Captain Smythe and the Christmas Tradition

Captain Smythe and the Christmas Tradition

The Hour of Doom, under the command of Captain Alistair Sydney Benton Smythe, was headed back to England’s airspace, despite the misgivings of its crew.  The airship had suffered through several damaging engagements in the past few weeks and the crew had been hoping to find itself in sunny Gibraltar with the winter solstice just past and Christmas fast approaching.  The Rock was one of the few places where a pirate crew could get a ship refitted and get rip-roaring drunk without fear of any country’s forces breaking up the party.

Only the Doom’s First Mate, Brassy Bess, understood the captain’s need to be in England at that time of year.  Well, perhaps “understood” was a bit strong. She knew he had to do it, even though it was as dangerous as an engine fire coming close to the ship’s hydrogen gasbags.  She wasn’t entirely sure if it was the danger that the captain actually craved, or something else, something deeper.

She checked the navigational instruments once more, nodded to the crewman manning the wheel, and left the cockpit to join the captain on the foredeck.

He was wearing his special flight coat, the bright purple one with the ship’s emblem, a broken hourglass, embroidered in silk the color of Indian rubies. The coat still bore the marks of their last encounter, a gash along one sleeve that had saved the captain’s arm, and soot from the fire created when the Doom sent the bounty hunter’s frigate careening into the French Pyrenees for Basque wreckers to claim its cargo.

“So,” Brassy Bess said, coming alongside Smythe.  “England, Cap’n.  Again.”

“Aye, Bess,” Smythe replied.  “It’s a tradition, one I have no intention of breaking.”

“Just sayin’, Cap’n.  Last year, th’ Doom was in top shape.  This year, one bad shot could cripple th’ ship an’ send all of us to th’ hempen dance for Christmas.”

Smythe turned to his First Mate and smiled but Bess thought his smile lacked the charisma and outright audacity he usually displayed.  “We’ll make landing on the Free Island of Guernsey first, so any of the crew that wants to leave can go.  I can run the Doom with a handful if needed, and I’m sure a few of the men will stay.”

“So will I, Cap’n,” Bess said.  “You can count on me.”

“I know, Bess.”  Smythe turned back to gazing out at the horizon, but whether looking for other airships or just lost in thought, Bess couldn’t say.

Only a handful of men left the Doom in Guernsey, most preferring to stay with the Captain who had gotten them through so many scrapes with only a few scars and the occasional heap of gold and silver.  Whatever the Captain’s intentions, they were his men.  

That, at least, Brassy Bess understood.

Luck, or its darker cousin doom, let the ship pass England’s shores without sighting a single royal warship.  “Doom, indeed,” Smythe replied with a broad smile when one of the crewmen said as much out loud.  “We are the Hour of Doom.  Would you expect any less?”  Once again over his homeland, Smythe’s spirits had lifted.  They had crossed in Devon and were navigating between the royal ports of Bristol and Southampton, avoiding the patrols of both. Their goal was Oxford, where Smythe said he was born.

They came upon the town at sunset.

“Ship!” the lookout called.  “Two points to starboard!”

“Prepare for battle!” Smythe ordered.  “Long guns only!”

Some of the newer crewmen, those who had been with the Doom for less than a year, balked at the order.  With long guns, there was no chance for a prize. You had to get close and board another ship to take its treasures.

“You heard the Cap’n!” Brassy Bess barked at them.  “Long guns!  Move!”

Smythe checked that his commands were followed, then raised his spyglass. Below the Union Jack, the enemy ship bore the coat of arms of its captain: a red field with a gold hourglass.

“Fire!” Smythe ordered.

The Hour of Doom’s guns roared in unison and the ship itself was pushed to port by the recoil.  Through the spyglass, he saw that only half of their shots had scored, mere pinpricks against the other ship, one of the newer heavy cruisers.  Well armored but slow.

“Evasive maneuvers!” Smythe shouted.  “Prepare port long guns for firing.”

The cruiser turned to bring its own long guns to bear, oh so slowly, and Smythe saw the ship’s name.  H.M.S. Steadfast.  It fired, scoring several hits.  One of the crewmen was thrown overboard by the concussive force.  He didn’t scream as he fell, either unconscious or dead already.  If he was unconscious, Smythe hoped he stayed that way before the thousand foot fall killed him.  More worrying, though, was that one of the shells had torn through a secondary gas bag. It hadn’t ignited, but it could have. Time to go.  He heard Brassy Bess come up beside him.

“Bess, bring port guns to bear, then get ready to run.”  

“Aye, Cap’n.”  She turned and relayed the orders at the top of her voice.  “Fire!”

