The Re-Reading Project: Animal Farm

Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of the light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.

As soon as the light in the bedroom went out there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings. Word had gone round during the day that Old Major, the prize middle white boar, had had a strange dream on the previous night and wished to communicate it to the other animals. It had been agreed that they should all meet in the big barn as soon as Mr. Jones was safely out of the way. Old Major (so he was always called, though the name under which he had been exhibited was Willingdon Beauty) was so highly regarded on the farm that everyone was quite ready to lose an hour’s sleep in order to hear what he had to say.

I was fifteen when I first read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was a strange year of reading – classics in school, YA and Harlequin romances, horror and mysteries. I was omnivorous in my reading and that’s pretty much remained the case. It’s more fun that way.

While I remember liking Animal Farm in school, I think I knew even at the time that I wasn’t fully absorbing it. It seemed more accessible than a lot of what we were reading in class, but even then I could tell I was only skimming the surface. Still, I liked it so well that I held onto my copy all of these years. It’s been on all of my bookshelves, though like many of the Re-Reading Project books, I hadn’t re-read it since I was fifteen. When I put 90% of my books into storage earlier this year, I kept out the books for the Project.

Animal Farm

After re-reading Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm was refreshing. I read most of it while getting my car serviced for my Residency Road Trip. I’d remembered the broad strokes of the book fairly well, I found, but I’d forgotten (or never noticed) the subtleties of the story (what did become of Snowball? he “ran off” so much earlier in the story than I had remembered).

Along with Lord of the Flies and the last classic I’m re-reading this month, Animal Farm is classified as (among other things) dystopian fiction, though it’s clearly part of a far different wave of this sub-genre than the current offerings. It’s also classified as political satire and Orwell himself called it a “fairy story,” which makes sense if you define fairy stories by their portraits of ambiguous morality and the trope of depicting animal characters in place of human ones.

Perhaps I read Animal Farm too quickly for it to make much of an impression on me, because I found myself appreciating it more than enjoying it. I could see the incredible influence it’s had on other books, films, pop culture, etc. since it was published. As quick of a read as it is, it also feels like something Orwell could’ve written in an afternoon. While I know as a writer that this effortless feeling is in fact very hard to achieve, it can be a little too easy to dismiss the result. I realized that Orwell’s essays, many of which I read while in grad school, are probably much more impactful to me these days.

But an interesting thing happened a few days after I finished my re-read of Animal Farm. While watching the film Snowpiercer, I kept flashing back to various parts of the book, thinking: “Wow, I wonder if the director/graphic novelist consciously pulled from Animal Farm or if it’s so deeply entrenched in our global culture that it just popped in unconsciously?” On reddit and IMDb, there seems to be a pretty heated debate about whether or not comparing Animal Farm and Snowpiercer is appropriate. And then there’s this very smart comparison and breakdown of both Snowpiercer and Animal Farm. The author uses specific examples and real world examples to illustrate what I suspected instinctively as I watched the film.

Serendipity is an interesting thing, leading me in this case to re-read Animal Farm and watch Snowpiercer around the same time and both were enriched by the other.

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Filed under literature, review, The Re-Reading Project, what I'm reading

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