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Adrian

The Inheritors

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Now this is how a writer ought to imagine an unknown world. There's something special going in a writer's brain when he manages to come up with this idea: Neanderthals roaming the land with only their sharpened sticks and thick, dark hair.

 

I'm only a few chapters in, but Golding has imagined a world and a people that could have existed. It's all so unlikely and yet so obvious that you just have to roll with it. But now I really need a shave!

 

Thanks to David, who mentioned Golding as a writer worth watching out for apart from his obvious book, and many thanks to my library, who still have this book on the shelf with date stamps from before I was born.

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Thanks to David, who mentioned Golding as a writer worth watching out for.

You're very welcome and I'm really glad you've given this a try, Adrian! I've never understood why Golding - a Nobel Prize winnner - has seemed to stand on the back shelf so much, apart - as you say - from the obvious book. Maybe, in fact, that book is partly to blame, being taught to death and swamping people's minds so they don't look more widely. My tutor at university actually thought The Inheritors was Golding's greatest novel, and whilst I'm not wholly sure about that it's a contender, certainly. I think it's an extraordinary imaginative feat to strip yourself utterly of modern sensibilities and understanding and project yourself back to the simplicities of Lok and his fellow Neanderthals.

 

I won't say more until you've finished, Adrian, but I'd love to chat about it then!

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This is my favourite book. And I find some of the discussions about it fascinating too. It's interesting to see new commentators making more of the alien features of Golding's Neanderthals in terms of their appropriate classification as creatures of science fiction. Some of the same commentators also note that the science fiction community hasn't fully made use of these attributes of Golding's writing. Perhaps that's one of the harder aspects of genre classification. What is the essential difference between science fiction and fantasy? In order to enjoy the book its classification clearly doesn't matter. But when thinking about it afterwards, and literature in general, literary classifications are sometimes puzzling.

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I'm only a few chapters in

I'm obviously the slowest reader there ever was, as I've finally finished it (well, restarted it and kept going this time).

 

The book suffers a little in its first half as there are too few characters. A real soap opera needs a big cast so that the interactions are many and varied within the group, but here I felt the 'family' needed to be more extended.

 

It improves substantially in the second half when they interact with The Others. It's not just a clash of cultures but of different but similar species. I liked that the Others weren't fully human beings (more Australopithecus or Homo erectus than Homo sapiens, I thought) but were substantially more evolved than our tribe.

 

Wonderful realisation of a possible historical world. I read it as part of my real life book group, and all the others (all three of them) said that it was blessed with what is an overused epithet: unique.

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The book suffers a little in its first half as there are too few characters. A real soap opera needs a big cast so that the interactions are many and varied within the group, but here I felt the 'family' needed to be more extended.

I must admit I found that one of the strong points in that the smallness of the group made the 'family' feel stronger, consequently making the impact of its gradual destruction all the more poignant. I thought the difference of these people from us meant the novel had to work hard to make us idenitify with them and understand them as individuals, which could have been undermined with a larger spread of characters.

 

I liked that the Others weren't fully human beings (more Australopithecus or Homo erectus than Homo sapiens, I thought) but were substantially more evolved than our tribe.

Really? We certainly differ there because I felt the Others were very much early Homo sapiens. In fact that felt like an important part of the twist, which I'd better spoiler.

 

 

One of the great devices of which Golding is a master is the flipping of perspective at the end of the book - something that's common particularly in the early novels. It's a way of challenging the reader's perceptions and forcing us to see things in a new light. Here the final section takes us into the perspective of the New People. Up to that point they have been the enemy and the darkness that has consumed and destroyed Lok's world, but suddenly we have descriptions of Lok and the New One that reveal them as very different from us - far more bestial. In a way the book has encouraged us to forget that and we identify with them, but now we are forced to see that the invading darkness (which carries evils such as weapons and alcohol) is actually us. We are the serpents that have corrupted this Garden of Eden.

 

it was blessed with what is an overused epithet: unique.

Absolutely. That's one of the things I love about Golding - his sheer originality.

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I must admit I found that one of the strong points in that the smallness of the group made the 'family' feel stronger, consequently making the impact of its gradual destruction all the more poignant. I thought the difference of these people from us meant the novel had to work hard to make us idenitify with them and understand them as individuals, which could have been undermined with a larger spread of characters.

But were they that much different to us humans? Sure, they had their mannerisms with their pictures and their bushes, but they had intelligent thoughts.

 

 

Really? We certainly differ there because I felt the Others were very much early Homo sapiens. In fact that felt like an important part of the twist, which I'd better spoiler.

I didn't get that they were H. sapiens. They were certainly more humanlike than the tribe we had been following, but they still had enough animalistic tendencies to make me think they were the missing link rather than humans.

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But were they that much different to us humans? Sure, they had their mannerisms with their pictures and their bushes, but they had intelligent thoughts.

Well, the manner of the ending I spoilered above is the ultimate demonstration of their difference in terms of appearance, but their thinking lacks the ability to make the intelligent connections and deductions that we do. That's one of things I enjoyed about the narrative - that it's rooted in their thought processes, so we have to use our abilities to work out what they cannot.