The Doom’s port guns fired, this time scoring their own hits on the main gas bag of the Steadfast and starting a small fire near one of the guns.

“Make for the coast!” Smythe ordered.  “Top speed, as if the devil himself were after your souls, men!  And someone get topside to fix that leak!”

The Doom practically leapt through the air, and the Steadfast’s next volley scored only superficial damage against the Doom’s stern.  They were faster than the Steadfastand the larger ship knew it.  There were no more volleys, although it had wired ahead.  The pirate ship had to dodge two separate patrols on its way out of England, but soon it was clear and headed back to Guernsey to pick up the crew it had left behind.

Alone in his cabin, Smythe heard a crewman ask what it was all about. Brassy Bess told him it was none of his business and to get back topside to check the repairs because they were still leaking hydrogen.  After a perfunctory knock on his door, Bess entered.

Smythe nodded to her, wrote a final few words on the paper in front of him, then handed it to her.  “When we land on Guernsey, please have them transmit this via wireless.”

Bess nodded.  “Of course, Cap’n.”

As she left, he poured himself a large snifter of brandy and raised it in a silent toast.

* * *

Aboard the Steadfast, Captain Sir Benedict Martin Peter Smythe, Viscount of Oxford, took the message from his signalman, left Lieutenant Sheppard in command, and retired to his cabin.  He poured himself a large snifter of brandy and raised it in a silent toast before unfolding the message.

To the Captain of the H.M.S. Steadfast,

Hello, Ben.  I see my adventures haven’t harmed your career.  Your new ship is a marvel, but far too slow for the likes of mine. Still, it should make our yearly get-togethers all the more interesting.

Give my best to Mother, and tell Father that it’s time he disowned me and made you the heir.  I’m having far too much fun and you’ve always been the “steadfast” one.

Happy Christmas.

From Alistair Sydney Benton Smythe, Captain of the pirate airship Hour of Doom.

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The Evolution of Human Ethics: Comparing “Lord of the Flies” and Chimpanzees

The Evolution of Human Ethics: Comparing “Lord of the Flies” and Chimpanzees 

(a term paper written ca. 1998) 


In William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, English schoolboys are stranded on a deserted island without adults during a war.  They try to create a society, but the society they create strongly resembles what today is a commonly perceived view of non-human primate societies.  Written at least partly as a response to an 1875 novel of three boys shipwrecked on an island, Golding’s novel demonstrates a  number of changes in some people’s views of humanity from 1875 to 1954. It’s necessary to note, however, that as the knowledge about primate societies has increased, some of the societal ideas demonstrated in the novel are no longer widely accepted.  Lord of the Flies is a novel firmly entrenched in the time it was written, and gives us a reasonably accurate view of how “civilized” humans view “uncivilized” societies.

In 1875, four years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Descent of Man”, R. M. Ballantyne’s novel The Coral Island was released.  In this novel, three shipwrecked young boys not only create an environment similar in many ways to that of the English gentry, they also manage to defeat pirates by virtue of their moral strength and convert the local cannibals to Christianity.  Basically, the three boys never lose the values and morals of their society, even when the society itself is taken away.

In 1954, William Golding’s novel was published.  Whereas Ballantyne’s novel was written during a time when human evolution was not widely accepted, Golding’s novel was written during a time that produced the term “killer ape” to describe humans.  The society created by the schoolboys resembles the societies created by apes such as chimpanzees in many ways.  At the time, this was not thought of as a good thing. Golding himself once described his novel this way:  “The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature” (Golding 189).  Although the actions of the boys (from an ethological perspective) are not necessarily “defects,” this judgment is passed on them by the author. Whether such actions are defects or not is a complicated question.  First, the society of the boys should be examined.

Rank and Order

The struggle to become leader is one of the first key points of the novel.  There are two main contenders for this position, Ralph and Jack.  Their struggle has parallels with the struggle of two apes to become alpha male.  Ralph has the physical characteristics of a leader-type, tall, straight, strong and handsome.  His father is a Naval commander, so he could be said to be an alpha male’s son.  This may have been an advantage, based on studies of rhesus monkey hierarchies by John H. Kaufman:  a young male who achieved a fairly high rank very quickly was the son of the alpha female and a brother to the current alpha male.  In Kaufman’s words, this is “an example of a son of a high-ranking mother achieving high rank early and easily” (Kaufman 77). Finally, when the group is gathered, Ralph is the one who gathers them by using the conch shell.  Jack, on the other hand, though tall, was thin, bony and ugly.  He was, however, already in charge of a group of boys and wore a cap with a golden badge and a long black cloak with a silver cross on it.  Both boys wanted to be leader.  Although it was a vote, the two had certain elements in common with two males vying for the alpha male spot.  Both mounted displays for the rest of the group, Ralph with the conch and Jack with his cap and cloak and the choir marching in a military fashion.  In the end, Ralph was chosen because the previous “alpha males,” the adults they had been following, used megaphones to order the boys and Ralph’s conch display resembled the megaphones so much that the boys followed him.

