Lord of the Flies is one of those novels ‘you must have read’; it is a staple text on almost every high school curriculum, and more than that, it’s a rare compulsory read that young people can relate to and that they enjoy reading. Few readers can fail to be affected by the fast-paced terror and threat in the book and its striking parallels with our ‘real world’. Furthermore, the title of the novel has itself become an instantly recognisable synonym for survival, savagery and societal breakdown. It is difficult to think of many novel titles or themes that have had such an effect on the English language and popular culture as Lord of the Flies; Huxley’s Brave New World perhaps, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and of course, various elements of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four.
The extent to which Golding’s seminal work exists as a cultural referent is evident to great effect in the ABC television series Lost, which aired between 2004-2010. Lost ostensibly began as a series about a group of passengers who are stranded on an unknown island after their plane crashes. The opening season focused on their struggle to survive and work together whilst introducing some of the more fantastical elements that emerged as the programme developed. Inevitably then, the first season, and to some extent the second, has a survival narrative similar to Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Flies is explicitly referred to in the show on two occasions. Sawyer first mentions it in the first season when he attacks Jin and accuses him of burning the raft. This is followed by Charlie’s comparison of the experiences of the tail section survivors with events in the novel.
Lost is littered with diverse literary allusions, and as actor Michael Emerson (Ben Linus) remarks, ‘whenever there’s a book that gets on camera…there’s a purpose behind it’. For example, the microfilm explaining the significance of the mysterious hatch in series two is hidden behind Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, Sawyer cites Of Mice and Men as his favourite book which is explored in season 3, episode 4 , and various novels by Stephen King appear throughout the series, such as Carrie and The Shining. (In an interesting aside, Stephen King took the title for the setting of many of his novels – Castle Rock – from Lord of the Flies.) However, it is clear that Lord of the Flies is one of the main influences on the series, and the creators, Carlton Cuse and Damon Linderof, refer to this in an interview in which they discuss several key aspects of the novel that also appear in the series – a plane crash, an unknown monster, divisions within the island society and the struggle for leadership.
Linderof says – with a strong hint of irony – that ‘people saw the trailer and said it was going to be like Lord of the Flies and in the reality of our world, Lord of the Flies is strangely inapplicable. Lord of the Flies is about a group of kids and how their society breaks into two. One is savage, one civilised. There was an unseen monster and they started killing each other’. Cuse interjects; ‘It does seem like they’re connected’ and Linderof replies ‘I stand corrected. The savages are our people’.
In both Lost and Lord of the Flies, rescue is at first the primary aim. Ralph insists that a signal fire is continuously lit on the mountain, as does Sayid in Lost. He refuses to move to the caves, preferring to stay on the beach and keep the fire burning. It soon becomes clear that the desire for rescue becomes overshadowed by the need to survive on the respective islands and to manage the threats – real and imagined – to the castaways. These conflicting needs, coupled with increasing disruption from factions within the two societies, lead to the first major theme that occurs in both the novel and the television series.
Perhaps the most striking comparison can be made on the theme of leadership. In Lord of the Flies, Ralph is nominated as leader in opposition to Jack Merridew, who declares that he should be chief, as he is ‘chapter chorister and head boy … and can sing C sharp’ (23). Ralph is declared chief following an almost unanimous vote but in an attempt to appease Jack, tells him that he will still be head of the choir who will become the group’s hunters.
No such formal vote occurs in Lost but from early on in the series, the doctor Jack Shepherd is considered to be the leader. Jack is reluctant to take on the role as is shown in the fifth episode (season 1) and eventually leaves the group. Jack encounters John Locke in the jungle, and Locke provides the impetus for Jack’s acceptance of the leadership role: “they need someone to tell them what to do”. Jack: “Me? I can’t”.
However, following a drinking water crisis, Jack returns to the beach where he makes his ‘Live together, Die Alone’ speech which characterises the series. With this speech, Jack effectively establishes himself as a willing leader, and he implores his fellow survivors to ‘find a way to contribute’ in order to benefit the group, because if they ‘can’t live together’, they are ‘going to die alone’. The ‘Live Together, Die Alone’ speech is a success, and the people begin to pull together.
This speech mirrors an episode in Lord of the Flies when Ralph becomes frustrated that most of the other boys, with the exception of Simon and Piggy, are not contributing to the group’s survival or to keeping the signal fire burning. To stress the importance of his point, Ralph gestures towards the mountain and says, ‘We’ve got to make smoke up there – or die’ (88). Ralph’s carefully planned speech has the opposite effect to Jack Shephard’s ‘Live Together, Die Alone’. It becomes an impetus for the fracture of the group, with many of the boys openly deriding Ralph’s insistence on obedience to his rules. This opposition is led by Jack Merridew, who ignores the symbolism of the conch and shouts, ‘Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong – we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat–!’ (100). The difference between the failure and success of the two speeches are the respective audiences. In Lost, the adult survivors can appreciate the gravity of the situation and realise that working together is their only chance. For the boys, however, Ralph’s insistence on rules and ‘work’ seems to renege on his earlier promise that ‘until the grown-ups come to fetch us we’ll have fun’ (38).
