Telling a better story: The real Lord of the Flies

STORIES shape our lives and our view of the world. Some stories affect us more than others. In one of them, a plane crashes on a deserted island, the only survivors are a few British schoolboys who can hardly believe their luck.

The boys think they’ve crashed into one of their adventure books, miles of nothing but beach, shells and water – and no adults. The boys make survival plans, have fun and give smoke signals to passing ships.

But they soon become restless and reckless. When finally a ship passes in the distance, they have abandoned their post by the fire. They develop overwhelming urges – to pinch, kick and bite.

But one boy, Piggy, keeps his cool and becomes the voice of reason that no one listens to. “What are we?” he wonders sadly. “People? Or animals? Or savages?”

Weeks pass, but one day a British naval officer comes ashore. The island is now a smoldering wasteland. Three of the children are dead. One of the survivors approaches the naval officer and says, “We cried for the darkness of the human heart.”

This story never happened. An English schoolmaster invented it in 1951. “Wouldn’t it be a good idea,” William Golding asked his wife one day, “to write a story about some boys on an island and show how they would really behave?”

golding’s book, Lord of the flies, eventually selling tens of millions of copies and being hailed as one of the classics of the 20th century. Golding is credited with a remarkable ability to depict the darkest abysses of humanity. As he himself once said: “Man produces evil like a bee produces honey.”

The book was published not long after the atrocities of World War II. People then wondered if Auschwitz was an anomaly or if people are programmed to be aggressive towards each other.

In Lord of the flies, Golding suggested the latter and scored an instant hit. Golding later won a Nobel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, with the selection committee saying his work “sheds light on the human condition in today’s world.” He was one of the earliest novelists to see children as thoroughly bad.



Lord of the Flies paints a bleak view of human behavior – but is it an entirely accurate one?

Recently, historian Rutger Bregman delved into the author’s life and learned “what an unfortunate man he had been. An alcoholic. Prone to depression.”

In Golding’s own words, “I always understood the Nazis,” he confessed, “because that’s the way I am by nature.”

And partly out of that self-awareness he wrote the book. Bregman wondered if anyone had ever studied what real kids would do on a desert island.

He wrote an article in the light of modern scientific knowledge and concluded that in all likelihood children would act very differently. He quoted a biologist: “There is not a shred of evidence that children left to their own devices would do so.” And so began his search for real life Lord of the flies.

After some internet research, Bregman came across an October 1966 Australian newspaper article: “Sunday Exhibition for Tongan Castaways”.

The story was about six boys found three weeks earlier on a rocky island south of Tonga. While on a fishing trip, the boys were caught in a violent storm and were shipwrecked.

They had been rescued by an Australian sea captain, Peter Warner, after being stranded on the island of ‘Ata for more than a year. “Their story of survival stands as one of the great classic sea tales,” the play concluded.

Another article included a picture of Warner with Mano Totau, one of the survivors, who was 15 at the time of the incident. Bregman made his way to Australia and met both of them. the real one Lord of the fliesMano told us, started in 1965.

The protagonists were six boys, all students at St. Andrew’s, a strictly Anglican school in Tonga. Bored to death and wanting adventure rather than work, the teenagers hatched a plan to escape: to Fiji, some 500 miles away.

“A lot of other kids at school knew about it,” Mano recalls, “but everyone thought it was a joke.” They “borrowed” a boat from a fisherman and the journey started smoothly.

But on the first night the boys made a serious mistake. They fell asleep and woke up a few hours later to water rushing over their heads. They drifted for eight days before landing on a rocky island called ‘Ata, now thought to be uninhabitable.

Sea Captain Warner was out fishing when he noticed a fire on the island and decided to investigate. But as Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs: “By the time we arrived the boys had set up a small commune with a vegetable garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken coops and a continuous fire, all hand-made. an old knife blade and a lot of determination.”

The kids worked in teams of two and arguments were settled with a time out and a change of scenery. Her days began with song and prayer. One of them built a guitar out of a piece of driftwood and steel wire. When they were rescued in September 1966, to the amazement of the doctors, they were in excellent physical condition.

As historian Bregman puts it, “This is real life Lord of the flies. It turns out to be a heartwarming story – the stuff of best-selling novels, Broadway plays and blockbuster movies. It’s also a story nobody knows. Golding’s book is still widely read, while the true story of the ‘Ata boys has been forgotten.

“Media historians credit Golding with the ignorant originator of one of the most popular entertainment genres on television today: reality TV. The premise of so-called reality TV shows, from Big Brother to island of temptationis that humans behave like animals when left to their own devices.

“MTV’s the real worldbegins with the simple line: “This is the true story of seven strangers… Find out what really happens when people stop being polite and start being real”…

“But take the time to look behind the scenes of programs like this and you’ll see how candidates are lured, drunk and pitted against each other in ways no less than shocking. It shows how much manipulation it takes to bring out the worst in people.”



Rutger Bregman, author of Humankind: A Hopeful History and Utopia for Realists

We could say that stories are just stories. But that is seldom true. Bregman notes, “Cynic stories have a significant impact on how we see the world. In the UK, a study showed that girls who watch more reality TV are also more likely to say it’s necessary to be mean and lie to get ahead in life.”

“The real one Lord of the flies is a story of friendship and loyalty, a story that shows how much stronger we are when we can lean on each other,” he says.

“Of course it’s just a story, but if we can do it Lord of the flies Essential reading for millions of teenagers. Then we also tell them about the time when real children were stranded on a desert island.”

One of the boys’ teachers at St. Andrew’s High School in Tonga recalled years later using her survival story in our social studies class. “My students couldn’t get enough of it,” she said.

The Bible has often been interpreted as a call to reject and deny ourselves and our “fallen state.” Emphasis was placed on our sinfulness rather than grace, and on seeing us as “the fallen children of Adam” rather than “the redeemed children of God.”

The book of Genesis is often interpreted to support the view of our “fallen state” and ignore the “original happiness” and goodness of all of God’s creation. This led many people to believe that the worse we rated ourselves, the less worth we felt, the more acceptable we were to God.

In truth, the Bible has a very sane view of humanity that aligns with heartwarming reality Lord of the flies. God’s words to the prophet Isaiah—”You are precious in my sight”—are central to the Bible.

One of our spiritual leaders in Valladolid, Bishop Tom, thinks that the central position of this lineage is not accidental as it is the central message from God to humanity. The Church understands that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, with a conscience “which always calls us to love and to do good and avoid evil”.

We will likely sin and deviate from good, but fortunately, “We are sustained by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, sustained by the testimony or counsel of others, and guided by the governing doctrine of the Church.”

Standing up for human goodness and believing in the good news of Jesus Christ has always been a challenge. It’s easier to be a cynic than an idealist. But Christ told us that the right way of life is to “treat others as one would like to be treated,” and the story of the boys on the island of Ata shows us that we are destined to do so.

The challenge is to grow in freedom and courage to see all the good in the world that surrounds us every day. As Captain Warner says, “Life has taught me many things, including the lesson that one should always look for what is good and positive in people.”

Brian Wilson grew up in Ballymena, Co. Antrim and holds a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Oxford. He is currently a seminarian at the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain.

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