It’s interesting to note that alliances played a part of the jockeying for the alpha male position.  Jack had the, albeit unwilling or lukewarm, support of the choir. Ralph’s support came from everyone else, including the mass of “littluns,” the small children who actually wielded no real power and were lowest in the hierarchy of the boys. Many times in ape societies, low ranking members support alpha males against their competitors.

After Ralph’s selection as chief, the first thing he did was to go to Jack and make peace.  Many primates also have reconciliations after a challenge is made. In general, if the reconciliation is successful, the hierarchy is stable for another while.  If the reconciliation is not successful, more trouble is soon to follow.  This first reconciliation between Jack and Ralph is successful.  Later on, though, Jack mounts more challenges to Ralph’s leadership.  There are at least four more distinct challenges to Ralph’s authority as leader. Each of Jack’s challenges involved certain display rituals to attract attention to him as the leader.  These displays ranged from exuberant shouts after the successful hunt of a pig, to painting his face with a mask.  With each challenge, Ralph is able to maintain leadership, but by a slimmer and slimmer margin.  Eventually, Jack mounts one final challenge which, though it fails, spurs him to leave the group and form his own group.

Hierarchy is established among the older children, the “biguns,” although there are actually several separate lines of hierarchy.  On one side are Ralph’s followers, Piggy, Simon and the twins.  On the other side are Jack’s followers, his hunters, the most notable of which is Roger, his second.  The biguns are, of course, dominant over the littluns, demonstrated by Maurice and Roger walking through the sand castles created by Henry, Johnny and Percival, three littluns.  Even the littluns begins to test their position at their own level.  Henry, a little older and bigger than Johnny and Percival, was the leader of that small group.  Then, when Johnny found out the sand in the eyes would make Percival cry, he happily threw sand in the air to make Percival cry again, a sort of play that appears to be the first stirrings of social hierarchy among the younger group members.


The are several ways that societies try to smooth out the problems that arise between individuals in a society.  Societies have rules.  Some of the rules are imposed by individuals.  Some are apparently evolved rules for the treatment of fellow members of the group. Each of these types of rules is seen in the novel and in ape societies as well.  Rules require enforcement.  In this, the role of the alpha male as peace-keeper is shown.

The first type is clear.  In ape societies, a mother imposes the rules for obtaining access to her infant.  This is usually done through a form of positive and negative reinforcement.  If another ape approaches or handles the infant incorrectly, the mother becomes angry.  If the other ape does the correct things for handling the infant, the mother allows it.  In this way, the mother imposes the rules.  (It must be noted that whether or not intentionality is a part of this rule-setting is, as yet, unproven.)  In the novel, Jack creates rules that must be followed as part of his society.  In the course of the book, he punishes a member of his “tribe” for breaking one of the rules (although we are not told what the rule was).  This is one thing that it seems Ralph was not able to do as part of the society he led. In a way, it seems that the society of boys needed rules to be set and enforced.

Other types of rules are less definite in the novel.  This may be due to the small amount of time that passes in the novel, in that the society hasn’t yet figured out all of the things it needs to do to survive in this new environment.  Also, as an incomplete society (no adults, no females), it may not contain all of the necessary components for a balanced means of ensuring the continued survival of the group.  Still, given these limitations, the group in its later form (ruled by Jack) has demonstrated an ability to maintain group cohesiveness and ensure the survival of most or all of its members.  Some of the rules that seem to come from our pre-homo sapiens ancestors include the sharing of meat from the dominant group members to the subordinate ones, especially children.  This was shown when Ralph and Piggy arrived at Jack’s feast and saw that everyone had received a share.  Jack then converts most of the remaining boys to his group by promising them meat on a constant basis.  The group had determined that the gift of meat was one of the conditions that a leader had to meet and Ralph did not do this.  Jack did, therefore they agreed to follow Jack.  Chimpanzees, too, are shown to share any prey that they capture.  In Good Natured, examples are given of the adult male chimpanzees who hunted together in a group, giving a share of the meat to the females and the young, but not to other adult males.  (In the novel, Jack gives meat to Ralph and Piggy as well.)  Sharing itself is also a sort of group enforced rule among apes.  Basically, if an ape shares with others when it has food to share, then other apes will share with it.  If it does not share with others, then others may refuse to share. This reciprocity rewards sharing among a group.

