flax on top to resemble the hair of the beasts.

On the evening of the masquerade, the men enter in their special outfits just after midnight. The guests are duly terrified, and amid the hubbub, Hop-Frog attaches the chain that surrounds the group to one hanging from the ceiling that normally holds a chandelier. As the men are drawn upwards, he brings a flame close to their bodies, pretending to the crowd that he's trying to figure out who the disguised men really are. The flax and tar ignite quickly and the noblemen burn to death, suspended above the crowd. "The eight corpses swung in their chains," Poe writes, "a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass."

Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Rijksmuseum, Europeana // Public Domain

The gruesome scene was likely inspired by a historical event: the Bal des Ardents (literally, "the Ball of the Burning Ones"). This obscure episode took place during the reign of Charles VI of France (1380-1422), known to posterity as "Charles the Mad." His periods of illness are well-documented by contemporary chroniclers, who tell us that he ran through his castle howling like a wolf, failed to recognize his own wife and children, and forbade anyone to touch him because he believed he was made of glass. After his first bout in 1392, when delirium led him to kill several knights, his physician prescribed "amusements, relaxations, sports, and pastimes."

Meanwhile, the royal council was controlled by his brother Louis d'Orléans and his uncle the Duke of Burgundy—who both had their eyes set on the throne. It was also the middle of the Hundred Years' War, and England was seen as a severe threat to national stability. In spite of the unrest, on January 28, 1393, Charles's wife, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, held a ball in the royal palace of Saint-Pol to celebrate the third marriage of her lady-in-waiting Catherine de Fastaverin. The plan was also to entertain the king, as the royal physician had prescribed. One of the guests, the knight Sir Hugonin (sometimes Huguet) de Guisay, suggested that a group of nobles dress as "wild men" or "wood savages," mythical creatures associated with nature and pagan beliefs. The king liked the idea so much that he decided to join in as one of the masked dancers.

The six noblemen wore garments made of linen covered in pitch and stuck-on clumps of flax, so they appeared "full of hair from the top of the head to the sole of the foot," according to contemporary historian Jean Froissart. Poe preserved these details in Hop-Frog, though his characters weren't dressed as wild men, but as orangutans—an animal he had also used in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) to great effect.

Unlike his fictional counterpart, Charles VI was aware that the costumes were highly flammable, so he ordered all torch-bearers to keep to one side of the room. As they entered the ballroom, five of the wild men were chained to one another. Only the king was free. The men probably humiliated the newlyweds, howling and dancing; some historians believe the wild dance was a charivari, a folk ritual intended to shame newlyweds at "irregular" marriages. (As a widow getting married for the third time, Lady Catherine would have been a target.)

But there was an important guest missing: the king's brother, Louis d'Orléans. He arrived late, carrying his own torch, and joined the dance. While the exact sequence of events is unclear, before long his torch had set fire to one of the wild men's costumes. The fire spread quickly. Two of the knights burned to death in front of the guests, and two more died in agony days later. Court chronicler Michel Pintoin, known as the Monk of St. Denis, describes the dancers' "flaming genitals dropping to the floor … releasing a stream of blood."

Only two of the wild men survived. One of them, named Nantoiullet, had reacted to the blaze by throwing himself into a barrel of water, which spared him a horrid death. The other was the king. He was saved by the Duchess of Berry, who used her gown to extinguish his costume before it was too late.

The event shook French society. It was seen as the height of courtly decadence, causing outrage and further unrest. That the king had engaged in this extravagant amusement, and that his life had been spared only by chance, was further proof that he was unfit for the throne.

Meanwhile, the part that Louis d'Orléans played in the tragedy was subject to some debate. Most chroniclers blamed his youth and recklessness for the terrible accident; some reportedly suggested it was a prank to "frighten the ladies" that got out of hand.

Although it seems that the Bal des Ardents wasn't a planned crime, the king's brother must have felt responsible for the fatal accident, since he founded a chapel in the convent of the Célestins shortly afterwards, hoping it would buy him a place in heaven. It didn't save him from a violent end, however: In 1407, Louis was assassinated on the orders of his cousin and recently minted political rival the Duke of Burgundy, which triggered a civil war that divided France for decades. The Duke of Burgundy justified the murder by accusing Louis of having used sorcery and occultism to attempt regicide on several occasions—one of them, he claimed, during the Bal des Ardents.

Regardless of the truth behind the matter, the horror of the event filtered down through the centuries to inspire one of Poe's most macabre works. (It's not clear where the author first heard about it, but it may have been in the pages of The Broadway Journal, where he was soon to become editor, and where a writer likened it to the accidental onstage burning death of the dancer Clara Webster in London.) Today, the shocking historical event lives on in Poe's story—and in Hop Frog's memorable final line: "I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester—and this is my last jest."

Additional source: Chronique du Religieux de Saint-Denys

25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes

By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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