Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel. Although it did not have great success after being released—selling fewer than three thousand copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print—it soon went on to become a best-seller. It has been adapted to film twice in English, in 1963 by Peter Brook and 1990 by Harry Hook, and once in Filipino by Lupita A. Concio (1975).
The book takes place in the midst of an unspecified war. Some of the marooned characters are ordinary students, while others arrive as a musical choir under an established leader. With the exception of Sam and Eric and the choirboys, they appear never to have encountered each other before. The book portrays their descent into savagery; left to themselves on a paradisiacal island, far from modern civilization, the well-educated children regress to a primitive state.
Golding wrote his book as a counterpoint to R.M. Ballantyne's youth novel The Coral Island (1858), and included specific references to it, such as the rescuing naval officer's description of the children's initial attempts at civilised cooperation as "a jolly good show, like the Coral Island". Golding's three central characters—Ralph, Piggy and Jack—have been interpreted as caricatures of Ballantyne's Coral Island protagonists.