As an adjunct to the rules, there is the question of memory and how this affects the breaking of rules and the attempts to hide these infractions from more dominant members of the group.  There is a scene in the novel in which Roger is throwing rocks near the small children, but not at them, because of the rules that society had taught him.  The rules are remembered, even in the absence of “higher ranking” humans such as the police, teachers and parents mentioned by the novel.  Eventually, the rules are broken or changed, as shown when Roger rolls the heavy rock down to kill Piggy.  In a similar way, apes are seen to know what the rules are, such as the alpha male’s “rule” that only he can breed with females.  An example given in Good Natured shows that if the alpha male leaves, then the subordinate males will try to mate with the females.  However, their remembrance of the alpha male’s rule is shown in the example of the rhesus monkey named Hulk, a beta male, who was observed checking to make sure that the alpha male was still in another section of the habitat before completing the mating.

Both the society of boys in the novel and ape societies also show a sort of guilt or shame response when their rule-breaking is followed by an encounter with an alpha male.  In experiments with captive ape societies, males who mated with females when the alpha male was away were observed to act more submissive and to try to avoid the alpha male.  When the ship captain, an alpha male who outranks both Ralph and Jack, appears at the end of the novel, the boys become quiet and obedient.  When he asks which boy is in charge, the reactions of the two “alpha” boys differs according to their past actions.  Ralph has no trouble stating that he is the leader and explaining things to the captain.  His own disobedience was minor compared to the others.  Jack, on the other hand, who led the boys who had thrown off every rule, remained silent.

Peace-keeping is important to any society that has rules. Part of the enforcement of rules is the ability to terminate hostilities between group members.  If hostilities continue, other rules get lost in the course of the ongoing aggression.  Apes have several ways of reestablishing order between group members.  Alpha males do so by displays of aggression and violence, or sometimes the threat of violence.  Examples given in Good Natured showed some males who needed only to look at fighting group members to stop hostilities.  Others mounted energetic displays by charging in between combatants. Still others would strike any group member who continued fighting.  Other groups members could also aid the cessation of hostilities.  Examples were given of females banding together to stop an alpha male from possibly killing another male, thus providing a check on the alpha male’s power.  In other ape societies, grooming often takes place between former combatants as a way to restore the hierarchy and calm each other.  Sometimes, one combatant’s kin will groom the other combatant to help normalize relations.  The actually mechanics differ among ape species, but all have some way of keeping the peace.  In the novel, Jack is the only effective peace-keeper.  Ralph tries to rule by common sense, which has little effect on the boys who are only six to twelve years old.  When rules are broken, he tries to appeal to their sense of order. Jack appears on the scene already in control of a group of boys, the choir.  When they break ranks, he uses his commanding voice to order them back into line and they obey.  Later, when he is the “chief” of his own group of boys, he uses violence and the threat of violence to keep the boys subordinate to him and obedient to his rules, whatever they are.  What is missing is any sign of an alliance of boys to counter Jack’s nearly absolute power. Still, at least during the course of the novel, he maintains order in the group he leads, and the rules he sets are obeyed.

Other Parallels

There are other, less explored aspects of the society created by the boys in Lord of the Flies.  One is the forging of bonds among the group, through play, through mock combat, and even through emotional contagion.  Then there is the way that the two societies, ape and schoolboy, treat members of their society that are markedly different from them in some way.  Both the boys’ society and that of the apes show territoriality.  The novel also notes how its society treats the littluns, which shows a parallel with some ape societies and their treatment of the young.

A society forges bonds between its members in order to remain a group. These bonds can be formed in several ways.  Kinship bonds are common among apes, but bonds also form between unrelated individuals. These bonds are advantageous for any activity requiring part or all of the group, such as hunting or defense. In the novel, only two of the boys, the twins Sam and Eric, have bonds of kinship.  The ways in which the boys form bonds mirror those shown by some ape societies.  Forging bonds through play is one type.  Jack, Ralph and Simon wrestle together while exploring the island.  The three little boys mentioned earlier were building sand castles.  A similar example is given by Jane Goodall.  “Flint, however, with all the energy typical of a human child, played with little Goblin . . . The two chased after each other . . . occasionally they wrestled or engaged in a bout of rib-tickling . . . .” (Goodall 136). Another bonding activity is the sharing of food.  There are only two clear examples of food-sharing in the novel.  The first is when Simon helps the littluns by getting the ripe fruit and giving it to them (it was too high for the littluns to reach). Similar examples in Good Natured include a young chimpanzee bringing ripe fruit to its aging mother and a caged capuchin with food putting it within reach of another caged capuchin who had not been able to reach the food.  The sharing of meat also appears in ape societies and the novel, usually as a way of demonstrating the “owner’s” power and generosity, thus promoting the bonding between himself and the group.  I use “he” because all of the examples I’ve been able to find from ape society show that males do all or most of the killing and that the alpha male usually controls the carcass and the distribution of meat.  The example in Good Natured of the alpha male Ntologi using this tactic to distribute food to anyone who was not a threat to his position is very close to the scene in the novel in which Jack allows his own followers to share in the pig that they had caught and shares the food with Ralph and his followers with seeming reluctance.

