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Lord of the Flies
The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover
AuthorWilliam Golding
Cover artistAnthony Gross[1]
GenreAllegorical novel
PublisherFaber and Faber
Publication date
17 September 1954
Publication placeUnited Kingdom

Lord of the Flies is the 1954 debut novel of British author William Golding. The plot concerns a group of British boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempts to govern themselves. The novel's themes include morality, leadership, and the tension between civility and chaos.

Lord of the Flies was generally well received, and is a popular assigned book in schools.


Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel. Golding got the idea for the plot from The Coral Island, a children's adventure novel with a focus on Christianity and the supposed civilising influence of British colonialism. Golding thought that the book was unrealistic, and asked his wife if it would be a good idea if he "wrote a book about children on an island, children who behave in the way children really would behave?"[3]

The novel's title is a literal translation of Beelzebub, a biblical demon considered the god of pride and warfare.[4] Golding, who was a philosophy teacher before becoming a Royal Navy lieutenant, experienced war firsthand, and commanded a landing craft in the Normandy landings during D-Day in 1944. After the war ended and Golding returned to England, the world was dominated by Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation, which led Golding to examine the nature of humanity and went on to inspire Lord of the Flies.[5]

Lord of the Flies was rejected by many publishers before being accepted by Faber & Faber. An initial rejection labelled the book as "absurd ... Rubbish & dull".[6] The book was originally titled Strangers from Within, which was considered "too abstract and too explicit"[7] and was eventually changed to Lord of the Flies.[8][9]

Editor Charles Monteith worked with Golding on several major edits, including removing the entire first section which described an evacuation from nuclear war.[6][7] The character of Simon was also heavily edited to remove an interaction with a mysterious figure who is implied to be God.[10] Ultimately, Golding accepted the edits, and wrote that "I've lost any kind of objectivity I ever had over this novel and can hardly bear to look at it."[11] The edited manuscripts are available to view at the University of Exeter library.[12]


In the midst of a wartime evacuation, a British aeroplane crashes on an isolated island in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors are boys in their middle childhood or preadolescence. A fair-haired boy named Ralph and a fat boy nicknamed Piggy find a conch shell, which Ralph uses as a horn to gather the survivors. Ralph immediately commands authority over the other boys using the conch, and is elected their "chief". He establishes three goals for the boys: to have fun, to survive, and to constantly maintain a smoke signal that could alert passing ships. Ralph, a red-haired boy named Jack, and a quiet boy named Simon use Piggy's glasses to create a signal fire.

The semblance of order deteriorates as the boys grow lazy and ignore Ralph's efforts to improve life on the island. They become paranoid about an imaginary monster called "the beast". Ralph fails to convince the boys that no beast exists, while Jack gains popularity by declaring that he will personally hunt and kill the monster. At one point, Jack takes the boys to hunt a wild pig, including the boys who were meant to watch the signal fire. The smoke signal goes out, failing to attract a ship that was passing by the island. Ralph angrily confronts Jack and considers relinquishing his role as leader, but is persuaded not to do so by Piggy.

One night, an air battle occurs near the island and the body of a fighter pilot drifts down in a parachute. Twin boys Sam and Eric mistake the corpse for the beast. When Ralph and Jack investigate with another boy, Roger, they flee in terror, believing the beast is real. Jack tries to turn the others against Ralph, and goes off alone to form his own tribe, with most of the other boys gradually joining him.

Jack and his followers set up an offering to the beast in the forest: a pig's head, mounted on a sharpened stick and swarming with flies. Simon, who often ventures into the forest alone, has an imaginary dialogue with the head, which he dubs the "Lord of the Flies". The head tells Simon that there is no beast on the island, and predicts that the other boys will turn on Simon. That night, Ralph and Piggy visit Jack's tribe, who have begun painting their faces and engaging in primitive ritual dances. When Simon realises that the beast is only a dead pilot, he rushes to tell Jack's tribe, but the frenzied boys (including Ralph and Piggy) mistake Simon for the beast and beat him to death.

Jack and his tribe steal Piggy's glasses, the only means of starting a fire. Ralph goes to Jack's camp with Piggy, Sam, and Eric to confront him and retrieve the glasses. Roger triggers a trap that kills Piggy and shatters the conch. Ralph manages to escape, but Sam and Eric are forced to join Jack's tribe.

That night, Ralph secretly confronts Sam and Eric, who warn him that Jack plans to hunt him. The following morning, Jack's tribe sets fire to the forest. Ralph narrowly escapes the boys and the fire, and finally falls in front of a uniformed adult – a British naval officer who has landed on the island to investigate the fire. Ralph, Jack, and the other boys erupt into sobs over the "end of innocence". The officer expresses his disappointment at seeing the boys exhibiting such feral, warlike behaviour, then turns, "moved and a little embarrassed," to stare at his cruiser waiting offshore.