Just as Ralph becomes locked in a tussle to be chief with Jack Merridew, Jack Shephard faces challenges to his leadership. Despite the fact that Jack was initially an unwilling leader for the Lost survivors, when his role is under threat, he fights hard to hold onto it. The biggest threat to Jack is John Locke, an enigmatic figure on the island who believes very strongly in the island’s mystical powers. At first, Jack and John work together, particularly after the discovery of the mysterious hatch containing the button that needs to be pressed every 108 minutes. However, Jack is wary of John and says to Kate in the final episode of season 1: ‘we’re going to have a Locke problem’. Their differences are explored in the opening episode of the second season entitled ‘Man of Science, Man of Faith’, and this thread is followed throughout subsequent seasons. Locke eventually becomes leader of the Others, initially considered by the survivors to be ‘savages’, and wishes to remain on the island. Jack remains committed to finding rescue for his group of survivors. The original group fractures, with some choosing to stay with Locke and others continuing to follow Jack. This reflects the situation in Lord of the Flies, as Ralph’s primary focus is on rescue whereas Jack Merridew’s interest is in hunting and ‘savage’ survival. The group split here is heavily in favour of Merridew with only Piggy remaining with Ralph; the others eventually defect out of desire or intimidation.
There are certainly similarities between the characters of Ralph and Jack Shephard as discussed above but another parallel between the television series and the novel are the characters of Piggy and Hurley. Crudely, both characters are notably large in stature and face a number of challenges because of their size. Piggy is teased mercilessly by the other boys – even Ralph, who lets slip that his nickname at school is Piggy after Piggy confides in him. Hurley faces a barrage of teasing from Sawyer who refers to him variously as ‘Jabba’, ‘avalanche’, ‘Jumbotron’, ‘Deep-dish’, ‘Stay-Puft’ and any number of others. Both characters are also excluded because of their size. Near the beginning of Lord of the Flies, Ralph and Jack decide to explore the island. Piggy is keen to go along but Ralph tells him ‘you’re no good on a job like this’, a sentiment that is echoed by Jack; ‘we don’t want you’ (p26). Similarly in Lost, Hurley is often left behind because of his size. In ‘Through the Looking Glass’, he wants to accompany Charlie to the underwater station, but Charlie says ‘you’re too big’. Later in the same episode, Hurley attempts to help Sawyer only to be turned away again. Generally, however, Hurley is genuinely liked and respected; Charlie and Sawyer turn him away because they are trying to protect him. On the other hand, Piggy annoys the majority of the other boys with his priggish behaviour, although all he tries to do is support Ralph and safeguard the boys’ survival. Ralph is often exasperated by Piggy but does his best to protect him. At the end he cries for ‘the true, wise friend called Piggy’ (223). Piggy is the voice of reason amongst the boys, pointing out, among other things, that the notion of a beast is ridiculous: ‘Of course there’s nothing to be afraid of in the forest’ (91). Hurley plays a similar but more successful role in Lost, intervening in disagreements by suggesting solutions (often, Hurley just says ‘dude’, which seems to have a calming effect!). Ultimately he becomes the protector of the island as revealed in the finale.
Piggy and Hurley both suggest to their respective leaders, Ralph and Jack Shephard, that they need to take a census of their fellow survivors. Piggy says to Ralph, ‘I expect we’ll want to know all their names…and make a list’ (11). Hurley decides to find the plane’s manifest in order to find out who everyone is and to track down Claire’s attacker. Hurley’s idea leads to the discovery that Ethan, one of the survivors, was never on the plane and is an island native. The success of Hurley’s plan depends on the cooperation and support of the rest of the group, who willingly provide details of their name and place of residence. Piggy gets no such support from the other boys. They leave him to ‘take names’ (27) while they go exploring, and Piggy is unable to take a full register. A fire they make on the mountain rages out of control and in the ensuing panic the littlun with the distinctive birthmark goes missing. Ralph blames Piggy for not knowing how many boys there should be: ‘I told you to get a list of names!’ (50). Piggy points out that it had been an impossible task and admonishes Ralph and the other boys for not planning effectively and for behaving ‘like a pack of kids!’ (50). Therein, of course, lies Piggy’s problem; they are a group of children and Piggy is the one real voice of reason on the island.
