With a biographical and critical note by E. L. Epstein
A Perigee Book
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Copyright 1954 by William Golding
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 59-11717
1. The Sound of the Shell page 7
2. Fire on the Mountain 32
3. Huts on the Beach 48
4. Painted Faces and Long Hair 58
5. Beast from Water 76
6. Beast from Air 95
7. Shadows and Tall Trees 109
8. Gift for the Darkness 124
9. A View to a Death 145
10. The Shell and the Glasses 155
11. Castle Rock 169
12. Cry of the Hunters 183
For my mother and father
The Sound of the Shell
The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.
"Hi!" it said. "Wait a minute!"
The undergrowth at the side of the scar was shaken and a multitude of raindrops fell pattering.
"Wait a minute," the voice said. "I got caught up."
The fair boy stopped and jerked his stockings with an automatic gesture that made the jungle seem for a moment like the Home Counties.
The voice spoke again.
"I can't hardly move with all these creeper things."
The owner of the voice came backing out of the undergrowth so that twigs scratched on a greasy wind-breaker. The naked crooks of his knees were plump, caught and scratched by thorns. He bent down, removed the thorns carefully, and turned around. He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat. He came forward, searching out safe lodgments for his feet, and then looked up through thick spectacles.
"Where's the man with the megaphone?"
The fair boy shook his head.
"This is an island. At least I think it's an island. That's a reef out in the sea. Perhaps there aren't any grownups anywhere."
The fat boy looked startled.
"There was that pilot. But he wasn't in the passenger cabin, he was up in front."
The fair boy was peering at the reef through screwed-up eyes.
"All them other kids," the fat boy went on. "Some of them must have got out. They must have, mustn't they?"
The fair boy began to pick his way as casually as possible toward the water. He tried to be offhand and not too obviously uninterested, but the fat boy hurried after him.
"Aren't there any grownups at all?"
"I don't think so."
The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy.
The fat boy thought for a moment.
The fair boy allowed his feet to come down and sat on the steamy earth.
"He must have flown off after he dropped us. He couldn't land here. Not in a place with wheels."
"We was attacked!"
"He'll be back all right."
The fat boy shook his head.
"When we was coming down I looked through one of them windows. I saw the other part of the plane. There were flames coming out of it."
He looked up and down the scar.
"And this is what the cabin done."
The fair boy reached out and touched the jagged end of a trunk. For a moment he looked interested.
"What happened to it?" he asked. "Where's it got to now?"
"That storm dragged it out to sea. It wasn't half dangerous with all them tree trunks falling. There must have been some kids still in it."
He hesitated for a moment, then spoke again.
"What's your name?"
The fat boy waited to be asked his name in turn but this proffer of acquaintance was not made; the fair boy called Ralph smiled vaguely, stood up, and began to make his way once more toward the lagoon. The fat boy hung steadily at his shoulder.
"I expect there's a lot more of us scattered about. You haven't seen any others, have you?"
Ralph shook his head and increased his speed. Then he tripped over a branch and came down with a crash.
The fat boy stood by him, breathing hard.
"My auntie told me not to run," he explained, "on account of my asthma."
"That's right. Can't catch my breath. I was the only boy in our school what had asthma," said the fat boy with a touch of pride. "And I've been wearing specs since I was three."
He took off his glasses and held them out to Ralph, blinking and smiling, and then started to wipe them against his grubby wind-breaker. An expression of pain and inward concentration altered the pale contours of his face. He smeared the sweat from his cheeks and quickly adjusted the spectacles on his nose.
He glanced round the scar.
"Them fruit," he said, "I expect--"
He put on his glasses, waded away from Ralph, and crouched down among the tangled foliage.
"I'll be out again in just a minute--"
Ralph disentangled himself cautiously and stole away through the branches. In a few seconds the fat boy's grunts were behind him and he was hurrying toward the screen that still lay between him and the lagoon. He climbed over a broken trunk and was out of the jungle.
The shore was fledged with palm trees. These stood or leaned or reclined against the light and their green feathers were a hundred feet up in the air. The ground beneath them was a bank covered with coarse grass, torn everywhere by the upheavals of fallen trees, scattered with decaying coconuts and palm saplings. Behind this was the darkness of the forest proper and the open space of the scar. Ralph stood, one hand against a grey trunk, and screwed up his eyes against the shimmering water. Out there, perhaps a mile away, the white surf flinked on a coral reef, and beyond that the open sea was dark blue. Within the irregular arc of coral the lagoon was still as a mountain lake--blue of all shades and shadowy green and purple. The beach between the palm terrace and the water was a thin stick, endless apparently, for to Ralph's left the perspectives of palm and beach and water drew to a point at infinity; and always, almost visible, was the heat.
