In Medias Res (IMR)

IMR | How Important Is Theme?

Should I like Lord of the Flies? 

I was watching the latest vlogbrothers video, where John claims that he despises William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

I remember liking the novel when I read it in high school. But when I think about the theme, if Golding had written an essay about how humans are inherently violent, I’d hate it too.

So that got me thinking, how important is theme when it comes to telling a successful story? I like Lord of the Flies because of the symbolism of the characters (Simon and Piggy, are my favourites), and the dialogue (sucks to your ass-mar!).

But do I agree with Golding’s pessimistic view of humanity? Of course not. But I don’t think that detracts from the quality of writing in the novel. And the writing is what makes Lord of the Flies a good novel.

Meanwhile, I also love John Green’s Paper Towns, and that’s largely because of the theme. I love the idea of having to imagine people complexly and the limitations of our perspective. I’d actually recommend reading Paper Towns in high school rather than Lord of the Flies.

However, while I love Radar and Ben, I’m not a huge fan of Margo and Q. And I understand that we’re not supposed to like Margo…that’s the theme of the novel.

This leads me to the conclusion that at the very least, a novel should be focused on a few key themes, without really providing an answer for any of them. And in a way, that makes reading more interesting. When books ask questions of their readers rather than providing answers, it forces people to think, discuss, and debate. If the author swings one way slightly, we have the option to agree and disagree.

But what do you think? How much do you consider theme when judging how good a book is? Let me know in comments!

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