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Animal Farm: Special illustrated edition

By George Orwell; commentary, Matthew Crampton; Muddler Books, 2021

“It’s time” says the ad, “to re-read Animal Farm.” I first read this book as a teenager, like so many others. Reading it again half a century later I am struck by how much I dislike it.

Really? I checked my impression with a friend.

Subtle as a 2×4 round the head.

Predictable dialogue – didn’t Philip Pullman stress the importance of dialogue in stories for children? Clearly not written for the far more demanding readership of children. But it rammed its message solidly into public consciousness. Hard to quarrel with that.

Or did it? As a teenager the message I got was that any revolution will be betrayed. Burke would have approved of that.

Burke urged the value of tradition in buffering us from utopian hubris. The very kind of Englishness Orwell valued: village cricket and pubs. More recently Tony Judt warned us of utopias:

If we have learned nothing else from the 20th century, we should at least have grasped that the more perfect the answer, the more terrifying its consequences. — Tony Judt, Ill Fares The Land

book cover

Orwell’s “fairy tale” may be hard to take as an adult, but Crampton’s study notes flag parallels to Stalin’s Soviet Union I had missed, and his concluding essay is a trenchant delight.

Re-reading Animal Farm as an adult, I find now the message Crampton claims for Orwell: All power corrupts; and language is corruption’s first tool. Unless we learn this, and guard our tongue and our history, we are complicit.

Crampton is right. Beset by lying populists, it is time to reread Animal Farm. The barbarians are at the gates.

Zbigniew Herbert
“To Marcus Aurelius”

Goodnight Marcus put out the light
and shut the book For overhead
is raised a gold alarm of stars
heaven is talking some foreign tongue
your Latin cannot understand

Buy Animal Farm from the publisher.

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