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Awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983, the coveted Booker Prize in 1980, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1979, William Golding’s writing continues to touch every country in the world and is today read in more than 35 languages. He was knighted by the Queen in 1988, and his ‘you-must-have-read-this’ classic novel Lord of the Flies is a global phenomenon.
In addition to 12 novels, Golding also wrote plays, many essays and reviews, several short stories, some poems, and a travel book about Egypt. Many of his attempts at other works survive in manuscript or typescript. Born in Cornwall in 1911, he seems to have known from childhood that he wanted to be a writer. His first published work appeared when he was twenty-three.
'Words may, through the devotion, the skill, the passion and the luck of writers, prove to be the most powerful thing in the world'.William Golding, Nobel Lecture, 1983
Quite apart from his obvious achievements as a writer, it is worth pointing out the vast range and diversity of the subject matter of his novels, and the challenge he set himself. Perhaps his greatest achievement is to have lived through the most terrible and inhumane of centuries, and to have left behind a body of work that can be said to reflect much of the horror of that time as well as an understanding of it.
At his death Golding left behind numerous volumes of daily journals (1971-1993), recording his innermost thoughts and trying out all kinds of ideas.
The Nobel Foundation cited:
'...his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today'.
Lord of the Flies is a literary phenomenon; the title is instantly recognisable as a synonym for societal breakdown, the book has been read by millions worldwide, and it has been required reading in schools, colleges and universities for the last fifty years.
In addition to its impact on the literary world, the book pervades popular culture, spawning a variety of parodies, tributes and re-imaginings as well as providing inspiration to the most unlikely of cultural forms. There are episodes and references to the work in popular music, TV shows including The Walking Dead and Lost, and cartoons. Lord of the Flies is also frequently cited in news and political reporting.
Golding’s other novels also feature in diverse cultural and media forms, including Oliver Rudland’s opera Pincher Martin, and a three-part BBC mini-series adaptation of To the Ends of the Earth ‘A Sea Trilogy’, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The Spire has been staged by Gareth Machin at Salisbury Playhouse. Artist Martin Bennett has long been inspired by Golding’s novels, reflected in his most recent exhibition.
Golding touched the lives of many people and we have a collection of reminiscences from the people who knew him best. Golding’s daughter Judy writes about The Inheritors and the book’s relationship with Golding’s family. Writer and historian Peter Green remembers his friend Bill Golding with a touching story about their last meeting.
The other novels, all astonishingly different from each other, are classics in their own right. The Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, read extensively from The Inheritors at Golding’s memorial service in 1993, and the setting itself – Salisbury Cathedral – evocatively recalled The Spire, a perfect merger of the individual and the local with the infinite and the symbolic. Golding had great gifts as a comic writer and satirist – highly underrated – and these are visible in The Scorpion God, The Paper Men and To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy.