Lord of the Flies is based upon a 19th century novel by R.M. Ballantyne called
The Coral Island which is the story of three boys shipwrecked on an island in the south seas.
The island is identical in both books and the two leading protagonists in each are named Jack and Ralph.
Ballantyne's story, however, is about three British gentlemen whereas Golding's novel portrays the boys
as incompetent savages.
COMPARING THE TWO BOOKS
Lord of the Flies bases its plot upon a much earlier novel by R.M. Balantyne called The
This is the tale of three British lads who get shipwrecked on a South Pacific island during the mid-19th
century. They are Jack, Ralph and Peterkin.
The tropical island is precisely the same place in both novels. The big difference between the two stories,
however, lies in the quality of the boys.
Ballantyne's heroes are gentlemen -- and they remain gentlemen throughout the novel.
They are true leaders and remain totally loyal to one another. To them, the entire incident is a fun-filled
adventure which they enjoy to the entirety.
Jack is the leader in The Coral Island. He is 18 years of age, whereas Ralph is 15 and Peterkin
just 14. The younger boys therefore look up to Jack at all times and he takes the role of a gentle but
adventurous older brother.
Although Peterkin is not quite as bright as either Jack or Ralph, he is nevertheless also a fun-loving young
chap and remains a respected member of the trio.
William Golding, however, shows serious reservations about the character of the boys as Ballantyne
presents them in The Coral Island.
Indeed, Golding's premise is that British boys of today are not gentlemen at all but are yobs who, if freed
from strict adult control, would quickly descend into unutterable savagery.
In Lord of the Flies, therefore, much of the original plot becomes the springboard for a frightening
scenario of little boys who become megalomaniacs -- little Hitlers -- who would stop at nothing, not even
All the boys are younger in Lord of the Flies. Indeed, the three protagonists -- Jack, Ralph and
Piggy -- are only twelve. A fourth important character -- Simon -- is also introduced and he is only six.
Peterkin is replaced by Piggy, a boy who is very logical but is fat, irritating and suffers from asthma.
Golding then immediately starts eroding Piggy's comfort zone, making him an antagonist with Jack.
The major difference between the two novels therefore is that, while in The Coral Island the boys
remain gentlemen throughout, in Lord of the Flies they descend quickly into a state of anarchy
It is as though Golding is saying, "Modern British children have only a veneer of civilization. Leave
them alone for just a short time and they will descend into savagery."
There are probably many teachers in Britain who would agree with him.
Of course, Golding had the contemporary example of Germany to prove his point.
Germany was one of the bastions of civilization during the 19th century and yet, by the mid-20th century,
Hitler revealed that this veneer of civilization was very thin indeed.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
" Agreed! " cried Peterkin and I together. We would have agreed to anything Jack had said, for he was
older and much stronger and taller than either of us, and was a very clever fellow; I think he would have
been chosen by people much older than himself for their leader. [From: The Coral Island]
- Comment on the entirely different way in which William Golding has created his character Jack
in Lord of the Flies. (6)
With the rope and branch Jack soon formed a bow. Then he began to saw hard. In a few seconds
the dry wood began to smoke; in less than a minute it caught fire, and in less than a quarter of an hour
we were eating and drinking coconuts round a fire that would have roasted an entire sheep, while the
smoke and flames flew up among the broad leaves of the palm trees over our heads, and cast a warm
glow upon us. [From: The Coral Island]
- In what way has this same scene from The Coral Island been interpreted differently in Lord
of the Flies. (4)
- This scene from The Coral Island ends in an evening of friendship around a warm camp fire.
How does the similar scene from Lord of the Flies end? (2)
" What can it be? " said Peterkin, in a low voice, while we all crept close to each other. We listened
for a long time for the sound again, but it did not come.
"Very strange," said Peterkin, quite gravely. "Do you believe in ghosts, Ralph?"
" No," I answered, "I do not. But I must say that strange sounds for which I cannot account, such as we
have just heard, make me feel a little uneasy." [From: The Coral Island]
- William Golding adapts this scene and presents it very differently in Lord of the Flies. How
does he reinterpret this ghostly picture? (6)
- Why would the two stories differ so markedly in their interpretation of a similar
Jack, being the tallest, walked next the sea, and Peterkin marched between us, as by this arrangement
either of us could talk to him or he to us, while if Jack and I happened to wish to converse together we
could conveniently do so over Peterkin's head. Peterkin used to say that had he been as tall as either of
us, everything we said to him would have passed in at one ear and out at the other, as his head could, of
course, form no interruption to our discourse. [From: The Coral Island]
- There is an almost identical description in Lord of the Flies. In what way does it differ from
this passage from The Coral Island? (4)
"I should have thought," said the officer as he visualized the search before him, "I should have thought
that a pack of British boys -- you're all British aren't you? -- would have been able to put up a better show
than that -- I mean -- "
"It was like that at first," said Ralph, "before things -- "
The officer nodded helpfully.
"I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island." [From: Lord of the Flies]
- Why would the officer have expected that the boys "would have been able to put up a better show
than that"? (4)
- What is the significance of the officer's reference to "the Coral Island"? (4)
- Was the officer correct to compare the setting on this island with that of "the Coral