Hardly a seasonal theme but it's all in the luck of the draw, and at the Endsleigh Salon Christmas gathering last month we all pitched up ready to talk about our chosen Banned Book.
Some really great choices amongst the salonistas...
Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger,
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck,
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H.Lawrence,
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou,
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury,
The Well of Loneliness by Radcliffe Hall,
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien
We blessed the American nation for extended the range of our choice so wonderfully. Typing 'banned books' into Google and the list was endless, books banned by American schools in different states gave us plenty of scope, Plus those banned in this country too...hats off to Rebecca for tackling Lady C and talking us through it all. And the bonus of themed evenings because what interesting conclusions we came too when presented with the wide range of reading that we had tackled between us, how several of the books were about imaginary and dystopian futures, as if the potential was all too much to bear. Plus of course the context of the era, many of the old literary taboos challenged and broken, and much debate about what might constitute a ban these days.
Angela and I had both chosen (this happens sometimes) Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and both of us had read the Folio Society edition, though I had written and underlined my paperback edition (even I can't write in a Folio copy and I feel sure Angela wouldn't do such a dreadful thing either). The novel banned in places various including Canada and in Florida for profanity, lurid passages about sex, statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled, an indictment against the Christian church and for its depiction of religion as an uncivilising factor... much of which had us a little mystified when we tried to pin it down.
But we had a great discussion about a book most of us had read as teenagers at school as a set book, and how fascinating this re-read has been for me over forty years on, and with sons of my own. I also love the timing of the publishing arc behind Lord of the Flies, or Strangers From Within as it was originally titled, first submitted to publishers in January 1953 and, after doing the rounds of them all, finally read with interest and guarded enthusiasm at Faber in late September 1953, when I was born.
Both of us on a nine month journey.
When the book was eventually published a year later and after a great many rewrites and much editing (I meanwhile was still being edited and not ready for publication) sales were modest at 4662, but the reviews were stellar, not a single dissenting voice. There was huge interest in the film rights though the censors were insistent on an X certificate, and when the film finally arrived in 1963 it was low-budget and privately financed. My thanks to Professor John Carey's excellent biography William Golding - The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies which provided some fascinating background material to my reading
For anyone who may not have read Lord of the Flies the story centres around a disparate group of schoolboys who have crash-landed on a desert island during a nuclear war. Left to their own devices the boys create rules, and a society and a hierarchy of their own, eerily based on what the adults in their 'other' world have taught them by poor example perhaps... or is it all a reversion to basic instincts, and that seems to be the focus of any study of this book.
My centenary edition has a great introduction by Stephen King who suggests..
'...a successful novel should erase the boundary between writer and reader so they can unite...should interrupt the reader's life, make him or her miss appointments, skip meals, forget to walk the dog. In the best novels the writer's imagination becomes the reader's reality. It glows incandescent and furious...'
Yes, yes and thrice yea, Mr King.
Some of our debate ranged around whether there was an ideal age to read Lord of The Flies, and is the book done a huge disservice by being thrust on as teenagers. What if anything do we take from it at that age, because for sure, we were given it to read as adolescents for a reason, but I would urge anyone to make room for a second read as an adult.
Angela and I both felt a little mortified for sharing the same 'most upsetting moment' in the book.. not the brutal death of some of the boys but the killing of the sow as she fed her piglets. I wonder why I had failed to be moved by that slaughter as a teenager whilst I had remember experiencing fully the impact of the other deaths. Yet despite knowing the ending I could feel my panic rising along with Ralph's as he, once leader, becomes the hunted. I was never so relieved to see that... well I won't spoil it for those who may not have read. And we wondered too how the story might have differed had it been a plane load of girls...
We also pondered how much scope there was a for a sequel and wondered why there hadn't been one. Having seen what the boys had endured there was much debate about the adults they may have become. Just what did they take from that childhood experience into adulthood with them, but given there has been a nuclear war who can know if there was a future waiting. Incidentally Faber are currently running a competition for 13-16 year olds to design a new cover for Lord of the Flies, the closing date is January 20th and there are some stunning designs in the offing one of which will apppear on the cover of the book later in 2012.
So a great evening as always, some in-depth discussion, plenty of laughter given the proliferation of festive earrings and antlers and a fascinating re-read for me... but would you tell us about Lord of the Flies and you ??
Read at school??
Memorable impact or forgotten??