Both the book and television series feature characters that seem strangely ‘in tune’ with the respective islands. In Lord of the Flies, this character is Simon, who from the beginning is marked out because he suffers fainting fits. He often leaves the other boys and visits a secret place he has found on the island. His behaviour causes Piggy to comment, ‘he’s cracked’ (146). When questioned about the beast, Simon is reluctant to give any details to the others about where he goes at night alone, merely stating it is ‘just a place I know. A place in the jungle’ (93). Simon sits alone in the heat staring at the pig’s head, becoming more and more thirsty. However, he makes no attempt to move out of the sun or to search for water. Eventually he hallucinates that the head is talking directly to him, and he appears to warn Simon of his impending death. ‘We shall do you. See? Jack and Roger and Maurice and Robert and Bill and Piggy and Ralph. Do you? See?’ (159). At these words Simon loses consciousness. When he wakes up, he discovers the truth of the beast and rushes to tell the other boys who accidentally, but brutally, beat him to death.
John Locke is almost Simon’s counterpart in Lost. He is silent during the early days of the crash but produces a set of hunting knives when the others become concerned about food. Locke explores the island whilst hunting and finds a mysterious hatch in the ground. He doesn’t share this knowledge with the rest of the group, and begins to excavate the hatch with the help of his hunting partner, Boone. They fail to open the hatch, but Locke has a dream that directs him to a different part of the island. There they find a crashed plane, and Boone climbs up to explore, as Locke appears momentarily paralysed. The plane falls and crushes Boone; John rushes him back to the camp but leaves before he is asked any awkward questions. During Boone’s death, Locke returns to the hatch and screams at the island, asking what he has to do. Later Locke refers to Boone’s death as a ‘sacrifice the island demanded’ and frequently claims that the island tells him to do particular tasks in his quest to discover the truth of the island.
Both Simon and Locke then, are able to commune with the supernatural elements of the islands. This sets them apart from the members of their groups, and they both function within their texts as enigmatic others. Simon dies as a result of trying to reveal the identity of the beast, and to save his fellow survivors from fear. Locke is eventually murdered whilst trying to persuade the rescued ‘Oceanic Six’ to return to the island to save all the people who remain.
A mysterious monster terrorises the survivors in both Lost and Lord of the Flies. The ‘beast’ in the novel is first ‘seen’ by one of the littluns who claims to have witnessed a ‘snake-thing’ in the woods. Rumours and fear regarding the beast continue, until at last, the twins Sam and Eric see the monster and direct Ralph and Jack to its location. Ralph, who had previously denied the existence of a beast, is terrified when he sees the creature on the mountain, ‘holding towards them the ruin of a face’ (136). The beast prevents the boys from keeping a signal fire burning, as they are too afraid to return to the mountain. They eventually decide to build a fire on the beach although Ralph acknowledges that ‘the smoke won’t show so much’ (p143).
In Lost, the monster is introduced in the pilot episode; its unseen but bizarre noises are heard, and there is a massive disturbance in the trees. Eventually the monster is revealed to be a pillar of black smoke that sounds vaguely mechanised but appears to act of its own accord. The monster is responsible for several deaths on the island, perhaps most notably, the death of Mr Eko (discussed below). The final season of the show revealed that the smoke monster is a manifestation of the evil ‘Man in Black’, who is juxtaposed with his brother Jacob, the protector of the island. Jacob forces the Man in Black into the glowing heart of the island, and he emerges as the smoke monster, intent on destroying the island. So, there is an explanation, of sorts, for the monster in Lost but there is still mystery surrounding the monster in Lord of the Flies. Of course, Simon discovers that the beast is merely the dead body of a parachutist, entangled in foliage and moved by wind. However, we never find out any further details about the parachutist; the explosion in the sky seems to indicate that the aircraft was either attacked in mid-air by opponents in the war, or that the machinery in the aircraft malfunctioned, causing the explosion and subsequent ejection of the pilot. It appears that the pilot is already dead before he has completed his descent onto the island – there seems to be no control over the parachute’s trajectory and the figure has ‘dangling limbs’. We do not know if the pilot had been on a rescue mission for the boys’ plane, or if he had just been flying over, on his way to an unseen battle. Interestingly, in season 3 of Lost, a parachutist called Naomi lands on the island. She is alive, although she has suffered a punctured lung from the impact of the fall. She claims to be looking for the character Desmond, although it is later revealed that she is part of a mercenary group looking for the leader of the island, Ben Linus.
