"The Inheritors"

By Razib Khan | July 14, 2010 1:43 am

8853_jpg_280x450_q85I just purchased a copy of William Golding’s The Inheritors. Golding is famous for writing Lord of the Flies, a work of literature of such influence that it has made the transition into our everyday lexicon. But I just listened to a podcast of an interview with a biographer of the great author, and it seems that Golding and many of his admirers who are “close readers” judge The Inheritors as his finest novel.

The general outline of the plot is easy enough to find on Wikipedia, it is one of those stories about the transition from a “bushy” hominin tree of life to the dominance of H. sapiens sapiens. Neandertals are finally expiring as a species in the face of the advance of modern humans, who marginalize and extirpate all those who came before. But I get the impression that the execution of Golding’s attempt is very different from Clan of the Cave Bear. Not having read the book yet I do not know if William Golding’s depiction is up to snuff with the latest scholarship on the Neandertals (granted, I am not up to date on the latest scholarship on Neandertals!), though he did guess correctly in all likelihood as to their pigmentation. But, in light of the highly probable non-trivial Neandertal ancestry in over 80% of humans, I feel like revisiting Golding’s vision in the near future, as we carry within our genomes the shadows of both the inheritors and the dispossessed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Human Evolution
  • chris y

    Well, he wasn’t up to snuff with the latest scholarship, but that’s unsurprising since he wrote the book 50 years ago. It’s a long time since I read it, but IIRC he wasn’t really up to snuff on what was the latest scholarship at the time. Basically, it’s a ‘first contact’ novel – a fine old SF tradition – and he tries to write it from the point of view of the ‘aliens’, the Neanderthals, to explore what I’ve seen described as ‘a different way of being human’.

    Where I suspect it would grate a bit these days is that he was clearly assuming that Neanderthal thought processes and Neanderthal society were necessarily less sophisticated that modern human. His Neanderthals are convincing aliens, but inferior humans.

    But yes, it’s a great book.

  • “(granted, I am not up to date on the latest scholarship on Neandertals!)”
    well, for an authentic POV, we *only* need to find a neanderthal scholar to interview!

  • Simon says

    no really, that chariots of the gods stuff is so unlikely. If you don’t want to believe *me*, then go up the mountain and check it out your-AGGGGGGG

  • toto

    In the same vein, there’s a movie called “Quest for Fire” by Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose, Stalingrad, Seven Years in Tibet, etc.) It’s adapted from an even older book that nobody seems to have read.

    I recommend it. It has no dialogue, action, suspense, romance and, yes, hot inter-species sex! The basic premise is a bit out of whack (Neanderthals can’t make fire by themselves (!), so they go look for it and eventually learn firemaking techniques from neighbouring Sapiens), but they also get many things right (e.g. pigmentation – pale Neanderthals, darker Cro-Magnon).

    Plus, no need to look for an English version or subtitles – the dialogue is essentially “grunt grunt” throughout (except for the Sapiens scenes).

  • Sandgroper

    toto – Plus you get to see a young Rae Dawn Chong’s erm anatomy, albeit painted with black and white paint. http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1277335808/tt0082484 Which is reason in itself to watch the movie. Hybrid vigor, man. OK, tribrid vigor. Whatever. Better than that movie she did with Arnie, anyway – there she got to keep her clothes on and speak intelligible dialogue, which was a mistake on both counts.

    Yeah, the Neanderthal dialogue was deep throated grunt grunt and the Sapiens dialogue was high pitched squeak jabber jabber. Very convincing. And the Neanderthals were a lot taller than the Sapiens. Very convincing.

    I liked the part when the Sapiens girl taught the Neanderthal guy the missionary position. Not.

    Bah, I mentioned this movie eons ago. Get with the program, bro.

    But in fairness, it is an old movie, and for its time, I thought not a bad effort. At least they got the skin colours right.

    Nobody has read the book because it’s in French.

  • http://www.federalistpaupers.com Tom Meyer

    I very much enjoyed Bjorn Kurten’s Dance of the Tiger, another Sapien/Neanderthal contact novel that was very entertaining and — from what I understand — quite plausible.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i like dance of the tiger too. kurten basically did a hard science fiction attempt in regards to verisimilitude.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar