Lord of the Flies – William Golding

William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies, resonates as a cornerstone of required reading in schools over the last fifty years, winning the Nobel Prize in 1983.  While it plays out well as a captivating story, it also serves to teach young students about using symbolism in writing.

Ralph and Piggy find themselves together after their air transport makes a crash landing on a deserted island during a wartime air transport to keep the children safe.  Piggy annoys Ralph but he decides he might be helpful in some ways, on an island with no adults.  They find a large conch shell and Ralph blows it because Piggy has asthma and shallow breaths won’t make the shell bellow. Soon, a large group of children gather around the boy with the conch and they begin a meeting in which Ralph is elected leader over another confident boy named Jack, which builds jealousy in the latter.  Ralph assigns Jack and his choir boys as hunters to try to capture meat and food. Others are assigned to build a fire for a rescue signal, and others are to build shelters.

Nothing seems to go right.  While Ralph and Piggy have the right ideas, most of they boys are looking for adventure and fun, and half of them are ‘littl’uns,’ too small to be much help in any way.  The boys used Piggy’s glasses to light the first fire, which burned a large section of the forest, and seemed to have also killed one of the young boys. The first shelter the group built was pretty good, but the second had fewer helpers, and the third only had a couple of the boys, so each one was progressively worse.  Jack’s jealousy kept building and when Ralph was angry about all of the boys hunting instead of minding the fire, Jack started trying to talk the boys into choosing himself for leader, which was unsuccessful.  A few days later, Jack saw his chance when most of the boys were expressing their fears- ghosts, monsters, and beasts.  Jack offered to keep them safe, besides, weren’t the boys all tired of all the rules Ralph was trying to push on them?

Two tribes formed and by luring with roasted pig along with the fear of violence to keep them, Jack pulled most of the boys to his side of the island. In their first hunt, as a new tribe, they killed a big female pig with small piglets suckling.  They put her head on a stake to offer to the much feared beast nobody had actually seen.  Simon, one of the boys sleeping near the pig’s head became entranced in his thoughts, projecting his own voice into the fly-covered head. The Lord of the Flies told him that the fear they felt was close, in fact, it was inside each of them… Simon ran away to escape the head, finding another secret, the boys need to know.  He ran to Jack’s tribe and they saw him in the darkness as a beast. Their fears came alive and they beat the boy to death.

In a couple of night raids, Jack’s tribe had stolen fire, then stole Piggy’s glasses to take all of the power to their tribe through the ability of making their own fire.  The four remaining boys of the original group, Sam and Eric, Ralph and Piggy walked together to the boys fort to ask for the glasses back, Piggy was practically blind without them.  A fight escalated, and an accident happened.  Not really an accident, the wild tribe hoped to cause damage, but it seemed they really didn’t understand the falling rock killed Piggy. Sam and Eric were captured and forced into the new tribe, and Ralph became a hunted boy.  Through the next day, Jack’s tribe systematically hunted Ralph, spreading through the island and walking it together, being sure not to miss a hiding boy.  They also started a fire to push Ralph out, and at the last moment, Ralph ran and darted out of the forest toward the beach, where he found a sailor who had come ashore to check on the fire. He took the boys onto their warship,  the boys were safe.

Symbolism:  Ralph projected the ideal society with rules and order. Piggy served as his brain trust, no power, but good ideas if they were heeded.  Jack represented the opposite end of society- evils, lack of morals, acting on emotions.  The large female pig symbolized sex and desire.  The head on the stick, or the Lord of the Flies, represented subconscious thought, or what some psychologists term the Id. At the end of the story, the sailor stumbled upon the boys fighting a battle to the death, while they were then safe from themselves, the sailor would be taking them on a ship in war time, to essentially fight an adult battle to the death, a sort of transfer of boys to men fighting.

 

Twitter: @83mrlong

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The Quick and the Dead – Louis L’Amour

The day finally came when the McKaskel family set out upon the Santa Fe Trail. Duncan, his wife, Sarah, and their son Tom had only known the city life back East.  Both parents were educated and Tom was eager for adventure as any teenage boy would be.  Little did they know how much adventure they would find.

All of the education they gained in life would not be enough to secure their survival on the dire trail.  Within the first week the horses were stolen, surely they would have had to turn back if- the hero, Con Villain hadn’t shown up.  He was only passing through, and the pretty Sarah sure makes a great cup of coffee.

