There has been one serious attempt to come to grips with the problems posed by Golding’s novels: in the February number of Twentieth Century for 1960 Ian Gregor & Mark Kirkard-Weekes published an article entitled ‘William Golding and his Critics’. The purpose of the article was two-fold: first to expose reviewers and critics for their mystified condemnations or acclamations of all Golding’s novels and, second, to give what they rightly claimed to be the only interpretive explanation of the latest novel Free Fall (1959).

Their article was not the landmark it set out to be. Since then Golding has continued to receive befuddled admiration from contemporary novelists or weakly evocative tributes from critics such as Kermode. Gregor and Kirkard-Weekes failed because satisfaction with their own abilities to interpret a contrived novel led them to feel satisfaction with the text itself. Their interpretation was for the most part excellent. The themes they reveal are conventional and the methods by which these are conveyed, are unscrupulous. Golding confuses into complicity.

This is true at least of the last two novels Pincher Martin (1956) and Free Fall, where a great similarity of theme and technique is revealed. Against the second, The Inheritors (1955) no weighted charge need be levelled as no serious thesis is advanced. The first, Lord of the Flies (1954) is a far harder problem. The novel is undoubtedly a success. But again it reveals a basic thematic weakness, concealed beneath technical skill.

One reason for this widespread mystification is the unique position Golding holds amongst contemporary English novelists. His four novels are, crudely speaking, novels of ideas. That is to say they embody some myth which purports to give a direct report of the human condition mediated through some concrete situation; they universalize from the specific; they are fables only in this—the broadest possible sense of the word. Other English speaking writers have exploited the actual story of a myth (Patrick White in Riders in the Chariot; Lawrence in The Man who Died): Golding has attempted to expand the central meaning.

Without being precisely eclectic Golding uses and fuses ideas incorporated in the works of earlier writers. A line from Paradise Lost, an image from Hamlet and a problem posed by a situation in Lear are picked up, twisted and used both to give resonance (the obvious model is Eliot) and to indicate to the reader the lines of interpretation. Through these quotations Golding points his moral, guides by implication, makes complex by overtones.