A bunch of boys get stuck on a tropical island without any adults. Sounds pretty tame, doesn’t it?
Lord of the Flies (1954) was the 10th book on my 100 book challenge and drew me in from the very beginning. A group of boys are stranded on a desert island. At first it seems like paradise, but just a few pages in you start to see things going terribly wrong. The boys can’t agree on whether they should focus on being rescued (build a fire) or getting meat to eat (hunt pigs). The two main characters, Ralph and Jack, bicker, argue and viciously fight throughout the book. Everything falls apart quickly when the structure and rules of society are taken away.
It’s a beautiful (and at times terrifying) warning of just how fragile the order of civilisation is.
The book Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne is mentioned twice in Golding’s novel: at the beginning in the boys’ naiive excitement and at the end in irony. I hadn’t heard of that story so I looked it up. What I discovered was that Lord of the Flies was actually written in response to the book Coral Island. A #replyfiction perhaps.
You see, Coral Island (1858) is the sweeter, idyllic version of the desert island story. The boys in Coral Island get along, work together and remain civilised. Golding obviously thought that was a load of guff and wanted to write the 1950s adaptation. I hope that Ballantyne would’ve been honoured that someone to wrote a novel based on his, but from the words in his preface, he almost shows a faltering in confidence of just how plausible his own story is:
If there is any boy or man who loves to be melancholy and morose, and who cannot enter with kindly sympathy into the regions of fun, let me seriously advise him to shut my book and put it away. It is not meant for him.
And this response to fiction still happens today. Every few weeks I participate in this great online exercise called Friday Fictioneers. It’s where a photo is posted online, and a bunch of writers post 100 word stories based on the photo for others to review.
I was going along merrily for a number of months, until I posted this 100 word piece in June 2014 about a wife who’s horrified when her husband wants to wear slippers to their dinner date. A few hours later, I found that a writer on the other side of the world in the UK called Mr Binks (his blog here) had written this 100 word piece in reply to mine, exploring the vices of their relationship further.
And then it became a thing. I like to call it #replyfiction.
The week following Mr Binks’ reply, he posted this 100 word piece about an ordinary dentist with a ‘razzle-dazzle’ secret on the weekends. So I did a #replyfiction with this piece here, about his daughter trying to have a serious conversation with him about her life choices.
And it continues.
I’m not suggesting that Binks and I have the talent of Ballantyne and Golding (but happy for you to say so), however I was excited to find that #replyfiction has been going on for decades before us in many other forms.
In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.