The McKaskels weren’t sure what to make of Con.  Was he just waiting for the right moment to rob the family himself?  Little by little, Con earned their trust. First of all, he never had to follow Duncan to the outlaw’s town to retrieve the horses.  He especially didn’t have to shoot the man in the barn aiming to shoot Duncan in the back.  Con didn’t even have to stay with the McKaskels when the Indians came to visit.

With his help, the family gained a different knowledge.  Learning what had not been written in the books they read.  The horse thieves followed them on the trail and Con always helped the McKaskels stay a step ahead.  One night, they were split up by the outlaws and Sarah figured they might not ever see Con again. If it were true, would the family make it on their own?  Would they overcome the struggles of the trail or would they become like the thousands of unmarked graves on the dangerous route?

A classic Western, The Quick and the Dead has been made into movies and is one of Louis L’Amour’s most popular works.  The suspense found between the pages keep them turning to find out if the family survives, if Indians attack, if outlaws return, and if Con Villain would be their savior, or a wolf in a sheep’s skin…

Twitter: @blookworm

IG: @83mrlong

 

The Great Train Robbery – Michael Chrichton

Author of the world famous ‘Jurassic Park,’ Michael Chrichton penned the novel ‘The Great Train Robbery’ about the 1855 heist.  This was a major event in England for several reasons. First, the trains were a new technology in Victorian England, nobody had thought to make such a daring robbery on a train line.  Second, the plan was well thought out and spanned a period of over a year in preparations. Third, it took nearly a year of detective work to track down the mastermind of the event.

Chrichton did his research well on this event and presented a narrative of the event from the perspective of the criminals, not unlike Capote had done for the Kansas crime novel, ‘In Cold Blood.’ The leader, Edward Pierce, was continually described as ‘the red bearded man.’ He had the appearance of a gentleman and was little suspected to be a criminal, as most believed Victorian criminals were of the lower class.  Pierce created a master plan to rob the London train heading to the coast with a load of gold intended to pay troops in the Crimean War.  While he collected information, he also rounded up necessary men and women to aid the heist.  As he hired the men he needed, he told no one of the impending robbery details, just what their particular job would be.  He hired Robert Agar as a lock picker early in the the preparations and left him in the dark as they worked together to bring the plan together.

The robbery entailed robbing the trains on the go, in a special guarded and locked car, sat two state-of-the-art Stubb’s safes which had two locks apiece, requiring four keys to get in.  The four keys seemed the most difficult part of the preparations.  Two were locked in a cupboard in a guarded office, two others were each held by managers of the bank employed to supply the gold shipments.  One man was seduced by a young prostitute to obtain the key, the other was burglarized at home during the night, the key being in his wine cellar.  The other two keys in the guarded office took an elaborate scheme.  Pierce hired a boy to act as a thief, who ran into the office and broke a ceiling window in a failed attempt to escape.  Pierce’s cab driver  was a large brute with a noticeable white scar on his forehead, acted as a policeman to chase the boy and take him away safely without real repercussions.  Later that night, a man Pierce had hired for his climbing ability and agility climbed through the roof into the room to unlock the door.  Agar then waited until the guard went to the bathroom and ran into the unlocked room and made wax copies of the keys, returning to his hiding place on the platform before the guard returned. Several months later, after careful planning, Agar and Pierce were ready for the big day.  Agar was disguised as a corpse in a coffin to be loaded into the guarded car.  Agar had met the guard a few months before as he practiced unlocking the safes, the guard had been payed off, and was believed to be no threat to the operation.  Pierce boarded the train in the second class cars and had one all to himself.  During the route, he climbed onto the roofs of the speeding train and walked to the guarded car, where he unlocked the door from the outside.  The gold was bagged and thrown off the train to Pierce’s awaiting cab driver. Bags of lead shot replaced the weight of the gold and the safes were locked up again, every one returning to their original places as well.  The train delivered the safes to a ferry crossing the English Channel, then were transported to Paris to pay the troops.  It was in Paris it was discovered that something was amiss.  The train blamed the Parisian government, the ferry blamed the train, and the British and French governments blamed each other. After such careful planning, nearly everything went according to plan.