 

I didn't get that they were H. sapiens. They were certainly more humanlike than the tribe we had been following, but they still had enough animalistic tendencies to make me think they were the missing link rather than humans.

I can't say I viewed them as animalistic, just primitive. They have developed mastery of bows and arrows and I think it's only Homo sapiens that achieved this. I honestly think a large part of Golding's shock at the end is lost if these people aren't 'us'.

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I can't say I viewed them as animalistic, just primitive. They have developed mastery of bows and arrows and I think it's only Homo sapiens that achieved this. I honestly think a large part of Golding's shock at the end is lost if these people aren't 'us'.

As I read it I wanted them to be us, but I really didn't feel it. As I said above, I thought they were close to humans but not close enough. I feel like I'm missing out on what Golding had to say in the final chapters. I think I've read too many biology textbooks and not enough speculative fiction.

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I thought they were close to humans but not close enough.

Fair enough. Out of interest, what were the animalistic differences that struck you?

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..................................

 

I can't say I viewed them as animalistic, just primitive. They have developed mastery of bows and arrows and I think it's only Homo sapiens that achieved this. I honestly think a large part of Golding's shock at the end is lost if these people aren't 'us'.

 

Yes, I've always taken these people to be Homo Sapiens with their animal skin wine pouches and their hunting rituals, their aggression and inventiveness and their speech. The 'shock of the new' .

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I've never understood why Golding - a Nobel Prize winnner - has seemed to stand on the back shelf so much

 

A Nobel Prize winner, wow! In the wake of Le Clezio winning The Nobel Prize for Literature last year we had some discussion on BGO about the value of this particular award. The fact is that it's awarded for a body of work rather than, like Booker et al, for a particular book (I suppose that means novel for the most part, unless you recall Eugenio Montale, the obscure Italian poet who won it back in the 80s).

 

Furthermore, although the cover blurb WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE hits you in the face, when you look further into the book you may find, as I've recently done with Naguib Mahfouz's Palace of Desire published in translation in 1991, that the award was given two decades before. The award of THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE has had, as we have previously noted, a somewhat checkered career. The body of work is usually 'impressive' and 'worthy' rather than being great literature.

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Fair enough.

No problem.

 

Out of interest, what were the animalistic differences that struck you?

I'm not going to leaf through the book finding passages, but I'm still not seeing The Others as fully fledged or even primitive humans, even taking into account chuntzy's points above. Yes, they had some humanlike tendencies but that didn't make them human. I thought Golding was highlighting the vagueness between the various pre-human species (ie, not yet human) and their evolution. If anything, I'd say The Others were closer to chimpanzees with their use of tools than they were to humans.

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No problem.

 

 

I'm not going to leaf through the book finding passages, but I'm still not seeing The Others as fully fledged or even primitive humans, even taking into account chuntzy's points above. Yes, they had some humanlike tendencies but that didn't make them human. I thought Golding was highlighting the vagueness between the various pre-human species (ie, not yet human) and their evolution. If anything, I'd say The Others were closer to chimpanzees with their use of tools than they were to humans.

 

This topic has interested me and so I turned to Wikipedia/William Golding/The Inheritors and read their plot introduction. You might find it interesting.

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Having read previous posts on The Inheritors, I wish David was around to carry on the discussion. Or maybe Chunzy would like to come back to it?

 

For anyone who is thinking of reading this, I would recommend that you read it the first time for the story; then go back and savour the ‘otherness’ of it, experiencing the world through the mind and eyes of people with very limited vocabulary, thus causing a challenge in terms of naming - mostly describing - things. I really would have appreciated a sketchmap, because it is the descriptions of the ‘where’ that kept slowing me down.

 

Now to the plot, or not ...

 

... There's something special going in a writer's brain when he manages to come up with this idea: Neanderthals roaming the land with only their sharpened sticks and thick, dark hair.

 

Over the years there has been lot of discussion in the scientific community and elsewhere about ‘ crossover’, whether or not Neanderthals met and mated with Homo sapiens. If so, this story takes us there. But The Inheritors was written in 1955.  The ‘crossover’ theory was mooted in 2010 when the DNA was sequenced. How many years before this was it generally assumed? Could Golding have known about it back in ‘55? (By the way, it seems that the newest theory is that they shared a common ancestor, who left his/her DNA in both Neanderthals and H. sapiens.)

 

I won’t go into the story itself, because you can pick that up elsewhere. Instead, I want to share with you some of the more amazing examples of Golding as Neanderthal.

 

Neanderthal perception of self as being made up of separate parts:

‘His right hand found a stone and picked it up.’

‘His nose searched for hyaenas.’

‘Lok’s ear spoke to Lok “?” But Lok was asleep.’

 

Neanderthal perception of environment as animate:

A log that served as a bridge has floated away.  ‘The log has gone away.’

‘The cliff leaned out as if looking for its own feet in the water.’

‘The fire welcomed the wood with a friendly crackle.’