He jumped down from the terrace. The sand was thick over his black shoes and the heat hit him. He became conscious of the weight of clothes, kicked his shoes off fiercely and ripped off each stocking with its elastic garter in a single movement. Then he leapt back on the terrace, pulled off his shirt, and stood there among the skull-like coconuts with green shadows from the palms and the forest sliding over his skin. He undid the snake-clasp of his belt, lugged off his shorts and pants, and stood there naked, looking at the dazzling beach and the water.
He was old enough, twelve years and a few months, to have lost the prominent tummy of childhood and not yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward. You could see now that he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil. He patted the palm trunk softly, and, forced at last to believe in the reality of the island laughed delightedly again and stood on his head. He turned neatly on to his feet, jumped down to the beach, knelt and swept a double armful of sand into a pile against his chest. Then he sat back and looked at the water with bright, excited eyes.
The fat boy lowered himself over the terrace and sat down carefully, using the edge as a seat.
"I'm sorry I been such a time. Them fruit--"
He wiped his glasses and adjusted them on his button nose. The frame had made a deep, pink "V" on the bridge. He looked critically at Ralph's golden body and then down at his own clothes. He laid a hand on the end of a zipper that extended down his chest.
Then he opened the zipper with decision and pulled the whole wind-breaker over his head.
Ralph looked at him sidelong and said nothing.
"I expect we'll want to know all their names," said the fat boy, "and make a list. We ought to have a meeting."
Ralph did not take the hint so the fat boy was forced to continue.
"I don't care what they call me," he said confidentially, "so long as they don't call me what they used to call me at school."
Ralph was faintly interested.
"What was that?"
The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward Ralph.
"They used to call me 'Piggy.'"
Ralph shrieked with laughter. He jumped up.
Piggy clasped his hands in apprehension.
"I said I didn't want--"
Ralph danced out into the hot air of the beach and then returned as a fighter-plane, with wings swept back, and machine-gunned Piggy.
He dived in the sand at Piggy's feet and lay there laughing.
Piggy grinned reluctantly, pleased despite himself at even this much recognition.
"So long as you don't tell the others--"
Ralph giggled into the sand. The expression of pain and concentration returned to Piggy's face.
"Half a sec'."
He hastened back into the forest. Ralph stood up and trotted along to the right.
Here the beach was interrupted abruptly by the square motif of the landscape; a great platform of pink granite thrust up uncompromisingly through forest and terrace and sand and lagoon to make a raised jetty four feet high. The top of this was covered with a thin layer of soil and coarse grass and shaded with young palm trees. There was not enough soil for them to grow to any height and when they reached perhaps twenty feet they fell and dried, forming a criss-cross pattern of trunks, very convenient to sit on. The palms that still stood made a green roof, covered on the underside with a quivering tangle of reflections from the lagoon. Ralph hauled himself onto this platform, noted the coolness and shade, shut one eye, and decided that the shadows on his body were really green. He picked his way to the seaward edge of the platform and stood looking down into the water. It was clear to the bottom and bright with the efflorescence of tropical weed and coral. A school of tiny, glittering fish flicked hither and thither. Ralph spoke to himself, sounding the bass strings of delight.
Beyond the platform there was more enchantment. Some act of God--a typhoon perhaps, or the storm that had accompanied his own arrival--had banked sand inside the lagoon so that there was a long, deep pool in the beach with a high ledge of pink granite at the further end. Ralph had been deceived before now by the specious appearance of depth in a beach pool and he approached this one preparing to be disappointed. But the island ran true to form and the incredible pool, which clearly was only invaded by the sea at high tide, was so deep at one end as to be dark green. Ralph inspected the whole thirty yards carefully and then plunged in. The water was warmer than his blood and he might have been swimming in a huge bath.
Piggy appeared again, sat on the rocky ledge, and watched Ralph's green and white body enviously.
Ralph did a surface dive and swam under water with his eyes open; the sandy edge of the pool loomed up like a hillside. He turned over, holding his nose, and a golden light danced and shattered just over his face. Piggy was looking determined and began to take off his shorts. Presently he was palely and fatly naked. He tiptoed down the sandy side of the pool, and sat there up to his neck in water smiling proudly at Ralph.
"Aren't you going to swim?"
Piggy shook his head.
"I can't swim. I wasn't allowed. My asthma--"
"Sucks to your ass-mar!"
Piggy bore this with a sort of humble patience. "You can't half swim well."
Ralph paddled backwards down the slope, immersed his mouth and blew a jet of water into the air. Then he lifted his chin and spoke.
"I could swim when I was five. Daddy taught me. He's a commander in the Navy. When he gets leave he'll come and rescue us. What's your father?"