Over a year later, a lady-friend of Agar’s was caught robbing a drunk man and when begging and bribing didn’t get her out of police possession, she gave up information on Agar’s involvement in the robbery. Agar was apprehended, which led police to the train guard, and to Pierce.  The trial was a national event, however, overshadowed by the Indian uprising against British troops on the Indian peninsula. Pierce was cool, calm, and collected the entire trial, explaining in detail his plan and the execution of the robbery.  Upon sentencing, Pierce was taken into a police cab, to be taken to jail.   The guards woke up and reported that they don’t remember anything but a large man with a white scar on his forehead beating them.  Pierce, his mistress (who was involved in the robbery) and the cab driver made a clean escape and were never heard from again.

Survivor – Chuck Palahnuik

What’s up Chuck?  The fourth novel from the Fight Club creator features a cult in which the remaining member is fighting with internal struggles, along with the pressure of the outside world as he is trying to avoid suicide and chemical inhalation (sound familiar?). While there are a few similarities between Palahnuik’s critically acclaimed novel, this is the story of Tender Branson, a 33 year-old man who is just trying to get his story out to prove his innocence.  He is telling his story into the ‘black box’ of a Jumbo jet, careening down onto Earth, the middle of the Outback, Australia, to be exact.  Branson hijacked the airplane, had the pilot land to let off passengers, then took off again to make the pilot parachute down to safety somewhere over the Pacific.  Branson had just a few hours to record his tale into the device before all four engines failed and sent him plunging to his death.

The story began with Branson in the small, secluded church community of the Creedish.  The oldest son’s are betrothed to young women of the elder’s choice, while all other males in the family are sent off in missionary labor in the real world.  The ‘missionaries’ work cash-only jobs, sending their paychecks back to the village, a kind of slavery in a sense.  The missionaries are forbidden to have sex, marry, have kids, they are only set up with menial jobs like house cleaners, and given a small apartment.  Tender was the second eldest son, by three minutes.  While his twin brother took a wife, Tender was sent into the wild city to work as a house keeper.  He knew how to take any kind of stain out of any kind of surface- blood out of silk pajamas, and mildew out of tile grout.  His employers often phoned him to find out what was being served at upcoming dinner parties, and how to eat it, in terms of etiquette.  The employers also had a daily planner book, filled out to the minute, for several weeks out.  They were demanding, but Tender was good at his job and didn’t ask questions.

Eventually, at the age of 33, Tender heard of the Creedish ‘Deliverance’.  All members of his family and church had committed suicide.  The church was reported as child abusers and the entire slave labor program was uncovered.  Tender was assigned a case-worker as part of the ‘Survivor Retention Program’ and they had weekly meetings to talk and make sure he was OK.  As other members heard of the Deliverance, the faithful pupils as they were, the took their lives to be delivered into heaven.  Tender knew, but was not very interested in the plan, and kept living his normal life.  Soon, he met Fertility Hollis, and began a strange relationship with the clairvoyant girl. Fertility had dreams about upcoming disasters- explosions, plane crashes, fires, a chandelier falling. She took Tender to a department store to witness a fire.  They watched as the racks of clothing around them burned in a fury until the sprinkler system kicked in and kept them safe, she knew they would be safe of course.   A freak accident with his case-worker breathing deadly fumes led the media into finding out that Tender was the sole-survivor of the Creedish cult, or so they thought.

An agent took in Tender and transformed him into a media frenzy.  There were books written, TV appearances, and even a dashboard doll made in the likeness of Tender Branson.  The public image that was Tender was a overly religion icon, his books were best sellers.  The agent had him taking steroids, tanning, got his teeth capped, botox injections, the works.  The were always traveling to stadiums speaking to the followers.  Much like the cleaning job, his schedule was forced upon him task by task to the minute.

I’ll leave the summary here, as Tender runs into trouble and finds out he’s not the actual sole survivor of the Creedish.  Everything kind of blows up in his face, and as mentioned before, he ends up hijacking an airplane to get his story told, once and for all.

The book was very hard to put down, a quick read.  The fun factoids and details that appeared in the Fight Club were in full-effect here as well.

How to get bloodstains out of a fur coat: cornmeal and brushing the wrong way.

How to get blood stains off of piano keys: polish them with talcum powder.

How to hide bullet holes in a living room wall: toothpaste.

These were a fun part of the book.  I also enjoyed the entire count-down theme.  The chapters were in reverse order, the pages counted down to end at page one.  As Tender told his story, you are reading a countdown to the present part of the hijacking.  This is a creative novel, and even though some of the characterization follows Palahnuik’s Fight Club, it is still an original read that puts you on the edge of your seat to find out how Tender’s fate brought him to his lonely flight.

Rating: *********(9/10)

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