The real Lord of the Flies

I read this fascinating piece over the weekend about tracking down the story of some real-life school kids stranded on a rock in the ocean for 15 months. Turns out no one died or got beat to death (it’s always the redheads that get it, poor Simon) or had their brains spilled after someone said “Sucks to your assmar.” In fact, they handled it quite well and were little gentlemen to the end. The Lord of the Flies was the book in grade 9 that taught me what “symbolism” was, in its sort of heavy-handed way (which is what 14 year olds need, really), and I still love the book. It helped me throughout life to think: be more like Ralph, less like Jack (another redhead… we’re only good for killing and being the bad guy, apparently). But, as a kid who grew up during the Reagan admin and who thought he’d have to one day preside over a tribe of wasteland warriors eking out a life in the harsh desert of destroyed rural Ontario, I did think it was wise to keep a few Jack moves in my back pocket. Turns out you just need to be stranded only with other Ralphs to make it work. Throw a Jack in there and shit will hit the fan (made of palm leaves and coconut batteries, I’m sure).

I first read Lord of the Flies as a teenager. I remember feeling disillusioned afterwards, but not for a second did I think to doubt Golding’s view of human nature. That didn’t happen until years later when I began delving into the author’s life. I learned what an unhappy individual he had been: an alcoholic, prone to depression; a man who beat his kids. “I have always understood the Nazis,” Golding confessed, “because I am of that sort by nature.” And it was “partly out of that sad self-knowledge” that he wrote Lord of the Flies.

I began to wonder: had anyone ever studied what real children would do if they found themselves alone on a deserted island? I wrote an article on the subject, in which I compared Lord of the Flies to modern scientific insights and concluded that, in all probability, kids would act very differently. Readers responded sceptically. All my examples concerned kids at home, at school, or at summer camp. Thus began my quest for a real-life Lord of the Flies. After trawling the web for a while, I came across an obscure blog that told an arresting story: “One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip … Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.”

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