This sharing of meat is occasioned by the fact that chimpanzees actively hunt and kill their prey.  This simple behavior is reflected in the novel.  The boys work out a method of hunting and killing the pigs with coordination and growing skill.  Young chimpanzees have to learn how to help their elders in the hunt.  Jack is the best of the hunters and through teaching and example he manages to teach the other children how to help.

Another parallel between the novel and the various ape societies involves the way in which “odd” members of the group are treated by the group.  Jane Goodall’s work has noted how chimpanzee polio victims were treated with fear or aggression when they approached members of their own group.  On the other hand, Good Natured provides the example of Mozu, a Japanese monkey born without hands or feet.  The monkeys in her group appeared to accept her as one of their members. In fact, an example is given of Mozu joining a second group of monkeys when the original group fissioned into two groups and her own matriline was denied access to the feeding area.  This new group eventually accepted her as one of their own.  The difference between the two reactions appears to be that the polio caused a noticeable change in the actions and/or appearance of group mates that the others found threatening.  Mozu’s appearance (and that of a retarded infant rhesus monkey who was also tolerated) were unchanged since birth.  In the novel, there are two cases of group members who were different from the others. Because the group was mostly comprised of individuals who did not know each other from infancy, the actions of the boys toward those who were different compare more closely with the reactions of the chimpanzees to the polio victims.  One of the “different” boys was Simon, a boy who fainted often, possibly due to a medical reason, although this was never explored in the novel.  The general reaction to him was laughter and some derision by older boys such as Jack. He may, in fact, have been a target for a great deal of hardship were it not for the presence of a still more tempting target, Piggy.  Piggy was overweight, asthmatic and severely nearsighted, all of which make him unlike the rest of the boys, who, with a few exceptions, are nearly uniformly average. As the target of derisive laughter, he is almost immediately reduced in status to a very low rank in the hierarchy that is being established.  Although Ralph later relies on him for counsel, Jack’s reaction to Piggy’s words is a swift blow.  Jack’s aggression and threatening displays towards Piggy isolate him even more from the bulk of the group, who laugh at Piggy even more.  In the end, Piggy (who has since lost his only advantage in the group, the eyeglasses for making fires) is killed by another group member, Roger. Returning to the question of Simon, he, too, was killed by the group.  In his case, the group had changed so much that they no longer recognized him at all when he burst upon their ritual.  Owing to the fact that he was different from them, they killed him, believing him to be the “beast.”  At the end of the novel, though, Ralph is also “different” from the rest of the boys.  He has remained the same (or perhaps changed only a little) while they have changed as a group.  Being different, and being the last opposition to Jack’s rule as sole leader of the boys, Ralph is hunted down.  This has a parallel in Jane Goodall’s work as well, when the chimpanzee group she was studying fissioned and then the large group systematically hunted down and killed the other group.

Behaviors Not Seen in Both the Novel and Ape Societies

“The trouble with extrapolating directly from the primates is that we have evolved in so many ways away from them” (Jolly 270). The novel contains behaviors that are, at least as yet, undiscovered in any other primate species.  In addition, there are several behaviors of apes that do not appear in the novel.

The most prominent of the behaviors demonstrated in the novel which has no clear analog in nature is the formation of a proto-religion by the boys. It is not yet fully formed in the course of the novel, but it already has several of the elements of a full-fledged religion.  It has begun as a cult to placate the “beast.”  It has places that are sacred, notably the sight of their fire which has become the beast’s place.  It has a leader, Jack, who claims to know what their god, the beast, wants. Jack, the leader of the group, is also subordinate to the beast.  As E.O. Wilson puts it, gods are “the hyperdominant if invisible members of the human group” (Wilson, p. 67).  The boys have a visible god at first, but though their beast, the dead parachutist’s body, has been removed, we are given the indication that this new religion would continue with the new ritual of human sacrifice if not interrupted.

