John Carey on the Warner Bros plan to remake Lord of the Flies – with girls not boys…

Posted on September 25, 2017 by Bold Commerce | 0 comments

Supposing the boys on the island in Lord of the Flies had been girls. Would they have behaved in the same horrifying way? The proposed Warner Brothers film raises that question. So far as I know Golding never answered it. But the indications are that, if asked, he would have answered ‘Yes’. For one thing he frequently said that the boys on the island were exhibiting original sin (he liked quoting St Augustine in support), and original sin affects females as well as males. For another thing he said in the unpublished autobiographical essay, Men, Women and Now, that the worst thing about women was that they admired, looked up to and imitated men. The twins Sophy and Toni in Golding’s novel Darkness Visible show what he thought girls capable of. Sophy discovers she is a sadist when she digs a penknife into a boy who is having sex with her and it gives her an orgasm. Toni joins a terrorist organisation and kidnaps a group of schoolboys, successfully getting away to Africa with the boys as hostages . It would not be good to be on a desert island with either of them. 

And an extract from Carey’s Connell Guide to Lord of the Flies

Golding felt qualified to describe how boys would really behave because he had watched them with, he said, “awful precision” during his years as a schoolmaster. Further, he had introduced, he admitted, “a certain measure of experimental science” into his teaching. This was evident to the boys themselves. It occurred to more than one of his pupils that he had stirred up antagonisms between them in order to observe their reactions. Once, as master in charge of a trip to Figsbury Rings, a huge Neolithic earthwork near Salisbury, he gave permission for the boys to form into two groups, one to attack the enclosure and the other to defend it. Lecturing about this experiment in California in 1961, he explained that his purpose had been to see what would happen if the restraining pressure of adult life was removed. So he gave the boys “more liberty, and more, and more, and more”, and his eyes “came out like organ stops” as he watched what was happening. He does not say precisely what was happening, but he hints that there was eventually a danger of someone being killed.

Despite Golding’s scientific approach, his findings about how boys would really behave were questioned after the novel’s appearance by, among others, W.H. Auden, who told Golding when they met that in his opinion the older boys would, in real life, have taken the younger boys under their wing and protected them.

Peter Brook, who directed the 1963 film of Lord of the Flies, was very much of the opposite opinion. He found that the off-screen behaviour of the boy actors paralleled the story to a remarkable degree. The boy who acted Piggy, for example, came close to tears because the other boys told him his death was going to be for real: “They don’t need you any more.” Golding’s only falsification, Brook concluded, was the length of time the descent into savagery took. In the novel it is about three months, whereas, in Brook’s view, if the constraints of adult presence were removed, “the complete catastrophe could occur within a long weekend”.

Click here to buy The Connell Guide to Lord of the Flies by John Carey. 


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