William Golding, The Inheritors (1955)

I’ve read Sapiens by Harari recently, and it rekindled my interest in the earliest history of our species. Shortly after that, a review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman on Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it led to me reading that novel and I was very happy it did. Robinson managed to create a believable impression of the culture of people who lived long before anything could be written down. Scientists use the pieces they find to speculate and search the furthest corners of the world for tribes that continue to live the lives of hunter-gatherers… but only a novelist can make me feel a sense of connection with people from so long ago!

In the discussion below his review, Bart mentioned William Golding’s The Inheritors as one of the sources of Robinson’s inspiration, and I was curious. Golding is one of my favourite writers, Lord of the Flies one of the books that influenced me the most. He left his mark on how I think about the nature of evil, its presence in society and individual, the fragility of civilization, and of religion. I’m slightly less pessimistic on these issues now, but I hold Golding in high esteem.

The obvious thing to do was to buy & read The Inheritors.

Author: William Golding

Translator: Ryszarda Grzybowska

Title: The Inheritors

Pages: 202

Format: Paperback

And I was thoroughly disappointed. Before I list my reasons, a few words about the book’s plot. It tells a story of a small group of Neanderthals and their short, brutal, tragic encounter with a much larger and technologically superior band of aggressive Homo Sapiens. Peaceful, fun-loving, innocent protagonists cannot even comprehend the destructive element our brand of apes represent.

I’m not exaggerating, when a spear is thrown at one of the Neanderthals, he does not recognize it as a threat, instead he observes the stick happily, not knowing the concept of a weapon.

While I remember it was written over 60 years ago, I’m pretty sure it does not represent what had been then known about the earlier hominins. In a way, Golding goes back to the idea of a noble savage, just restricts it to pre-Homo Sapiens beings. To me, it’s an abuse that overshadows the point Golding is making about the brutality of early humans.

That would make me annoyed even as a teenage reader years ago. These days, after reading a bit on what we now know about the evolution of humanity, I disagree even more.

At the very list, it’s a prehistoric fiction that aged badly. In my view, it would be better if the Others humans exterminate to master the planet were blue-skinned aliens, rather than than such a parody of the real Neanderthals… I’m usually more angered by bad historical fiction than by bad worldbuilding in fantasy.

Lord of the Flies is a much better Golding book, and if you want more – go for The Ends of the Eart trilogy, or The Spire. Shaman is a way superior prehistoric fiction, and Dance of the Tiger by Björn Kurtén also looks very promising, I’m going to check it out. The Inheritors I do not recommend.

Score: 5,5/10

Not a lower score, because it’s still Golding. The last chapter, written from the point of view of the homo sapiens and showing their fears and ignorance, was actually quite good – although not a very convincing depiction of this early era. Or maybe I should have waited a year or two after reading Shaman 😉

11 thoughts on “William Golding, The Inheritors (1955)

  1. “Lord of the Flies” is a very powerful, harrowing book, even if its premise and plot don’t fully hold up to scientific scrutiny 😉 It’s more an author’s elaborate description of his own ideological stance than an observation of humans, at least that’s what I keep telling myself :P, but I still deeply admire his work. However, I’m not convinced I’d like to read his other books, for the reason of the aforementioned ideological stance which I understand, but do not support 😉 Thanks for the warning!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wow! Lord of the Flies made such an impression on me as a kid. And yeah, The Spire was also very cool. But I’m with you, The Inheritors is somewhat disappointing for Golding.
    I’m interested to go read Shaman though – so thank you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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