Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Golding and Huxley: The Fables of Demonic Possession

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Golding and Huxley: The Fables of Demonic Possession

Article excerpt

Surely we have heard enough about William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Published in 1954, it rapidly gained popularity in England, then in America, then in translation throughout Europe, Russia, and Asia, until it became one of the most familiar and studied tales of the century. In the 1960s it was rated an instant classic in the literature of disillusionment that grew out of the latest great war, and we felt certain it was the perfect fable (more fable than fiction) that spelled out what had gone wrong in that dark and stormy time and what might devastate our future.

But in the postwar generation a new spirit was rising, a new wind blowing on campus, a new politics forming to oppose the old establishment and its failures. Golding, proclaimed "Lord of the Campus" by Time magazine (64) in 1962, was soon found wanting--an antique tragedian, a pessimist, a Christian moralist who would not let us transcend original sin and the disastrous history of the last 50 years. Many "activist" academics came to feel his gloomy allegory was better left to secondary or even primary schools, where a supposedly transparent text (now put down as lacking in intellectual sophistication and contemporary relevance) might serve to exercise apprentice readers. It remained appropriate to read Orwell, Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-four, because he was a political novelist writing in behalf of what he called political freedom, whereas Golding was apolitical and seemingly without faith in political means. The Nobel poet Wislawa Szymborska describes the fashionable attitude, the movement itself, in he r "Children of Our Age" (1986):

We are children of our age,

it's a political age.

All day long, all through the night,

all affairs--yours, ours, theirs--

are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not,

your genes have a political past,

your skin, a political cast,

your eyes, a political slant.

Whatever you say reverberates,

whatever you don't say speaks for itself,

So either way you're talking politics.

Even when you take to the woods,

you're taking political steps

on political grounds.

Apolitical poems are also political,

and above us shines a moon

no longer purely lunar.

To be or not to be, that is the question,

And though it troubles the digestion

it's a question, as always, of politics.

To acquire a political meaning

you don't even have to be human,

Raw material will do,

or protein feed, or crude oil,

or a conference table whose shape

was quarreled over for months:

Should we arbitrate life and death at

a round table or a square one.

Meanwhile, people perished,

animals died

houses burned,

and the fields ran wild

just as in times immemorial

and less political. (149-50)

The identity assigned to Golding during these years was not substantially altered by his later work. The Inheritors (1955) and Pincher Martin (1956), two more fables on the limitations of "rational man," confirmed the prevailing judgment; the later attempts at social comedy, The Pyramid (1967) and The Paper Men (1984), or the long holiday from contemporary reality in the eighteenth-century sea trilogy, Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), Fire Down Below (1989), failed to efface the original image. He remained the man who wrote Lord of the Flies, the man who felt he had to protest his designation as pessimist even in his Nobel speech of 1983 (Nobel Lecture 149-50). Have we been entirely fair? Golding's reputation, like that of any artist, was created not simply by what he wrote or intended but also by the prevailing mentality of his readership, and often a single work will be selected by that readership as characteristic or definitive. …

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