Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Banned Books Week: Day Five
Savage Youth

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

William Golding's novel, The Lord of the Flies, has become a literary classic, one that often appears on lists of banned books. It is the fictional account of a group of school boys being flown out of Great Britain to a safe location during World War II. Their plane unfortunately crashes at sea, leaving the lads stranded without adults on a desert island.

The boys, some teenagers and some quite young ("littluns") established a rudimentary society in order to survive. One of the older boys was elected to lead, and he appointed another older boy as the chief hunter. Being free of adults, however, the society started to fall in on itself as they focused more on playing than they did on survival. As an example, the boys built a signal fire on the mountain to attract any passing ships or planes, but when a ship actually came within sight of the island, they were unable to act because the fire had gone out.

The leadership became more ruthless, and the young civilization slowly sank into barbarism. By the time help finally arrived, some of the lads had been killed at the hands of others, and most of the population had been complicit in those deaths. Their society had degenerated into savagery and mob rule, strikingly similar to what was occurring in some European nations at that same time.

I have read Lord of the Flies twice, once when I was in high school and once just a few years ago. It was an adventure story the first time, and a treatise on civilization during more recent reading. Another book, very similar in nature to Golding's novel, that I also read twice, was The Butterfly Revolution by William Butler. It was very much an adventure story when I was young, and the more recent reading illuminated that savagery that lies just below the surface in us all.

The Butterfly Revolution occurred at a summer camp for boys that was located very near a camp for girls. The camps were for kids from nine to seventeen. Some of the boys, especially in the older group, grew disenchanted with the camp and the counselors over some of the activities that they were forced to do, and their discontent really began festering with a mandatory butterfly hunt. The youths started whispering about revolution, and soon took the camp director and the counselors captive and locked them in the camp jail.

The revolution quickly spread to the girls camp. Things were fun for awhile (much as they were in the early days on the island in Lord of the Flies), but the fun began to fade when one of the boys sexually attacked one of the girls. Before the police finally arrived at the two summer camps, one boy had been shot, another hung, the camp director had been murdered, and a fledgling society had been ripped apart by the unleashed savagery of once ordinary kids.

Lord of the Flies and The Butterfly Revolution tell essentially the same tale but in different settings. They are both adolescent retellings of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a moving novel that illuminates where each of us might be but for the societal conventions that keep us in line. The only major difference between Golding's book and that of Butler is that the former has been discovered by the censors who are eager to protect us from its content, and Butler's book languishes in relative obscurity. Both are well worth a reading - even a third reading!

And don't even get me started on Heart of Darkness (the plot basis for the movie, Apocalypse Now), because it is one of the best damned books ever written!

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