Piggy flushed suddenly.
"My dad's dead," he said quickly, "and my mum--"
He took off his glasses and looked vainly for something with which to clean them.
"I used to live with my auntie. She kept a candy store. I used to get ever so many candies. As many as I liked. When'll your dad rescue us?"
"Soon as he can."
Piggy rose dripping from the water and stood naked, cleaning his glasses with a sock. The only sound that reached them now through the heat of the morning was the long, grinding roar of the breakers on the reef.
"How does he know we're here?"
Ralph lolled in the water. Sleep enveloped him like the swathing mirages that were wrestling with the brilliance of the lagoon.
"How does he know we're here?"
Because, thought Ralph, because, because. The roar from the reef became very distant.
"They'd tell him at the airport."
Piggy shook his head, put on his flashing glasses and looked down at Ralph.
"Not them. Didn't you hear what the pilot said? About the atom bomb? They're all dead."
Ralph pulled himself out of the water, stood facing Piggy, and considered this unusual problem.
"This an island, isn't it?"
"I climbed a rock," said Ralph slowly, "and I think this is an island."
"They're all dead," said Piggy, "an' this is an island. Nobody don't know we're here. Your dad don't know, nobody don't know--"
His lips quivered and the spectacles were dimmed with mist.
"We may stay here till we die."
With that word the heat seemed to increase till it became a threatening weight and the lagoon attacked them with a blinding effulgence.
"Get my clothes," muttered Ralph. "Along there."
He trotted through the sand, enduring the sun's enmity, crossed the platform and found his scattered clothes. To put on a grey shirt once more was strangely pleasing. Then he climbed the edge of the platform and sat in the green shade on a convenient trunk. Piggy hauled himself up, carrying most of his clothes under his arms. Then he sat carefully on a fallen trunk near the little cliff that fronted the lagoon; and the tangled reflections quivered over him.
Presently he spoke.
"We got to find the others. We got to do something."
Ralph said nothing. Here was a coral island. Protected from the sun, ignoring Piggy's ill-omened talk, he dreamed pleasantly.
"How many of us are there?"
Ralph came forward and stood by Piggy.
"I don't know."
Here and there, little breezes crept over the polished waters beneath the haze of heat. When these breezes reached the platform the palm fronds would whisper, so that spots of blurred sunlight slid over their bodies or moved like bright, winged things in the shade.
Piggy looked up at Ralph. All the shadows on Ralph's face were reversed; green above, bright below from the lagoon. A blur of sunlight was crawling across his hair.
"We got to do something."
Ralph looked through him. Here at last was the imagined but never fully realized place leaping into real life. Ralph's lips parted in a delighted smile and Piggy, taking this smile to himself as a mark of recognition, laughed with pleasure.
"If it really is an island--"
Ralph had stopped smiling and was pointing into the lagoon. Something creamy lay among the ferny weeds.
"No. A shell."
Suddenly Piggy was a-bubble with decorous excitement.
"S'right. It's a shell! I seen one like that before. On someone's back wall. A conch he called it. He used to blow it and then his mum would come. It's ever so valuable--"
Near to Ralph's elbow a palm sapling leaned out over the lagoon. Indeed, the weight was already pulling a lump from the poor soil and soon it would fall. He tore out the stem and began to poke about in the water, while the brilliant fish flicked away on this side and that. Piggy leaned dangerously.
"Careful! You'll break it--"
Ralph spoke absently. The shell was interesting and pretty and a worthy plaything; but the vivid phantoms of his day-dream still interposed between him and Piggy, who in this context was an irrelevance. The palm sapling, bending, pushed the shell across the weeds. Ralph used one hand as a fulcrum and pressed down with the other till the shell rose, dripping, and Piggy could make a grab.
Now the shell was no longer a thing seen but not to be touched, Ralph too became excited. Piggy babbled:
"--a conch; ever so expensive. I bet if you wanted to buy one, you'd have to pay pounds and pounds and pounds--he had it on his garden wall, and my auntie--"
Ralph took the shell from Piggy and a little water ran down his arm. In color the shell was deep cream, touched here and there with fading pink. Between the point, worn away into a little hole, and the pink lips of the mouth, lay eighteen inches of shell with a slight spiral twist and covered with a delicate, embossed pattern. Ralph shook sand out of the deep tube.
"--mooed like a cow," he said. "He had some white stones too, an' a bird cage with a green parrot. He didn't blow the white stones, of course, an' he said--"
Piggy paused for breath and stroked the glistening thing that lay in Ralph's hands.
Ralph looked up.
"We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They'll come when they hear us--"
He beamed at Ralph.