There are a number of elements of ape society that are not examined in the novel.  Written in 1954, and with a group consisting entirely of prepubescent or barely pubescent boys, the novel does not deal with sexual behavior.  As there are no adults, there are no aged members of the group, so treatment of this type of group member are also not examined.  The novel also does not deal with the effects of nature’s cruelty and hardship on the boys.  They crashed on an island that apparently has everything they will need to ensure their bodies’ survival.  We do not know what they would do if, say, all the pigs on the island died, or if the fruit on the island had a season in which nothing edible was produced.  All of these aspects of ape behavior have been explored by researchers, but the ranges between ape species are so great that it would be difficult to determine, if the novel were written today, which species’s traits would be mirrored in the boys’ society.

The Novel and Its Times

The term “killer ape” was coined to describe australopithecus, which in the 1950’s was described as a carnivore.  A cave of australopithecine fossils showed that several of them had had their skulls caved in, possibly by other australopithecines. In fact, a researcher in 1959 called this humanity’s mark of Cain, which set us apart from all other animals.  The atrocities of World War II certainly favored this interpretation of humanity’s status.  It is in this atmosphere that Lord of the Flies was written.  Back in 1875, although Darwin’s work was receiving some attention, the widely held belief was that society had removed such influences, that the mark of Cain no longer ruled us.  This is why the children of The Coral Island remained Christian, civilized and English.

But it is not merely the fact that in the 1875 novel the children retained their civilized restraints while in the 1954 novel they reverted to “savagery.”  The term itself has connotations that are mostly negative.  These “defects of human nature,” as Golding put it, are used to show the evil side of humanity.  Because of what has been learned by ethologists in the nearly fifty years since the publication of Lord of the Flies, the novel could not be written in exactly the same way today.  The children in Lord of the Flies, in dropping the restraints of civilization, show many of the characteristics of other type of primates. Today, of course, we know that our close genetic relatives, the chimpanzees, are also capable of murder, genocide, mutilation and a host of other behaviors that used to be considered the sole province of humanity.  Golding’s use of these behaviors to demonstrate humanity’s evil would not be possible today.  If the novel were written today, the author would have to be careful to choose those behaviors that are not duplicated by other primates, because it is difficult to convey what is natural as something evil.

William Golding was not an ethologist by training.  He was a schoolmaster.  Although one could say that he knew how schoolboys behaved, his knowledge of primate behavior in the early 1950’s was, to say the least, limited. In many ways, the book itself is more an allegory of good and evil, civilization and savagery.  Were someone to write Lord of the Flies today, the author would have a choice.  He (or she) could focus on the question of good and evil by limiting himself to behaviors not duplicated in other primates, or he could focus on the group throwing off the restraints of modern civilization and returning to a more primitive state similar to that of other primates.  Fifty years from now, however, someone may look back and compare this new book with what information about primates has been discovered in that time. Even Jane Goodall’s first impression of chimpanzee society underwent changes the longer she stayed to observe them.


William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, although it was not written to be an example of how “uncivilized” human behavior resembles primate behavior, nevertheless contains a remarkable number of parallels. With the exception of some aspects of behavior that are still presumed to have no equivalents in the rest of the animal kingdom, such as the development of religion, and some situations that are excluded from consideration in the novel, such as the role of females and the place of sex in the society, Golding’s society of schoolboys could be viewed as just another society of monkeys or apes.  As the future brings us more information about primates, the analogy may become more exact or it may become less accurate. Either way, it is clear that as our understanding of primate societies increases, Golding’s novel can be seen to become more a product of his time, the time of the killer ape theories.  His moral judgement on those behaviors which are now seen to be a part of nature are a comment on the fact that we mat not be quite so distantly separated from our animal cousins.

Works Cited

Golding, William.  Lord of the Flies.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954.

Goodall, Baroness Jane van Lawick.  My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees.  Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 1967.

Jolly, Alison.  The Evolution of Primate Behavior.  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972.

Kaufman, John H.  “Social Relations of Adult Males in a Free-Ranging Band of Rhesus Monkeys.”

Social Communication among Primates.  Ed. Stuart A. Altman.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967.  73 – 98 

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A Place in the Heart of Hades

A Place in the Heart of Hades       


Hades, God of the Underworld, traveled to the cave of Echidna, the mother of monsters. He didn’t want to go, but he’d been summoned to Olympus by his younger brother, Zeus, who was starting to believe his own boasts that he was king of the gods. He was pretty sure Zeus had rigged the lots which gave Zeus the sky, Poseidon the sea, and left him with the land of the dead, but it couldn’t be proven. Now, here he was, being treated as a human king’s messenger – no, worse than that, as an assassin.