  • Ralph: The athletic and charismatic protagonist who is the boys' elected leader. He is often representative of order, civilisation, and productive leadership. At the beginning of the novel, Ralph sets out to build huts and thinks of ways to improve their chances of being rescued. Ralph's influence over the boys is at first secure, but it declines as the boys defect to Jack and turn to savagery.
  • Jack Merridew: The strong-willed antagonist who represents savagery, violence, and power. At the beginning of the novel, he is infuriated at losing the leadership election to Ralph. He then leads his tribe, consisting of a group of ex-choir boys, into the deep forest where they hunt pigs and turn into barbarians with painted faces. By the end of the novel, he uses the boys' fear of the beast to assert control over them.
  • Simon: An innately spiritual boy who is often the voice of reason in the rivalry between Ralph and Jack.
  • Piggy: Ralph's intellectual and talkative friend who helps Ralph to become leader and is the source of many innovative ideas. He represents the rational side of humanity. Piggy's asthma, weight and poor eyesight make him a target of scorn and violence. His real name is not given.
  • Roger: An initially quiet boy who eventually becomes violent when Jack rises to power.


  • Sam and Eric: Twins, who are among Ralph's few supporters at the end of the novel. Roger forces them to join Jack's tribe.
  • The Officer: A naval officer who rescues the surviving boys at the end of the novel. He does not understand the boys' warlike behaviour, despite commanding a warship himself.


The novel's major themes of morality, civility, leadership, and society all explore the duality of human nature.[5]

Lord of the Flies portrays a scenario in which upper-class British children quickly descend into chaos and violence without adult authority, despite the boys' attempts to establish order and co-ordination. This subverts the colonial narration found in many British books of this period, such as The Coral Island.[5] Lord of the Flies contains various references to The Coral Island, such as the rescuing naval officer describing the boys' misadventures as a "jolly good show. Like the Coral Island."[13] Golding's three central characters, Ralph, Piggy, and Jack, can also be interpreted as caricatures of the protagonists in The Coral Island.[14]

At an allegorical level, a central theme is how the desire for civilisation conflicts with the desire for power. Lord of the Flies also portrays the tension between groupthink and individuality, rational and emotional reactions, and morality and immorality. These themes have been explored in an essay by American literary critic Harold Bloom.[15]

Some examples of symbolism in Lord of the Flies are the signal fire, Piggy's glasses, and the conch shell, which can be read as representing hope, reason, and unity, among other interpretations.

The novel also examines aspects of war, as the story is set during a war that has begun before the boys arrive on the island.[16] Although the location of the island is never stated, it is implied to be somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Genre and style

As a tale of adventure and survival, Lord of the Flies fits the genre of romanticism. It also questions human morality, making it a work of philosophical fiction. The novel is styled as allegorical fiction, embodying the concepts of inherent human savagery, mob mentality, and totalitarian leadership.[17] However, Golding deviates from typical allegory in that both the protagonists and the antagonists are fully developed, realistic characters.


Critical response

Its first print run of 3,000 copies was slow to sell, but Lord of the Flies went on to become very popular, with more than ten million copies sold as of 2015.[7] E. M. Forster chose Lord of the Flies as his "outstanding novel of the year", and it was described in one review as "not only a first-rate adventure but a parable of our times".[7] In February 1960, Floyd C. Gale of Galaxy Science Fiction rated Lord of the Flies five stars out of five, stating, "Golding paints a truly terrifying picture of the decay of a minuscule society ... Well on its way to becoming a modern classic".[18] Marc D. Hauser called Lord of the Flies "riveting" and said that it "should be standard reading in biology, economics, psychology, and philosophy".[19]

Lord of the Flies presents a view of humanity unimaginable before the horrors of Nazi Europe, and then plunges into speculations about mankind in the state of nature. Bleak and specific, but universal, fusing rage and grief, Lord of the Flies is both a novel of the 1950s, and for all time.

