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.”

Where Did the Phrase 'Red Herring' Come From?

iStock.com/Mathias Darmell
iStock.com/Mathias Darmell

You may have seen a red herring in a recent book or movie, but you probably only realized it after the fact. These misleading clues are designed to trick you into drawing an incorrect conclusion, and they're a popular ploy among storytellers of all stripes.

If you've seen or read the Harry Potter series—and really, who hasn’t?—then you may recall some of the many instances where J.K. Rowling employed this literary device. That endearing plot twist about the nature of Snape's character, for example, is likely one of the longest-running red herrings ever written.

Sometimes they aren't even subtle. Agatha Christie's murder mystery And Then There Were None directly mentions red herring in reference to a character's death, and a statue of a red herring appears in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Perhaps most blatantly, a character in the cartoon A Pup Named Scooby-Doo who was constantly being blamed for myriad crimes was named—you guessed it—Red Herring.

But where does this literary device come from, and why is it named after a fish? For a bit of background: herring are naturally a silvery hue, but they turn reddish-brown when they're smoked. Long before refrigerators were invented, this was done to preserve the fish for months at a time. They can also be pretty smelly. As Gizmodo's io9 blog points out, it was believed that red herring were dragged against the ground to help train hounds to sniff out prey in the 17th century. Another theory was that escaped prisoners used the fish to cover their tracks and confuse the dogs that tailed them.

However, io9 notes that red herring were actually used to train horses rather than dogs, and only if the preferred choice—a dead cat—wasn't available. The idea was that the horses would get used to following the scent trail, which in turn would make them less likely to get spooked while "following the hounds amid the noise and bustle of a fox hunt," notes British etymologist and writer Michael Quinion, who researched the origin of the phrase red herring.

The actual origin of the figurative sense of the phrase can be traced back to the early 1800s. Around this time, English journalist William Cobbett wrote a presumably fictional story about how he had used red herring as a boy to throw hounds off the scent of a hare. He elaborated on this anecdote and used it to criticize some of his fellow journalists. "He used the story as a metaphor to decry the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon," Quinion writes in a blog. "This caused them to take their attention off important domestic matters."

According to Quinion, an extended version of this story was printed in 1833, and the idiom spread from there. Although many people are more familiar with red herrings in pop culture, they also crop up in political spheres and debates of all kinds. Robert J. Gula, the author of Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language, defines a red herring as "a detail or remark inserted into a discussion, either intentionally or unintentionally, that sidetracks the discussion."

The goal is to distract the listener or opponent from the original topic, and it's considered a type of flawed reasoning—or, more fancifully, a logical fallacy. This application of red herring seems to be more in line with its original usage, but as Quinion notes: "This does nothing to change the sense of red herring, of course: it's been for too long a fixed part of our vocabulary for it to change. But at least we now know its origin. Another obscure etymology has been nailed down."

8 Facts About Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein was a multi-talented children’s author, comic artist, poet, playwright, and songwriter, and above all else, a rule-breaker. From The Giving Tree to Where the Sidewalk Ends, his titles are beloved by children and adults alike. At the time they were written, though, they defied common notions about what a "children’s" story could and should be. This isn’t all that surprising, considering that the Chicago-born author, who passed away in 1999, led a pretty unconventional life. Here are eight things you might not know about him.

1. One of Shel Silverstein's first jobs was selling hot dogs in Chicago.

Shel Silverstein didn’t always want to be a writer, or even a cartoonist or songwriter. His first love was baseball. "When I was a kid—12, 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls," he once said in an interview. "But I couldn’t play ball, I couldn’t dance. Luckily, the girls didn’t want me; not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write.” The closest he came to his MLB dream was when he landed a stint at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, selling hot dogs to White Sox fans.

2. Silverstein never finished college.

Silverstein was expelled from one school (the University of Illinois) and dropped out of another (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Finally, he managed to get through three years of the English program at Chicago's Roosevelt University, but his studies came to an abrupt end when he was drafted in 1953.

3. Silverstein was a Korean War veteran.

In the 1950s, Silverstein was drafted into the U.S. armed service. While he was stationed in Korea and Japan, he also worked as a cartoonist for the military publication Stars and Stripes. It was his first big cartooning gig. "For a guy of my age and with my limited experience to suddenly have to turn out cartoons on a day-to-day deadline deadline, the job was enormous,'' Silverstein told Stars and Stripes in a 1969 interview.

4. Silverstein worked for Playboy magazine and was Part of Hugh Hefner's inner circle.

That’s right: the lovable children’s author was on Playboy’s payroll for many years. He started drawing comics for the men’s magazine in the 1950s and ended up becoming close friends with Hugh Hefner. In fact, he often spent weeks or even months at the Playboy Mansion, where he wrote some of his books. His cartoons for the magazine proved so popular that Playboy sent him around the world to find the humor in places like London, Paris, North Africa, and Moscow during the Cold War. Perhaps his most off-color assignment, though, was visiting a nudist camp in New Jersey. These drawings were compiled in the 2007 book Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, which includes a foreword from Hefner.

5. Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's hit song "A Boy Named Sue."

Few people know that Silverstein was a songwriter, too. One of his biggest hits was the comical tale of a boy who learned how to defend himself after being relentlessly bullied for his feminine-sounding name, Sue. The song was popularized by Johnny Cash and ended up being his top-selling single, while Silverstein was awarded a Grammy for Best Country Song. You can watch Silverstein strumming the guitar and shouting the lyrics alongside Cash on The Johnny Cash Show in the video above. Silverstein also wrote a follow-up song from the dad’s point of view, The Father of a Boy Named Sue, but it didn't take off the way the original did.

6. Silverstein is in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Three years after his death, Silverstein was inducted posthumously into this exclusive society of songwriters. He wrote more than 800 songs throughout his career, some of which were quite raunchy. But his best-known songs were performed by country legends like Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings. “His compositions were instantly identifiable, filled with elevated wordplay and captivating, humor-filled narratives,” the Nashville Songwriters Foundation said of Silverstein's music.

7. Silverstein wrote the first children’s book to appear on The New York Times best sellerS list.

A Light in the Attic (1981) was the first children’s book to ever make it onto the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers list. It remained there for a whopping 182 weeks, breaking all of the previous records for hardcover books at that time.

8. Silverstein wasn't a fan of happy endings.

If you couldn’t already tell by The Giving Tree’s sad conclusion, Silverstein didn’t believe in giving his stories happy endings. He felt that doing so would alienate his young readers. "The child asks why I don't have this happiness thing you're telling me about, and comes to think when his joy stops that he has failed, that it won't come back,” the author said in a 1978 interview. This turned out to be a risky move, and The Giving Tree was rejected several times for being too sad or too unconventional. Fortunately, after four years of searching for a publisher, it found a home at HarperCollins (then Harper & Row) and has gone on to become one of the best-selling—and most beloved—children's books of all time.

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