The Inheritors (novel)

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The Inheritors
AuthorWilliam Golding
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherFaber & Faber
Publication date
Media typePrint: (hardback & paperback)
Pages233 pp

The Inheritors is the 1955 second novel by the British author William Golding, who is best known for Lord of the Flies. It was his personal favourite, and concerns the extinction of one of the last remaining tribes of Neanderthals at the hands of the more sophisticated (and malevolent) Homo sapiens.

Restoration of Le Moustier Neanderthals
(Charles R. Knight, 1920)

One of the band, Lok, is a "point of view" character. He is the one we follow as one by one the adults of the band die or are killed, then the young are stolen by the "new people" The new people are a group of early modern humans. Lok and Fa, the remaining adults, are both fascinated and repelled by the new people. They observe their actions and rituals with amazement, only slowly understanding that harm is meant by the 'sticks' (arrows) of the new people.

Lok's people have powerful sense-impressions and feelings, and appear sometimes to share thoughts in a near-telepathic way. They live very simply, using their mental abilities to connect to one another without extensive vocabulary or the kinds of memories that create culture. They have wide knowledge of food sources, mostly roots and vegetables. Their lives are lived so much in the present that the reader realizes they are very different from us, living in something like an eternal present, or at least a present broken and shaped by seasons. The way they cope with planning and imagination is by saying the phrase "I have a picture", and then talking about their thoughts.

In the final chapter, we move to the point of view of the new race, more or less modern humans fleeing in their boats. Apparently they are terribly afraid of the Neanderthals whom they believe to be devils of the forest. This last chapter, the only one written from the humans' point of view, points to the inheritance of the world by the new species.