Post by James Nicoll Post by James Nicoll
Four SF Stories That Are More Gilligan's Island Than Lord of the Flies
I liked "Tunnel in the Sky" very much and reread it recently. So I am 1
Maybe it's natural to be more Gilligan than otherwise..
By the time a British naval officer comes ashore, the island
is a smouldering wasteland. Three of the children are dead.
"I should have thought," the officer says, "that a pack of
British boys would have been able to put up a better show
than that." At this, Ralph bursts into tears. "Ralph wept
for the end of innocence," we read, and for "the darkness
of man's heart".
Golding had a masterful ability to portray the darkest
depths of mankind
This story never happened. An English schoolmaster, William
Golding, made up this story in 1951 -- his novel Lord of
the Flies would sell tens of millions of copies, be translated
into more than 30 languages and hailed as one of the classics
of the 20th century. In hindsight, the secret to the book's
success is clear. Golding had a masterful ability to portray
the darkest depths of mankind. Of course, he had the zeitgeist
of the 1960s on his side, when a new generation was questioning
its parents about the atrocities of the second world war.
Had Auschwitz been an anomaly, they wanted to know, or is
there a Nazi hiding in each of us?
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. "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
What's not in Columbia anymore..