Despite its later popularity, William Golding's Lord of the Flies was only a modest success when it was first published in England in 1954, and it sold only 2,383 copies in the United States in 1955 before going out of print. Critical reviews and British word of mouth were positive enough, however, that by the time a paperback edition was published in 1959, Lord of the Flies began to challenge The Catcher in the Rye as the most popular book on American college campuses. By mid-1962 it had sold more than 65,000 copies and was required reading on more than one hundred campuses.
The book seemed to appeal to adolescents' natural skepticism about the allegedly humane values of adult society. It also captured the keen interest of their instructors in debating the merits and defects of different characters and the hunting down of literary sources and deeper symbolic or allegorical meanings in the story--all of which were in no short supply.
Did the ending of the story--a modern retelling of a Victorian story of children stranded on a deserted island--represent the victory of civilization over savagery, or vice versa? Was the tragic hero of the tale Piggy, Simon, or Ralph? Was Golding's biggest literary debt owed to R. M. Ballantyne's children's adventure story, The Coral Island, or to Euripides's classic Greek tragedy, The Bacchae?
Though the popularity of Golding's works as a whole has ebbed and grown through the years, Lord of the Flies has remained his most read book. The questions raised above, and many more like them, have continued to fascinate readers. It is for this reason, more than any other, that many critics consider Lord of the Flies a classic of our times.