William Golding's Nobel Prize for Literature comes three decades after ''Lord of the Flies'' introduced him as a novelist and two decades after it became an American campus favorite of the '60s.
To give Golding a Nobel honor now - at the same time as Polish hero Lech Walesa - makes an extraordinary link between art and experience, whether by design or not.
Walesa represents the individual standing up to an oppressive political system. And, to Golding, individuals are the key - whatever their environment. As Golding said of ''Lord of the Flies'': ''The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system, however apparently logical or respectable.''
In this case, the society consists of castaway children who turn to savagery and fear of the unknown in a harsh parody of a boys' adventure tale. ''Maybe it's only us,'' says one of them finally.
This is the point toward which Golding's characters tend. Their choices become fundamental ones - not just what works but what is good or evil - in situations that exemplify the ''realistic narrative art'' and the ''diversity and universality of myth'' cited in the Nobel award.
What is good or evil in a Golding novel may lead to controversy. But the world's crying need to make the distinction between them is recognized in an award to a Golding as well as to a Walesa who dramatically represents individuals confronted by difficult choices anywhere.