Rites of Passage
Lord of the Files, Close Quarters, Fire Down Below
a novel by W. Golding, published in 1980 and awarded the 1980 Booker Prize. Edmund Talbot, an immature dandy, is travelling by ship to Australia to take up a prestigious post; his journal of the voyage forms the text of the novel. The community of passengers and crew includes Zenobia, who seduces him, and Prettiman, the free-thinker, but the main storyline concerns the clergyman Colley, ridiculed and abused by all from the Captain downwards. The book's climax describes the sexual humiliation of Colley when drunk, and his death from shame. The ship is portrayed by Golding as the world in small, with Captain Anderson presiding like a god—a metaphor that is often underlined. The miniature society is maintained on board more successfully than in Lord of the Files, but the same darkness threatens it. The title therefore has a double thrust: Talbot has matured by the end of the novel, but more literally, Colley's downfall is precipitated by the approaching ceremony of Crossing the Line, the ‘rites of passage’, when the anti-religious fury of most of the characters comes to the surface. The novel ends with the ship still at sea. Golding's two sequels, Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below (1989), complete the story of the voyage.