Literary daybook, Sept. 17

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
September 17, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On Sept. 17, Octavia Cummins meets Garry Ashe.
-- "A Certain Justice" (1997)
by P.D. James

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1954, William Golding's first novel, "The Lord of the Flies," was published. The novel was rejected by 21 publishers and had lukewarm reviews, but it was immediately popular. By the '60s, it was on its way to being labeled a "cult novel," being taught in almost every high school, and bringing in enough money to enable Golding to retire from his own 20-year career as a schoolteacher to write full-time. Many of Golding's 10 novels are seen as a confirmation of his view that "man produces evil as a bee produces honey," but in his 1983 Nobel prize acceptance speech, Golding spoke differently: "Critics have dug into my books until they could come up with something hopeless. I can't think why. I don't feel hopeless myself ... I am a universal pessimist but a cosmic optimist."

The naval officer who comes to the rescue at the end of the novel optimistically congratulates the boys for a "Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island." This is Golding's ironic nod to a book by R. M. Ballantyne, written a century earlier and worlds away. Ballantyne's Ralph, Jack and Peterkin (Golding's Piggy) have a whizzo time of it on their island, and the only fire is the one commanded by heathen chief Tararo for the burning of all his wooden idols, a winsome missionary having won him over. This leaves the natives free to build a church, Avatea free to marry and spread "the light of the glorious gospel" to other islands, and the boys with "nothing more to do but get ready for sea as fast as we can, and hurrah for old England!":

"It was a bright, clear morning when we hoisted the snow-white sails of the pirate schooner and left the shores of Mango. The missionary and thousands of the natives came down to bid us God-speed and to see us sail away. As the vessel bent before a light, fair wind, we glided quickly over the lagoon under a cloud of canvas. Just as we passed through the channel in the reef the natives gave us a loud cheer; and as the missionary waved his hat, while he stood on a coral rock with his grey hairs floating in the wind, we heard the single word 'Farewell' borne faintly over the sea ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.


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