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William Golding

Lord of the Flies

The Coral Island &
Lord of the Flies

Keith Tankard
Updated: 4 March 2014
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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.


Lord of the Flies bases its plot upon a much earlier novel by R.M. Balantyne called The Coral Island.

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 murder.

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 and barbarism.

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)

[Need help?]

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)

[Need help?]

  • 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)

[Need help?]

" 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)

[Need help?]

  • Why would the two stories differ so markedly in their interpretation of a similar event? (6)

[Need help?]

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)

[Need help?]

"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)

[Need help?]

  • What is the significance of the officer's reference to "the Coral Island"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Was the officer correct to compare the setting on this island with that of "the Coral Island"? (6)

[Need help?]

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