Robert McCrum, The Guardian.[7]

Lord of the Flies was included on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990–1999, for its controversial stance on human nature and individual welfare versus the common good.[20] The book has been criticised as cynical for portraying humanity as inherently selfish and violent. It has been linked with the essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett Hardin and with books by Ayn Rand and countered by "Management of the Commons" by Elinor Ostrom.[21] Lord of the Flies has been contrasted with Tongan castaways an incident from 1965, when a group of schoolboys on a fishing boat from Tonga were marooned on an uninhabited island and considered dead by their relatives. The group not only managed to survive for over 15 months but "had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination". When ship captain Peter Warner found them, they were in good health and spirits. The Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, writing about the Tonga event, called Golding's portrayal unrealistic.[22]


Lord of the Flies was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 41 on the editor's list and 25 on the reader's list.[23] In 2003, Lord of the Flies was listed at number 70 on the BBC's survey The Big Read,[24] and in 2005 it was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.[25] Time also included the novel in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.[26]

Popular in schools, especially in the English-speaking world, a 2016 UK poll saw Lord of the Flies ranked third in the nation's favourite books from school, behind George Orwell's Animal Farm and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.[27]

In 2019, BBC News included Lord of the Flies on its list of the 100 most inspiring novels.[28]

In other media


Three film adaptations were based on the book:

A fourth adaptation, to feature an all-female cast, was announced by Warner Bros. in August 2017.[29][30] Subsequently abandoned, it inspired the 2021 television series Yellowjackets.[31] Ladyworld, an all-female adaptation, was released in 2018.


In April 2023, the BBC announced that the British production company Eleven Film would produce the first ever television adaptation of the novel, written by screenwriter Jack Thorne.[32]


The book was first adapted for the stage and performed in 1984 at Clifton College Preparatory School. It was adapted by Elliot Watkins, a teacher at the school, with the consent of Golding, who attended the opening night.[citation needed]

Nigel Williams wrote his own adaptation of the text for the stage some ten years later. It was debuted by the Royal Shakespeare Company in July 1995.[33] The Pilot Theatre Company toured it extensively in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

In October 2014 it was announced that the 2011 production[34][failed verification] of Lord of the Flies would return to conclude the 2015 season at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre ahead of a major UK tour. The production was to be directed by Timothy Sheader.[citation needed]

Kansas-based Orange Mouse Theatricals and Mathew Klickstein produced a topical, gender-bending adaptation called Ladies of the Fly that was co-written by a group of girls aged 8 to 16 based on the original text and their own lives. The production was performed by the girls as an immersive live-action show in August 2018.[35]


In June 2013, BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a dramatisation by Judith Adams in four 30-minute episodes directed by Sasha Yevtushenko. The cast included Ruth Wilson as narrator, Finn Bennett as Ralph, Richard Linnel as Jack, Caspar Hilton-Hilley as Piggy, and Jack Caine as Simon.[36]



Author Stephen King named his fictional town of Castle Rock after Jack's mountain camp in Lord of the Flies.[37] The book itself appears prominently in King's novels Cujo (1981), Misery (1987) and Hearts in Atlantis (1999).[38] His novel It was influenced by Golding's novel: "I thought to myself I'd really like to write a story about what's gained and what's lost when you go from childhood to adulthood, and also, the things we experience in childhood that are like seeds that blossom later on."[39] In 2011, King wrote an introduction for a new edition of Lord of the Flies to mark the centenary of Golding's birth.[40] King's town of Castle Rock inspired the name of Rob Reiner's production company, Castle Rock Entertainment.[41]

Alan Garner credits the book with making him want to become a writer.[42]


Iron Maiden wrote a song inspired by the book, included in their 1995 album The X Factor.[43]

The Filipino indie pop/alternative rock outfit The Camerawalls include a song titled "Lord of the Flies" on their 2008 album Pocket Guide to the Otherworld.[44]


  • Golding, William (1958) [1954]. Lord of the Flies (Print ed.). Boston: Faber & Faber.