In a further comparison between the series and Lord of the Flies, the book, features a chapter called ‘Beast from Water’. In it, one of the littluns claims that the beast ‘comes from the sea’ (97). Ralph turned involuntarily, a black, humped figure against the lagoon. The assembly looked with him; considered the vast stretches of water, the high sea beyond, unknown indigo of infinite possibility; heard silently the sough and whisper from the reef (97). In Lost, after Claire escapes from the ‘Others’, they tell the castaways that if they do not return Claire to them, they will murder a member of the group every night. The survivors set up a sentry perimeter around the camp, but a man is murdered nevertheless. The sentries were useless because, as Kate says, ‘they came in from the sea’. Just as in Lord of the Flies, the group now have to face the fear of the unknown attacking from sea, as well as on dry land.
Lost and Pincher Martin
In addition to the similarities between Lost and Lord of The Flies, a striking parallel can be observed between the television series and another Golding novel, Pincher Martin. Published in 1956, Pincher Martin is an extraordinary story focusing on Christopher Hadley Martin’s struggle to survive after his boat crashes in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving him stranded alone and injured on some rocks. The immensely detailed narrative painstakingly describes Martin’s suffering, and we also learn about his previous life through a number of flashbacks. Martin’s recollections show him to be an egotistical womaniser, cheat, blackmailer, and murderer.
This is analogous to the flashback narrative that is employed in Lost so that the viewer can find out more about the survivors. For the majority of the series, the main ‘action’ occurs on the island but each main character has several episodes devoted to an aspect of their previous life. Just as in Pincher Martin, the back-story of a character is never fully revealed all at once. For instance, viewers discover early on that Kate Austen is a fugitive who was being transported back to America by a US Marshall. In season one, her flashback episodes indicate that she is on the run but do not give details of her crime. This is eventually revealed in season two when we learn that Kate murdered her father to save her mother from further domestic abuse. The flashbacks of the Lost characters show that each of them was flawed in some way, and Jacob, the spiritual leader of the island, claims that this is the reason he brought them to the island.
Partly because of the way the flashbacks reveal the often negative actions of the characters, many Lost viewers and critics surmised that the island was actually Purgatory and that the characters had all died in the plane crash. There was a lot of evidence for this theory; several characters directly stated that the island was Purgatory or Hell (for example, Richard Alpert and Anthony Copper), many survivors referred to what they did in a ‘previous life’. As shown in flashback, Desmond told Jack that he would see him ‘in another life’. The concept of the island as Purgatory or even ‘limbo’ is shown particularly in the encounters between Eko and the smoke monster. When Eko first meets the pillar of black smoke he doesn’t run away as the majority of the other characters do. He stands his ground and stares directly into the smoke. A series of flashes occur in which Eko sees images of his life, some of which show the sins Eko has committed. At the beginning of Eko’s final episode, his dead brother Yemi appears to him and tells him it is time to ‘confess…and be judged’. Eko searches for his brother and when he finds him does not ask for forgiveness, as he believes his actions can be justified. ‘Yemi’ tells Eko that he is not actually Yemi, and Eko demands to know who he is. Shortly after this, the smoke monster appears and fatally injures him. When Eko’s dying body is found by Locke, Eko whispers, ‘you’re next’.
The key to unlocking the complicated tale of Pincher Martin can be found in the final chapter. The action moves away from Martin and several new characters are introduced. Two men have discovered a body and have contacted a Naval Officer Davidson to come and collect it. The reader realises that the body is that of Christopher Martin, and the shock comes when Davidson reveals that he did not suffer, as he did not even have time to remove his sea boots. On page 10, Martin struggles hard to take off his sea boots, and it is then disclosed that he actually died early on in the novel. Golding himself stated that Martin died on page 2 (page 8 in the Faber 2005 edition). Therefore, Martin’s struggle to hold on to his life is in fact his experience of a kind of Purgatory in which he is judged severely for his sins. Much as a second viewing of Lost can yield additional information to assist the viewer in understanding the plot, Pincher Martin absolutely demands a second reading to fully appreciate the genius of this unique novel.
The direct influence of Lord of the Flies on the production and writing of Lost, and the comparisons that can be made between the series and Pincher Martin, elucidate the incredible influence of Golding’s work on elements of popular culture today. The stories may have been written over fifty years ago in a very different world, but their themes of conflict in civilisation, man’s existentialist plight, the battle for survival and the contradictions in the human condition are still just as relevant today.
John Carey, William Golding: The Man who wrote Lord of the Flies (Faber & Faber, 2009)
William Golding, Lord of the Flies, (Faber & Faber, 1954, rept, 1977)
William Golding, Pincher Martin, (Faber & Faber, 1956, rept, 2005)
Leon Surette, ‘A matter of belief: Pincher Martin’s afterlife’, (Twentieth Century Literature, Summer 1994)
J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Linderlof, (creators), Lost seasons 1-6 (ABC Studios, 2004-10)