Guest Post by Cate Sweeney of Bee Cave Public Library
This is an obvious winner, right? I mean, Lord of the Flies is a bonafide classic in the survival genre. Even if you haven’t read it, you know the story. A plane crashes on a remote island, the kids must find food, shelter, protect themselves from the wild beasts and savagery of the island. It’s also most often assigned reading during middle school where the popularity game feels very much like a life and death situation. Add to this fact that there endless parodies out there of this story, including a memorable episode of the Simpsons. To someone my age, nothing says you’ve entered popular culture like being referenced in a classic episode from The Simpsons. Not to mention the stellar tag lines that made it into my everyday colloquial: “Sucks to your assmar Piggy!” So it seems like we’ve got ourselves a ringer of a story about clawing your way from peril to safety.
But before we declare a winner let’s consider Room. This story works on a different idea of what survival means. In many ways, all the immediate things you think would threaten survival are in place for our characters. “Room” is, in most ways, a safe-guarded shelter. Food comes regularly. There isn’t even much threat of disease or illness. Yet, this is a harrowing account of survival in a totally different sense. The characters experience years in solitary confinement and abuse. Then *spoiler alert* after escaping “Room,” you realize that there are layers upon layers of “normal” life routines that our characters must now face: sensory experiences, social interactions, judgment from the media and family members alike, a tormented mind distorted by such inhumane circumstances, etc. No one can come to “save” Ma or Jack from these pains. Instead, our characters must walk straight through it and hope to find themselves intact at the other side.
So which of these disparate tales deserves to win? We have, on the one hand, a canonized “stay alive until the help comes” archetype. On the other hand, you have a story of a mother and son facing something that few of us have ever considered or understand what it would take to overcome.
I am surprised to find myself deciding that Room wins this bout. Of course, who am I to take William Golding down a peg with this verdict? Still, I have to say that Lord of the Flies was about as relevant and interesting a book as it was when I read it in middle school, which is to say – not particularly. For me, the characters were too flat and the plot felt more profound in concept than as an actual story. Room, however, gave me footholds in what this experience would actually be like and opportunities to pause and consider what my capabilities would be under such traumatic circumstances. So though I do find poignancy in lines like “Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us…” I am going to have to vote for Ma and Jack in Room since they helped me better understand what it means to survive. In Ma’s words, “Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”