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Rites of Passage

To the Ends of the Earth is a trilogy of novels by William Golding, consisting of Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989).

Rites of Passage
This was the first book of the trilogy, and went on to win the 1980 Man Booker Prize, beating Anthony Burgess' Earthly Powers. It focuses upon the account of a trip to Australia, and takes the form of a journal written by Edmund Talbot, a young, aristocratic passenger aboard the British warship HMS Pandora. His influential godfather, having secured him employment with the Governor General in Australia, presented him with the journal in which to record the significant events of the journey.

Talbot begins his commentary by detailing the various passengers and crew members, who encompass a motley yet representative collection of early 19th century English society. The journal quickly becomes concerned with the account of the downfall of a passenger, the Reverend Colley. Talbot has a somewhat ambiguous role in this: whilst he quickly assumes a mediator's role between the Reverend and Captain Anderson, the initial problem was caused by Talbot's presumption of preference and status within the passengers and, inappropriately, the crew. Class division, or the assumption of a higher status than is warranted, is a running theme of the book, focusing upon the proper conduct of a gentleman, but also his often stormy friendship with one of the officers, Lieutenant Summers, who often feels slighted by Talbot's ill-thought out comments and advice.

Like many of Golding’s books, it also looks at man’s reversion to savagery in the wake of isolation. Talbot is ambiguous about presenting the account, which he considers may not show him in the best light, to his godfather, though he does not consider that he has a choice and eventually has the journal sealed so he cannot tamper with it.

Close Quarters
Close Quarters was published seven years after the original book, though in the book the writing continues not long after the first journal was completed. This book begins with Edmund Talbot starting a new journal, but with a different tone as this was not to be presented to his godfather. The structure of the book differed in that it had a more traditional structure, with chapter breaks at dramatic moments, rather than the journal being presented as a day by day account as the first volume was.

The book focuses upon the romantic feelings of a clearly unwell Talbot for a young woman whom he meets on a different ship they come across, HMS Alcyone, and fears about the seaworthiness of the Pandora to complete her journey.

Fire Down Below
This was the final book of the trilogy, written in 1989.

In 2005 the books were adapted as a well-reviewed BBC2 drama serial, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

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