Fire burns through many of the novels.
The opening of the book features a London street devastated by the blitz, and a miraculous rescue of Matty from the flames:
‘The white fire, becoming pale pink, then blood-coloured then pink again where it caught smoke or clouds seemed the same as if it were the permanent nature of this place’.
Matty is left hideously scarred by the fire, both physically and mentally. Fire becomes an obsession and a symbol of his madness. Fire is also important in Toni and Sophy’s narrative.
Lord of the Flies
Fire represents rescue and hope to the survivors. At first, the boys struggle to make a fire until Jack suggests that they could use Piggy’s ‘specs’ and the sun’s rays. The fire quickly burns out of control and a ‘littlun’ goes missing.
The fire also functions as a signal to alert passing ships of the boys’ location. Jack’s choir are responsible for maintaining the fire, but prefer to hunt. This leads to one of the first confrontations on the island. Fire is at once a beacon of hope, and an instrument of death.
Fire Down Below
Despite Fire Down Below being set at sea, fire plays an important part. On the final leg of the journey to Australia, the old ship begins to fall apart. Lieutenant Benét proposes to use hot ironwork as a means to keep the ship together, but Lieutenant Summers, and the narrator, Edmund Talbot, are concerned about the use of fire on a ship made of wood.
‘Have you watched a fireback as the fire dies down? How the sparks move through the layer of soot on the metal as if they were alive? Have you never seen a fire, apparently dead, brought to life again and flare up?’
The disagreement between Benét and Summers, realised through this symbol of fire on wood, is a core part of Fire Down Below as Edmund finds himself torn between the two men. The climax of the book reveals who was right…