“Echidna has borne another child to Typhon,” Zeus had said to him. Hades knew that Zeus was scared of Typhon, the deadliest thing in creation. Zeus worried that Typhon’s children could someday pose a threat to Olympus. “Echidna’s first child now guards of the cattle of one of the last giants. See to it that Echidna’s second child is in the underworld by sundown. I don’t want it to serve our enemies.”

Hades shook his head. “Our enemies.” A pitiful attempt to make Hades want to kill an infant cousin. Still, Zeus might not be all-powerful, but he was stronger than Hades. So he let himself be sent.

Arriving at Echidna’s cave, he paused outside. It was rumored that she never left her lair. Typhon was not around, for which Hades thanked the Fates. Even gods can die, and although dying would only secure his place as the absolute ruler of his realm, living had its benefits as well.

“Echidna!” he called in the stentorian tones of a king addressing an enemy fortification. “Hades awaits you outside!”

There was no answer at first, then a bundle of fur emerged from the cave. It was clearly still very young, although the size of a full grown hunting hound. It was furry, with three heads in front and a serpent for a tail, and it was the most wondrous thing Hades had ever seen (his first view of Persephone being yet some decades in the future). It spotted Hades and, at first, couldn’t decide how to respond. The left head growled, the right one ignored him, and the head in the center yipped and opened its mouth in a joyful, panting greeting. The serpent tail watched him carefully.

“Hello, little one,” Hades said as he knelt, his voice calmed to low tones so as not to startle the creature.

It approached him cautiously but curiously. The death god let the three-headed hound sniff him, the serpent tail tasting him with its tongue. After a moment, the hound apparently decided he was a friend and put its paws on Hades chest and licked him with all three dog tongues.

Hades laughed, a low chuckle seldom heard. “So, you are the mighty beast Zeus so fears that he sent the God of the Underworld to kill you?”

The hound jerked back at that.

“Oh, so you understand me? Be at peace, little one.”

“His name is Cerberus, death god,” came a voice from the mouth of the cave. Hades looked up and saw Echidna, gliding forward on the serpent half of her body, her human upper half trying with difficulty to remain calm. “Give him back.” Her voice cracked as she added, “Please.”

“Cerberus,” Hades repeated, tasting the resonance of the name the way he considered the final fate of the souls sent to him. At the mention of his name, the hound looked up at Hades. “How would you like to come with me, Cerberus?”

The hound barked twice from each of his heads, a resounding affirmation. “No!” Echidna cried. “I won’t let you kill him! I’ll call Typhon and we’ll tear down Olympus itself!”

“Calm yourself,” Hades commanded, his voice reverberating with the subharmonics used to pacify souls who panicked when brought for judgment.

Echidna stilled under the compulsion of that dread voice.

Hades smiled, a thing so seldom seen that it often instilled fear rather than peace. “Zeus only said your child had to be in my realm by sundown. He never said to kill him.”

“Surely, that’s what he meant. Zeus is cruel that way.”

“But he didn’t sayit,” Hades replied. “Your first-born, Orthrus, guards mere cows. I will take your second-born to serve me and guard my gates.” He turned to the hound and said, “That is, if you want to, Cerberus. I will give you a place at my side and a job to do.”

Cerberus looked at the god, then put its heads under Hades’ hands.

Hades laughed for the second time that day. “Yes, and skritches behind the ears when you want them.” He looked up at Echidna. “What do you say, Echidna?”

“Young though he is, it is his choice. If Cerberus will go with you, I will not stop him.”

“Then say goodbye to your mother, Cerberus. It may be long before you see her again.”

Cerberus bounded over to Echidna and snuggled up against her. She coiled herself around her child one last time.

“Cerberus, come!” Hades called. Cerberus looked up at his master’s voice and ran to him. “Fare well, Echidna. I thank you for my companion.” The two of them left together.

Some time later, Zeus flew down to the gates of Hades but found the gates guarded by Cerberus, who growled at him. Zeus raised a lightning bolt.

“My brother,” Hades said, appearing suddenly, “surely, you don’t think to interfere in my realm, do you? Lower your hand.”

“I told you to kill this monster,” Zeus said, coming right up to the gates.

“No, you told me to bring him to the underworld. I have done so.”

Zeus wanted to argue but he knew he was beaten by his own words. As he turned to go, he felt a wetness on his feet. He looked down and saw Cerberus lowering its hind leg. His face twisted in a futile rage, Zeus glared at Cerberus and Hades, then disappeared.

Hades laughed and skritched behind Cerberus’ six ears. “Good dog.”

