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A line from William Golding's The Lord of the Flies:

All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.

Is it just me or does the sentence seem grammatically off?

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  • it's not grammatically off, it's just a horribly poor sentence.
    – Fattie
    May 20, 2014 at 19:28

2 Answers 2

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I disagree that it's awkward at all. To add "that had been" to the sentence would be to weaken it. Golding employs here a rhetorical device known as ellipsis, the deliberate "omission of expected words"; and rhetorical impact trumps grammatical nicety any ol' day of the week.

Here's what Ward Farnsworth (quoted above) says about ellipsis in his book Classical English Rhetoric:

An ellipsis involves the audience in an utterance; the reader or listener fills in the missing language, consciously or not.

Whatever your feeling about the sentence, you noticed it. It got under your skin and stayed with you. That, my friend, is good writing.

A scar smashed into a jungle ought to be pretty damn jarring, don't you think? And if it took you more than a few milliseconds to recover and parse the sentence correctly, I would be very surprised.1

1 Edit to promote material from my comment to the answer proper.

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  • Everything you say sounds great... but applied to this instance? Enh. A sentence that sticks in the reader's mind because it required a jarring re-reading and re-interpretation on account of a technical issue of sentence structure... not something I would hold up as emblematic of good writing. (Not that every reader or every reading will have that problem, but its susceptibility to it seems pretty clear.)
    – chaos
    Mar 2, 2011 at 1:33
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    @chaos: Jarring? Yes! And that is precisely the point. A scar smashed into a jungle ought to be pretty damn jarring, don't you think? And if it took you more than a few milliseconds to recover and parse the sentence correctly, I would be very surprised.
    – Robusto
    Mar 2, 2011 at 1:36
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    Hmm. Y'know what, I think I gotta give you that one. Not the usual mode of literary evocativeness, but creatively justifiable as same. Well played, sir.
    – chaos
    Mar 2, 2011 at 1:40
  • @Chaos: I agree: Robusto's comment describes what exonerates the sentence. In different circumstances the sentence would have been awkward. The comment deserves to be part of his answer. Mar 2, 2011 at 18:38
  • Nah, it's "jarring" simply because it's a shambles and it's unclear what even the subject is. :) "jarring" in a literary sense doesn't relate to "sentences you can't understand".
    – Fattie
    May 20, 2014 at 19:29
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It's a little awkward but grammatically acceptable. The point of confusion is that smashed in that sentence is the past participle, but the sentence structure invites the reader to initially read it as the past simple (used in the narrative mode indicating present action in the storyline).

It would have been clearer, if presumably less satisfying to Mr. Golding and/or his editor, if it had been written:

All round him the long scar that had been smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.

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  • Clearer? Maybe. Better? Certainly not.
    – Robusto
    Mar 2, 2011 at 1:22
  • @Robusto: Didn't say it was. It's unequivocally far clunkier with the addition.
    – chaos
    Mar 2, 2011 at 1:28
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    I don't know the context, but I think part of the problem too is that the passive tends to suggest an 'action' with a 'patient', and "scars" aren't something you normally "smash", and jungles aren't normally the recipients of smashing actions. Mar 2, 2011 at 4:28
  • I also don't know the context, but I think an additional problem may be the reader expecting a plural after the "all around him the" start instead of the singular "scar". As with Neil's comment, not incorrect but maybe slightly unexpected and thus throwing the reader off (in combination with all the other mentioned "issues"). Disclaimer: I don't say this is a shortcoming of the sentence. Maybe rather the opposite.
    – user3448
    Mar 2, 2011 at 5:49
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    Regarding context: I don't have my copy of the book immediately at hand, but I believe this is one of the earliest (if not the first) sentences in the book, shortly after the boys' plane crashed into the jungle. The author is describing the burning scar left by the aircraft. Mar 2, 2011 at 7:22

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