 

Golding must have studied chimpanzees, or other of our primate relatives, before writing this novel. There is so much that is accurate and relevant. Some examples of Neanderthals exhibiting chimpanzee characteristics:

The young ones were constantly clinging to, or clambering on the adults: ‘The new one woke up and scrambled down from Fa’s back’.

Typical primate signs of fear: ‘Her hair bristled and her teeth showed.’

Walking on all fours: ‘When Lok looked back he could see her ...  running mostly on all fours ... [odd that Golding should use the expression ‘all fours’, which is very H. sapiens, instead of using a description in Neanderthal.]

Chimpanzees are incredibly accurate - and enthusiastic - stone throwers: ‘Lok saw her swing her arm and another stone came ...’

Chimpanzees cannot swim and are very frightened of water. ‘He flashed across the log with a tremendous shout. He leapt and landed on dry ground, bounced round ... jeering at the defeated water ...’  (Many of the people end up dead in water; I wonder why.)

A typical chimpanzee vocalisation can be interpreted as ‘Oa’. This is the name of their goddess, the Mother. ‘He stood by Ha and shouted: “Oa! Oa! Oa!”

 

And now to the new people ...

 

I didn't get that they were H. sapiens. They were certainly more humanlike than the tribe we had been following, but they still had enough animalistic tendencies to make me think they were the missing link rather than humans.

 

Out of interest, what were the animalistic differences that struck you?

 

I'm not going to leaf through the book finding passages, but I'm still not seeing The Others as fully fledged or even primitive humans. ...  Yes, they had some humanlike tendencies but that didn't make them human. I thought Golding was highlighting the vagueness between the various pre-human species (ie, not yet human) and their evolution. If anything, I'd say The Others were closer to chimpanzees with their use of tools than they were to humans.

 

I've always taken these people to be Homo Sapiens  ...

The new people, H. sapiens (?) are more advanced in everything (except maybe compassion). For example, their names are more complex. Names of the people are mostly single syllables: Ha, Fa, Mal, Lok.  Names of the new people include Tuami, Vivani, Marlan.

The new people’s lives are also a lot more elaborate. They have ritual dances with symbolic animals; they perform sacrifice; they alter the habitat to create shelter; they are clothed; they have weapons; they have canoes and use logs as rollers to move them overland; and they have a sophisticated nautical understanding. This seems to be a lot of advancement at a time when Neanderthals are still in existence. And that didn’t sit too well with me.  So, far from Adrian’s thinking they are a missing link, I am inclined, quite strongly, to disagree. However - the change in Golding's writing style in Chapter 12 to something I am much more used to was, regrettably, all too comforting.

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Ting, I will come back to it (but after my 'advanced human' trawl through the supermarket this morning!).

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Ting, I will come back to it (but after my 'advanced human' trawl through the supermarket this morning!).

 

:D  Great, Chuntzy  - and apologies for misspelling your name in previous post. (That was bugging me all night)!

 

One final observation on this brilliant novel. I had forgotten that I had put a query out to my friends at the chimpanzee orphanage regarding ears, because I was uncomfortable when I read - of Lok - that 'His ears twitched ...'. I was pretty certain that primate ears don't move. The reply I got is worthy of sharing here:

"Gosh, you got mom and me thinking about the chimp ears.  No, they do not move their ears. Their ears are lovely and big and soft and floppy.  I do know that [orphan baby] Jewel's ears do not work as he never listens to anything we say.  Beside destroying the house he is a happy little chimp."

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To give more thought and opinion on this thread I would have to re-read the novel. 

 

But for now I  will say quite bluntly that I'm bemused by Adrian's view that the new people are not fully fledged humans.  David was equally bemused (but tactfully so) by Adrian's v/iewpoint.  Anatomically modern humans evolved about 200,000 years ago (Neanderthals evolved about 400,000 years ago and died out c. 30,000 years ago).  This is interesting:-

 

 http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/jun/02/why-did-neanderthals-die-out

 

But that is neither here nor there.  Lok is the puzzled interpreter of what is going on and us readers recognise with dismay some of the human characteristics and behaviour of the newcomers: Ting, you have summarised these behaviours in your post yesterday.  Surely this is the point of the novel.

Edited by chuntzy

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You are right Chuntzy that the new people being Homo sapiens has to be the point of the novel. Regrettably, they are so obviously us, in all our weird and wonderful and shameful glory! And if you ever get around to re-reading it, I'll join you, because it will be a pleasure!

 

Thanks for the link. It's very interesting and throws a few more question marks into the mix. But for all that we still do or do not know, it seems that Golding was quite sure of where he was going with that story.

 

My hope now is that I can maybe entice a few more BGOers to try this one ...?

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Ting, after that obvious book  Golding was firmly on my 'will avoid in future' list, but you have made this book sound worthwhile, so thank you for another possible read.  In particular found the Neanderthal perception of self fascinating and enjoyed your explanations of how the actual behaviour of chimpanzees compared so closely.

Edited by grasshopper

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I just finished reading this and I didn't like it.  I'm not sure why and I didn't dislike it enough to abandon it but this did not feel like his best work, imho.  

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