There is a very short list of books I’ve read that I just truly hate. Since most, if not all of them are written by fairly iconic authors, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m disparaging the author, I’m not going to list the books. Suffice it to say that if a book ends up on my “hate list” it’s because: I found it to be an extremely well-written, riveting work that had me immersed and invested in the world it created, and then – bang – a horrible, screeching, awful (or absurd) ending. I’m talking about those really jarring endings that just came out left field. And if asked about one of those particular titles, I would honestly say, “It’s a great book! I hated it!” Because the ending is just as important as the beginning and the middle.
But one book that I hate for the entire premise of the book, and not just the ending, is Lord of the Flies by William Golding. (I’ve only ever read it one time, way back in high school – so I can’t even tell you if the writing is good, or if I were riveted by the plot or the characters. But I can tell you why I hate it…And it was the beginning, the middle, AND the end.)
Lord of the Flies was required reading wwwayyyyy back when I was in high school. There’s more than one reason I dislike it so intensely: as a somewhat bullied kid, I totally empathized with Piggy. At the same time, I was (and I like to think still am) kind of smart and a bit of a natural leader (with a “I can save everyone!” complex), and I liked to think that I would have been able to take on the role of Ralph (except for the athletic part, of course). But I couldn’t imagine that *I* would ever do anything like Ralph did. And I couldn’t, for the life of me, ever figure out why Ralph did the things he did.
I wasn’t able to articulate it when I was a teenager, but my discomfort with the book stems from the fact that I am a believer in the good in humanity, and that book definitely challenges being able to find good in all people. The book made me question – a lot – about what I believed to be inherently true. Which sounds exactly like what a high school teacher would hope for from a student.
For the most part, I just moved on from that book and continued believing in, and looking for, innate goodness, generosity, and kindness in humanity. But once in a while, things happen in the world that unfortunately bring back flashes of LoTF, and I have a mini-existential crisis about the perhaps not-so-much-goodness in humanity.
Recently, I saw an article in The Guardian, written by Rutger Bregman, who also was disillusioned by Golding’s view of human nature.
Turns out, though, that Golding was a very unhappy man, an alcoholic, and 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 LoTF.
I encourage you to read the article, because Bregman also discovered a real-life version of shipwrecked boys on a deserted island, and how they survived. For starters, they made a pact to never quarrel. They had a garden, and a rainwater collection system, and found chickens! And when they were found 15 months later, they were “best mates” for life and continued supporting each other (& the captain of the boat who rescued them!).
We view the world around us with the same glasses we view the world within us. I am a bit of a Pollyanna who believes people are good. And I therefore see the humanity in others, and get upset and depressed when I witness hate and bigotry and violence. And while I’m sure I’ll never be able to rid myself of my mini-existential crises, at least now I have a real story of kindness and generosity of spirit to replace LoTF. I call that inherently good. Of course.