November 11, 2011

Notes on Design: Lord of the Flies


This year marks the centennial of William Golding’s birth, and to celebrate, his publishers in the US and UK are releasing centenary editions of Lord of the Flies with a new introduction by Stephen King. As the new edition hits American shelves this month, here’s a look at some of the most notable covers among the many the book has had since it was published in 1954.

Faber & Faber, 1954. The cover of the original edition featured an illustration by Anthony Gross, a British painter and printmaker who died in 1984. Gross often documented his travels to faraway lands, and his work was presumably chosen for its combination of exotic and primitive qualities. The scene is rather more pastoral than the book’s subject matter would suggest, and it can’t escape the viewer’s notice that the children in this scene are accompanied by adults—but then, covers weren’t so literal in the ’50s.

Perigee, 1980. Anyone who went to high school in the US in the last couple of decades probably recognizes this cover, which was illustrated by the California-based artist Barron Storey. The illustration makes it look a bit like a fantasy novel, and in contrast to the previous cover, this one is entirely literal (maybe someone should have told him the title doesn’t refer to a person?) but it’s no less iconic for those flaws.

Faber & Faber, 1990. This cover, designed by Pentagram and illustrated by Paul Hogarth, wasn’t the first to feature the “lord of the flies” actually referred to by the title, but it was certainly the most starkly violent portrayal yet. The matter-of-fact presentation of the image makes it doubly disturbing, although the cover might be more satisfying if the typography had been purposed to heighten the drama.

Faber & Faber, 1993. This cover was illustrated by David Hughes, who these days contributes frequently to the New Yorker. This time the focus has shifted to Piggy whose glasses remain intact but who nonetheless looks the worse for wear. Hughes’s frenetic linework and raw caricature make this the most successful attempt at capturing the book’s more disturbing elements, and perhaps the only cover to depict Golding’s tale as a truly modern one.

Folio Society, 2009. My favorite of the bunch, this edition was illustrated for the Folio Society by Sam Weber, who also counts among my favorite illustrators. While the cloth binding certainly helps, Weber’s treatment gives the book the gravity it deserves as a true classic of modern literature, while the stark graphic is instantly recognizable even without the title. (Full disclosure: it may also be noted that I have a thing for silhouettes.) Be sure to check out the rest of the illustrations as well.

Perigee, 2011. The latest US package, produced for Golding’s centennial, was designed and illustrated by Ben Gibson. Although the book takes place during wartime, I don’t entirely understand the apparent reference to the Keep Calm and Carry On poster here—but it’s certainly among the most tense and frightening covers produced yet.

Faber & Faber, 2011. The UK centenary edition returns to the primitivism of the book’s original cover with a new illustration and type treatment by Neil Gower. Like the new US edition, it’s a less direct and more conceptual approach, confining a boy’s face to the silhouette of the conch shell. This cover is printed in black foil, and coincides with a repackaging (by the same illustrator) of Golding’s second novel, The Inheritors.

Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.