 1,004 words

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Twilight Homes

Twilight Homes

I thought it was a shortcut.

Traffic on Highway 99 was backed up at the exchange onto Highway 111 and I knew it would be a good fifteen minutes just to make it through and I had a pint of Häagen-Dazs in the grocery bag. So, I cut into a new subdivision which my GPS assured me had access to the 111.

Except, upon entering the Twilight Homes development, I couldn’t find my way out.

I drove west as far as possible, only to end up in a cul-de-sac. That’s when my GPS died. So I drove north, but that just turned west and then south and then west again, leading to another dead end.

Okay. No panic yet.

I passed a woman jogging and rolled down the passenger window to ask directions. She ignored me.

Finally, I saw a real estate saleswoman standing outside an open house.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Oh, hi!” she exclaimed. (That’s not writerly cleverness. She actually exclaimed everything she said.) “You must be the new addition to our little community!”

“No,” I said. “I got lost. Now I’m just looking for the right road out of here.”

“Oh, no one ever leaves!” she exclaimed. “As we here at Twilight Homes like to say, once you’re here, you’re here forever!”


“We have a nice little two-bedroom cottage for you! Quite reasonable!”

“What do you mean no one ever leaves?”

This time, I saw the fractured cheerfulness behind her eyes as she said, “Just that! Once you become a part of our community, you’re part of it for the rest of your life!”

“See ya,” I said, driving away.

“I’ll be right here with the paperwork!” she exclaimed after me.

I spent the next three hours cross-sectioning the entire subdivision, making a physical map on the back of my grocery receipt and eating my ice cream before it melted away. I found no way out. I also saw no other cars moving, and few of any kind. No one would speak to me. Eventually, I passed the saleslady again.

“What’s with this place?” I asked her. “No one’ll talk and I can’t find the way I came in, or any way out.”

“Twilight Homes is a close-knit community!” she exclaimed. “Once they get to know you, you’ll be visiting each other for backyard barbecues in no time!”

“There has to be a way out of here.” I tried logic. “How do you get the food for the barbecue, or the money to pay for it?”

“Oh, people learn to work from home and everything gets delivered by drone-drop! We have the best wi-fi network in the country! Why would anyone ever want to leave?!”

“But how did I get in here if there’s no road connecting to the outside?”

“Pshaw! This place is a marvelous little secret and only a select few ever find it! Come inside and let me show you the granite countertops! Every house in Twilight Homes has granite countertops!”

I drove away again and parked in a little dead-end drive with no houses, where it looked like they thought about putting in another cul-de-sac and then just stopped. I slept in my car that night, poorly, figuring I’d follow the locals on their way to work in the morning.

Except, in the morning, there were still no cars going to work. I circled the edges of the subdivision on my map, to see if I’d missed anything. I hadn’t, so I switched tactics. I parked my car on what I figured to be the southernmost edge of the property and walked along it slowly, looking for either the 99 or the 111 in the distance so I could cross the space on foot. What I found were dense thornbushes and deep ravines from a local stream, nothing crossable. I moved clockwise around the edges and found similar blocks on all sides. One expanse had a tall soundblocking wall which I climbed (with a great deal of difficulty, being twenty years past my prime and with the sedentary life not helping at all). On the other side of the wall? Another ravine, this one deeper than the others.

Near the end of the day, unwilling to spend another night in my car, I drove back to the cottage where the saleslady was waiting exactly as she had been the previous day, only a different colored blouse indicating any change.

“Well, I can see you’ve had a thorough look at the subdivision! Are you ready to see your new home?!”

Surrendering, I said, “Show me.”

That was eighteen months ago. I make my money selling my writing online: stories, articles, essays and whatnot. It’s enough to make my house payments and keep me fed. I can order anything I want online, from clothes to books to food. I even, finally, got a dog. I finally had the time for one. I call him Number 6. I tell the neighbors it’s a joke because my first 5 pets were hamsters whose lives were so short, I called them by numbers to avoid getting too attached, and it stuck. My neighbors invite me to dinners and barbecues and, to be neighborly, I invited them back from time to time.

I don’t make waves. About two months after my arrival, there was a guy who couldn’t fit in. He lasted about a month, then he suddenly died. Heart attack, according to the mortician who lives four doors down. Sure. An athletic 23-year-old died of a heart attack only one month after getting stuck here. So, I smile and play my part like the real estate lady. Her name is Jenny. Sometimes, she spends the night when the loneliness gets too much for her.

I know you don’t believe me. This, of course, is just another one of my stories that I send out into the world. Believe me or not, but listen to me. Never, under any circumstances, enter the Twilight Homes.

   996 words

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