"That was what you meant, didn't you? That's why you got the conch out of the water?"
Ralph pushed back his fair hair.
"How did your friend blow the conch?"
"He kind of spat," said Piggy. "My auntie wouldn't let me blow on account of my asthma. He said you blew from down here." Piggy laid a hand on his jutting abdomen. "You try, Ralph. You'll call the others."
Doubtfully, Ralph laid the small end of the shell against his mouth and blew. There came a rushing sound from its mouth but nothing more. Ralph wiped the salt water off his lips and tried again, but the shell remained silent.
"He kind of spat."
Ralph pursed his lips and squirted air into the shell, which emitted a low, farting noise. This amused both boys so much that Ralph went on squirting for some minutes, between bouts of laughter.
"He blew from down here."
Ralph grasped the idea and hit the shell with air from his diaphragm. Immediately the thing sounded. A deep, harsh note boomed under the palms, spread through the intricacies of the forest and echoed back from the pink granite of the mountain. Clouds of birds rose from the treetops, and something squealed and ran in the undergrowth.
Ralph took the shell away from his lips.
His ordinary voice sounded like a whisper after the harsh note of the conch. He laid the conch against his lips, took a deep breath and blew once more. The note boomed again: and then at his firmer pressure, the note, fluking up an octave, became a strident blare more penetrating than before. Piggy was shouting something, his face pleased, his glasses flashing. The birds cried, small animals scuttered. Ralph's breath failed; the note dropped the octave, became a low wubber, was a rush of air.
The conch was silent, a gleaming tusk; Ralph's face was dark with breathlessness and the air over the island was full of bird-clamor and echoes ringing.
"I bet you can hear that for miles."
Ralph found his breath and blew a series of short blasts.
Piggy exclaimed: "There's one!"
A child had appeared among the palms, about a hundred yards along the beach. He was a boy of perhaps six years, sturdy and fair, his clothes torn, his face covered with a sticky mess of fruit. His trousers had been lowered for an obvious purpose and had only been pulled back half-way. He jumped off the palm terrace into the sand and his trousers fell about his ankles; he stepped out of them and trotted to the platform. Piggy helped him up. Meanwhile Ralph continued to blow till voices shouted in the forest. The small boy squatted in front of Ralph, looking up brightly and vertically. As he received the reassurance of something purposeful being done he began to look satisfied, and his only clean digit, a pink thumb, slid into his mouth.
Piggy leaned down to him.
"What's yer name?"
Piggy muttered the name to himself and then shouted it to Ralph, who was not interested because he was still blowing. His face was dark with the violent pleasure of making this stupendous noise, and his heart was making the stretched shirt shake. The shouting in the forest was nearer.
Signs of life were visible now on the beach. The sand, trembling beneath the heat haze, concealed many figures in its miles of length; boys were making their way toward the platform through the hot, dumb sand. Three small children, no older than Johnny, appeared from startlingly close at hand, where they had been gorging fruit in the forest. A dark little boy, not much younger than Piggy, parted a tangle of undergrowth, walked on to the platform, and smiled cheerfully at everybody. More and more of them came. Taking their cue from the innocent Johnny, they sat down on the fallen palm trunks and waited. Ralph continued to blow short, penetrating blasts. Piggy moved among the crowd, asking names and frowning to remember them. The children gave him the same simple obedience that they had given to the men with megaphones. Some were naked and carrying their clothes; others half-naked, or more or less dressed, in school uniforms, grey, blue, fawn, jacketed, or jerseyed. There were badges, mottoes even, stripes of color in stockings and pullovers. Their heads clustered above the trunks in the green shade; heads brown, fair, black, chestnut, sandy, mouse-colored; heads muttering, whispering, heads full of eyes that watched Ralph and speculated. Something was being done.
The children who came along the beach, singly or in twos, leapt into visibility when they crossed the line from heat haze to nearer sand. Here, the eye was first attracted to a black, bat-like creature that danced on the sand, and only later perceived the body above it. The bat was the child's shadow, shrunk by the vertical sun to a patch between the hurrying feet. Even while he blew, Ralph noticed the last pair of bodies that reached the platform above a fluttering patch of black. The two boys, bullet-headed and with hair like tow, flung themselves down and lay grinning and panting at Ralph like dogs. They were twins, and the eye was shocked and incredulous at such cheery duplication. They breathed together, they grinned together, they were chunky and vital. They raised wet lips at Ralph, for they seemed provided with not quite enough skin, so that their profiles were blurred and their mouths pulled open. Piggy bent his flashing glasses to them and could be heard between the blasts, repeating their names.
"Sam, Eric, Sam, Eric."
Then he got muddled; the twins shook their heads and pointed at each other and the crowd laughed.