Today in Literary History – September 17, 1954 – Lord of the Flies is published

William Golding’s first, and most enduring novel, Lord of the Flies, was first published on September 17, 1954. Although Lord of the Flies went on to be one of the best loved modern novels, taught in most schools, and Golding would go on to a knighthood and a Nobel Prize for literature, the book did not have an auspicious birth.

Golding, then a schoolmaster in Salisbury, England, had submitted his manuscript to 21 publishers and received 21 rejections before Faber & Faber finally bought it. Unfortunately it was a commercial flop.

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It was only gradually that it gained popularity over the years. It is the story of a group of British schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island during wartime, and their eventual descent into barbarity.

Golding used both his experiences in the navy during World War II, where he experienced humanity’s capacity for violence and cruelty, and his experience teaching young boys to examine the book’s theme of the clash between the impulse to order and civilization and the draw of tribalism and superstition.

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I actually interviewed Golding in the 1980s, spending an hour talking to him while he was in Winnipeg on a cross country trip by train with his wife. He was charming for the most part but generally rather taciturn and mostly excited about the natural beauty of Canada.

Lord of the Flies has been turned into a movie twice and there is an all-girl remake being planned. This has proved to be controversial among some feminists who don’t believe that girls would act with the same savagery as boys. Interesting to see how it turns out.

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