A fixture of English class syllabi, William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies keeps winning over new generations of readers. Here are a few precious gems we dug up to celebrate the dystopian island.
1. An early draft of Lord of the Flies opened and closed differently.
Golding’s original version of Lord of the Flies began not on the island, but by describing a nuclear war with no main characters. Next, the action moved onto a plane that participates in an air battle and eventually releases a “passenger tube” full of students that floats down to the tropical island. The first draft closed its story with an ominous cataloguing of the story’s time and date: “16.00, 2nd October 1952.”
2. Nobody wanted to publish Lord of the Flies.
Since it was Golding’s first book, Lord of the Flies was met with little interest from the multitudes of publishing companies to whom he sent his manuscript. Golding’s daughter Judy Carver remembered her cash-strapped father struggling with many rejection letters. “My earliest memory is not of the book itself but of a lot of parcels coming back and being sent off again very quickly,” she told The Guardian. “He must have been grief-stricken every time it returned. Even paying for the postage was a commitment.”
3. The eventual publisher of Lord of the Flies tried to hide it from T.S. Eliot.
Even Faber and Faber, the London-based house that ultimately released the book, was resistant at first, yielding only because new editor Charles Monteith was so passionate about the story. The company even went so far as to not discuss the title within earshot of its literary advisor, acclaimed poet T.S. Eliot.
Eliot allegedly first heard about Lord of the Flies via an offhand remark made by a friend at his social club. In his biography William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies, John Carey recounts that Eliot’s friend warned him, “Faber had published an unpleasant novel about small boys behaving unspeakably on a desert island.” In the end, Faber’s fears were unfounded: The poet loved Golding’s novel.
4. Simon was initially more of a Christ figure.
One of Monteith’s more substantial edits involved toning down the Simon character’s “Christ-like” characteristics. Golding originally designed the boy as a sanctified, ethereal character, which his editor thought was too heavy-handed. The Simon that appears in the final draft of Lord of the Flies is indeed a good deal more peaceful and conscientious than his peers, but lacks the ostentatious godliness that Monteith found problematic.
5. Initially, Lord of the Flies wasn’t a success.
Upon its release in September 1954, Lord of the Flies underwhelmed at bookstores, selling only 4662 copies through the following year and falling out of print shortly thereafter. Critical acclaim and the respect of the academic community steadily grew over the rest of the decade, and the novel eventually found enough of an audience that by 1962 it had moved 65,000 copies.
6. William Golding was unimpressed with how Lord of the Flies turned out.
Although he was initially enthusiastic about the text, Golding’s appraisal of his breakthrough work dimmed over time. After revisiting Lord of the Flies in 1972 for the first time in a decade, Golding gave it a less-than-stellar review. According to Carey's biography, the author said he found his own book “boring and crude. The language is O-level stuff.” (O-level is the lower level of standardized testing in the parts of the UK, which assesses basic knowledge—so Golding was saying his novel was the rough equivalent of middle school English writing.)
7. William Golding fielded lots of questions about the all-male novel.
In an audio recording published on TED-Ed, Golding said that “When girls say to me, and very reasonably, ‘Why isn’t it a bunch of girls? Why did you write this about a bunch of boys?’ my reply is ... If you, as it were, scale down human beings, scale down society, if you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls will be. Don’t ask me why. And this is a terrible thing to say, because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This has nothing to do with equality at all. I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men; they are far superior and always have been.”
8. William Golding had a funny experience at a school production of Lord of the Flies.
Author Nigel Williams recalls accompanying Golding to a student production of Lord of the Flies at King’s College School in London’s Wimbledon neighborhood. After the performance, Golding visited the student actors backstage to drive home the novel’s lesson.
As Williams writes in The Telegraph, “He went backstage afterwards and said to the boys, ‘Did you like being little savages?’ ‘Ye-e-eahhh!!’ they shouted. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘but you wouldn’t like to be savages all the time—would you now?’ They looked, suddenly, like the boys in the story do when the adult comes to rescue them at the end—cowed and, indeed, awed by what the world might hold in store.”
9. Lord of the Flies is a personal favorite of another famous author.
Stephen King has cited Lord of the Flies as one of his favorite books. In a foreword to the 2011 edition of the novel, King wrote that, “It was, so far as I can remember, the first book with hands—strong ones that reached out of the pages and seized me by the throat. It said to me, ‘This is not just entertainment; it’s life-or-death.’”
King’s books even include a nod to the text. King named the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine—the setting for a number of his novels—after the geological structure featured prominently in Lord of the Flies.
10. Lord of the Flies has also inspired many popular musicians.
A slew of bands have nodded to Lord of the Flies in their songs, including U2 (whose “Shadows and Tall Trees” is named after the book’s seventh chapter), The Offspring (whose “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” references the book by name), and Iron Maiden (whose “Lord of the Flies” is a song about the book itself).
11. Lord of the Flies has suffered its share of censorship.
The American Library Association ranks Lord of the Flies as the eighth most challenged “classic” book in American culture, and the 68th most challenged book overall during the 1990s.
For more fascinating facts and stories about your favorite authors and their works, check out Mental Floss's new book, The Curious Reader: A Literary Miscellany of Novels and Novelists, out May 25!
This story was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for 2021.