See also


  1. ^ "Bound books – a set on Flickr". 22 November 2007. Archived from the original on 25 October 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2012.
  2. ^ Amazon, "Lord of the Flies: Amazon.ca" Archived 20 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Amazon
  3. ^ Presley, Nicola. "Lord of the Flies and The Coral Island." William Golding Official Site, 30th Jun 2017, https://william-golding.co.uk/lord-flies-coral-island Archived 23 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 9th Feb 2021.
  4. ^ 2 Kings 1:2–3, 6, 16
  5. ^ a b c Dash, Jill. "Why should you read "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding?". YouTube.
  6. ^ a b Monteith, Charles. "Strangers from Within." William Golding: The Man and His Books, edited by John Carey, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1987.
  7. ^ a b c d e "The 100 best novels: No 74 – Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  8. ^ Symons, Julian (26 September 1986). "Golding's way". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 6 October 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  9. ^ Faber, Toby (28 April 2019). "Lord of the Flies? 'Rubbish'. Animal Farm? Too risky – Faber's secrets revealed". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Archived from the original on 28 April 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  10. ^ Kendall, Tim. Email, University of Exeter, received 5th Feb 2021.
  11. ^ Williams, Phoebe (6 June 2019). "New BBC programme sheds light on the story behind the publication of Lord of the Flies". Faber & Faber Official Site. Archived from the original on 1 May 2021. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  12. ^ "EUL MS 429 – William Golding, Literary Archive". Archives Catalogue. University of Exeter. Retrieved 6 October 2021. The collection represents the literary papers of William Golding and consists of notebooks, manuscript and typescript drafts of Golding's novels up to 1989.
  13. ^ Reiff, Raychel Haugrud (2010), William Golding: Lord of the Flies, Marshall Cavendish, p. 93, ISBN 978-0-7614-4700-9
  14. ^ Singh, Minnie (1997), "The Government of Boys: Golding's Lord of the Flies and Ballantyne's Coral Island", Children's Literature, 25: 205–213, doi:10.1353/chl.0.0478, S2CID 144319352
  15. ^ Bloom, Harold. "Major themes in Lord of the Flies" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  16. ^ https://study.com/learn/lesson/lord-of-the-flies-william-golding-settings-time-period-analysis What does the setting symbolize in Lord of the Flies?[dead link]
  17. ^ "Lord of the Flies: Genre". SparkNotes.
  18. ^ Gale, Floyd C. (February 1960). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 164–168.
  19. ^ Marc D. Hauser (2006). Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong. page 252.
  20. ^ "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999". American Library Association. 2009. Archived from the original on 15 May 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  21. ^ Williams, Ray (24 May 2021). "How The Lord of the Flies is a Myth and a False Representation of Humanity". Ray Williams. Retrieved 24 May 2024.
  22. ^ Bregman, Rutger (9 May 2020). "The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 9 May 2020. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  23. ^ Kyrie O'Connor (1 February 2011). "Top 100 Novels: Let the Fighting Begin". Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  24. ^ "The Big Read – Top 100 Books". BBC. April 2003. Archived from the original on 28 October 2012. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  25. ^ Grossman, Lev; Lacayo, Richard (6 October 2005). "ALL-TIME 100 Novels. Lord of the Flies (1955), by William Golding". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Archived from the original on 10 December 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  26. ^ "100 Best Young-Adult Books". Time. Archived from the original on 22 January 2020. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  27. ^ "George Orwell's Animal Farm tops list of the nation's favourite books from school". The Independent. Archived from the original on 11 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  28. ^ "100 'most inspiring' novels revealed by BBC Arts". BBC News. 5 November 2019. Archived from the original on 3 November 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2019. The reveal kickstarts the BBC's year-long celebration of literature.
  29. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr (30 August 2017). "Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric 'Lord of the Flies' At Warner Bros". Deadline. Archived from the original on 6 March 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  30. ^ France, Lisa Respers (1 September 2017). "'Lord of the Flies' all-girl remake sparks backlash". Entertainment. CNN. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  31. ^ Soloski, Alexis (10 November 2021). "Yellowjackets Leans In to Savagery". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 11 November 2021. Retrieved 12 November 2021. Archived November 11, 2021, at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ "BBC announces first TV adaptation of William Golding's Lord of the Flies". 20 April 2023. Retrieved 20 April 2023.
  33. ^ "Search | RSC Performances | LOF199508 - The Lord of the Flies". Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  34. ^ "Lord of the Flies, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, review". The Telegraph. 26 May 2011. Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
  35. ^ "Orange Mouse Theatricals to stage re-imagined 'Lord of the Flies' with an all-female twist". LJWorld.com.
  36. ^ "William Golding – Lord of the Flies". BBC Radio 4. Archived from the original on 20 June 2013.
  37. ^ Beahm, George (1992). The Stephen King story (Revised ed.). Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel. p. 120. ISBN 0-8362-8004-0. Castle Rock, which King in turn had got from Golding's Lord of the Flies.
  38. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Stephen King". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 23 March 2007.
  39. ^ Presley, Nicola (16 June 2018). "Stephen King's It and Lord of the Flies". william-golding.co.uk/.
  40. ^ Flood, Alison (11 April 2011). "Stephen King joins William Golding centenary celebration". The Guardian.
  41. ^ King, Stephen (2011). "Introduction by Stephen King". Faber and Faber. Archived from the original on 24 July 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
  42. ^ The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. 1984. p. 325.
  43. ^ "CALA (-) LAND". ilcala.blogspot.com. Archived from the original on 13 October 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  44. ^ "Indie band The Camerawalls releases debut album". Archived from the original on 10 June 2020. Retrieved 10 May 2020.

External links