ON THE TWELVE STEPS TO MIDNIGHT

Books lead to more books. Read one and you’re reminded of another. New material refers to past releases, either directly or in roundabout ways. Genres cross over, involving similar concepts, tropes, devices. Writers lift, pay tribute, re-imagine, claim as their own and take it a step further in the name of compelling art. Pick up the trail and we end up making extraordinary connections.

Welcome to Connection Degree Three …

Three engaging books on the savage nature of humankind: Lord Of The Flies, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Wasp Factory.

Lord Of The Flies by William Golding is a savage but insightful story about a group of children who are stranded on a deserted tropical island shortly after the outbreak of nuclear war.

The tale is harsh, bleak and poignant, casting harsh light on the human condition. Over the course of twelve riveting chapters the young castaways come to terms with their environment in a manner that embodies the society they never got a chance to know i.e. – to paraphrase a famous scientist – they are become death, destroyer of worlds, obliterating their only chance at happiness.

The degeneration is swift and brutal. Hardened by the elements and with no one to answer to, the youngsters impose their authority not just on their surroundings, but also on each other, creating a protosociety that hinges on power, suspicion, discrimination, privilege, ignorance, and never-ending politics. Their ‘adult’ nature advances like a riptide, borne out of juvenile insecurities that become more sinister as time passes, which leads us to

Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, a YA story about the twelve Districts of Panem and the youngsters who die for it.

Panem is a mighty continent under the rule of a diabolical regime that relies on media entertainment and mass manipulation. The Hunger Games are its most prestigious and popular event, in which twenty-four tributes, two from every district, are forced to battle each other to the death. Only one tribute may survive every year.

Note that in previous versions of the Hunger Games – 74 events in total – all combatants were children, between the ages 12 and 18, but in the 75th Games the roster is made up of Survivors, children and adults combined.

The new arena is divided into twelve segments that are rigged with nasty surprises, forcing the combatants to either come together in temporary alliances or square off against each other. The setup is designed to lead to a reckoning, which brings us to

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, a story about Frank, a child who lives on a small island in Scotland with his dad. The story, told from the perspective of Frank, is delivered over twelve disturbing chapters, during which we see how Frank, a seemingly thoughtful kid, spends his time hunting and torturing animals using homemade weapons and traps. The most sophisticated of his contraptions is the so-called wasp factory, a clock-like device separated into twelve parts that are designed to kill its insect captives in horrific ways.

To make matters worse, there’s a history of violence in the family, its specter lingering in Frank’s world like a shadow that threatens to invade at any time, rendering everyone and everything on the island in mortal danger, which brings us back to

Lord Of The Flies and the violent nature of the human condition, which even children are prone to, sometimes in far worse ways than adults.

And here we are. Three unsettling stories that involve children, violence, and the number Twelve, each a commentary in and of itself on humankind’s cruel nature, which, as attested by history and literature at large, manifests at an early age.

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