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The Inheritors Paperback – 1971
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The word that kept coming to mind as I read and thought about this book was "clever." Writing about life from the Neanderthal perspective poses a challenge, and Golding used some clever devices to describe the limitations of primitive beings. Golding's Neanderthals communicate by gesture and empathy as much as by language. Their names are simple compared to the polysyllabic names of the humans. The Neanderthals live very much in the here and now; they aren't good at planning; when they talk about doing something new they say they have a "picture" of it, as if they are having a vision. They search for food only when they feel hunger; if they're sated they don't bother to store food for the future. They prefer not to eat meat but they will if one animal has been killed by another; they don't want the "blame" of causing an animal's death. They have a touching burial ritual but they don't appear to contemplate the possibility of an afterlife.
A startling event occurs toward the end of the novel that makes the whole thing rather depressing, particularly for those who (perhaps unrealistically) expect humans to behave more civilly than Neanderthals. Golding may be saying that the simple decency of primitive life was supplanted by early humans who (like those who followed them) lacked respect for other forms of life, killed ruthlessly, and used their wits to advance at the expense of others. If Golding is saying that these are human traits, the product of an evolutionary imperative, I don't know that the point is particularly profound (although it might have seemed so in 1955 when the book was first published). Still, the story illustrates that lesson in an entertaining way. The last chapter shifts to the point of view of the humans: again, a clever way to distinguish between the dying past and the evolving present, and a device that adds insight by demonstrating that the human's view of the Neanderthal may not have been much different than the Neanderthal's view of the human.
According to the cover blurb, some critics think The Inheritors is Golding's best work (and Golding apparently thought so himself). I prefer Lord of the Flies, but The Inheritors is worth reading. I would give it 4 1/2 stars is Amazon made that option available.
As a teacher, I've found this to be a terrific novel for teaching about the clash of cultures, fearing what we don't understand, different ways of seeing, thinking about and imagining the world in which we live. Students never fail to enjoy it.
The prose within "The Inheritors" is highly poetic; Golding paints an intricate portrait of a primeval landscape, such as our planet will probably never experience again; this description in itself adds to the atmosphere of suspense the author creates in this novel. It is not just that landscape in itself that is impressionable, but also how it is perceived by the Neanderthals and their "mind-dream-pictures"; -IE- the heightened colors seen by Lok during his hangover from the honey-drink. Golding shrouds his worlds in mystery to create a background of heightened effect, which becomes an integral part of the story; Richard Wagner used a similar technique by employing the orchestra as an additional "voice" in "Der Ring des Nibelungen". One of the major themes of this book focuses on the evolution of innocence into corruption; a problem, as other Amazon reviewers have noted, that still exists in humans today. This novel also points out the Machiavellian nature of mankind as whole, specifically in how that behaviour was starting to evolve in Golding's portrait of Homo sapiens. I actually found this work to be more engaging than the more commercially accessible LOTF (and certainly more so than the experimental-yet-inconsistent "Darkness Visible"). Golding is a recent discovery of mine, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.
Stephen C. Bird, Author of "Any Resemblance To A Coincidence Is Accidental"