Not-So-Nice Age : William Golding – “The Inheritors”

ABOVE: Surprisingly, the caves in Lascaux contain the early storyboards for “Bambi.”

The birth of ideas: as soon as the human animal could dream, it invented nightmares. William Golding’s second novel, “The Inheritors” (1954) is not as popular as “Lord of the Flies” – probably because it doesn’t have a character called Piggy, and because it is even more appallingly honest in its bleakness. But it is nothing less than “Lord of the Flies” taken from its safe island confines, and let loose in the Eurasian prairies after the more recent Ice Age.

“The People” are a tight-knit tribal group: they have no language but they share dreams and a sort of kineasthetic telepathy; they have the vestiges of religion; they have sympathy for the animals they kill (the killings are always accompanied by guilt and the hope that other animals may benefit from the meat they cannot consume). The People are mercilessly stalked by a new animal on the scene, an animal capable of deceit, envy, pride, cruelty, and sophisticated murder.

Who is this monstrous creature?

I’ll SPOIL what quickly becomes obvious: “The People” we follow for most of the novel are what we typically call Neanderthals; the dreadful, comparatively god-like newcomer is Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

Golding’s masterful narrative voice shifts from the inside of alien, sometimes uncomprehending minds, to an omniscient point of view that allows for complex prose that would feel beyond the capabilities of his characters. It is a trick pulled so effortlessly that it rewards a second reading, easy. But the returning reader must have the strength to confront Golding’s provocative historical theories: that we are the triumphant bad guys; that we are here because our ancestors were extremely good at killing their gentler, kinder rivals; that civilization is only the well-crafted closet in which we hide the many skeletons of our past… and into which we constantly shovel the new victims of mankind’s murders. It’s not cheerful, but how can one even argue?



2 thoughts on “Not-So-Nice Age : William Golding – “The Inheritors”

  1. Pingback: Castaway : William Golding – “Pincher Martin” | THE PAGEAHOLIC

  2. Pingback: Talk Like an Egyptian, Please : William Golding – “The Scorpion God” | THE PAGEAHOLIC

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