Turning inner space into outer space

October 2, 2020

Did the Lord of the Flies bring about this pandemic?

I came across The Lord of the Flies in our collection of books, and decided it was high time I read this classic. I knew the basic plot — some boys are stranded on an island, and descend into savagery — but I didn’t know what “Lord of the Flies” referred to. Now I do.

In the story, some of the boys kill a wild boar for its meat. They decide to cut off its head and put it on a spike as a way of placating a “beast” that they believe lurks somewhere on the island. After awhile, the head is covered with flies feasting on the rotting flesh.

One of the boys has a hallucination where the boar’s head speaks to him, and identifies itself as the Lord of the Flies. Being covered in flies, this makes sense at one level. But this also refers (according to a note at the end of the story) to Beelzebub, the Hebrew word for the devil. Translated literally, the word means Lord of the Flies. Translated less literally, it refers to a general state of decay, falling apart and general mayhem — the type of thing the devil would bring to civilization if we are not on our guard.

Reading this in the middle of a pandemic, I can’t help but wonder if the ancients attributed mass misfortunes such as this to the devil. When thousands of innocent people die and suffer for reasons that come out of the blue, it’s not hard to believe that the devil had a hand in it.

Of course, as it turns out, the real evil on the island was within the boys themselves. It’s a bit depressing to think that we humans are the inevitable source of all our ills. But it’s also heartening. We have the ability to make choices for the better.

The Lord of the Flies exists only if we allow it to exist.