by Nigel Bryant
[George Orwell’s Animal Farm was published after much difficulty in August 1945, seventy years ago. In ‘Animal Farm – A Sequel’, a three part study, Orwell Society member Nigel Bryant looks first at books and similar works continuing Animal Farm; then at film and other visual representations; and finally he discusses the treatment of political ideas in popular works and the origins of his own book, Manor Farm]
I live in Bedford and teach in Oxford. Not an ideal arrangement but the journey through the Oxfordshire countryside is pleasant enough. My old but much loved Volvo has two key features. I can put the top down in good weather and I can listen to cassette tapes. I visit the charity shops in Bedford (there are several) and buy talking books on tape. Generally a two-tape book will last one return journey. My taste is eclectic, determined by what is on the shelves rather than literary preferences. Books range from Winnie-the-Pooh to Great Expectations and everything in-between. After I listen to the book, I return the tapes to the charity shops for re-sale.
Two years ago I bought a recording of Animal Farm. An excellent version published by Penguin Audio (1995) and read by Timothy West; well worth the 99p I paid for it. I first read the book in the 1960s when it was de rigeur; along with Nineteen Eighty-Four, On the Road, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the like. As I listened to the tapes, I could vaguely recall the original book. Two things struck me. Firstly, although I was aware of the outcome, the ending seemed inevitable. I continued to listen with a sense of sadness and impending doom. Secondly, I thought how relevant it was in 2013. Having read the book in the 1960s I thought it was written around that time. When I returned home I checked. Animal Farm was published on the 17th August 1945, seventy years ago as I write now in 2015.
A lot has happened during what is almost my lifetime. I thought about the threats when I was growing up: the atomic bomb, the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis, Czechoslovakia, Korea, Hungary, Vietnam, and the Berlin Wall. So many major issues. I began to wonder if there had been a sequel to Animal Farm. Of course, Nineteen Eighty-Four can be considered a sequel or perhaps the next stage in Orwell’s portrayal of dystopia, yet it could not pick up the events of the second half of the twentieth century. Inevitably, I searched online. I found sequels of different sorts.
- Immediately I discovered English assignments where students had to write the next chapter of Animal Farm. Those published were usually the winners of a writing competition and were well written and plausible. They were, though, of necessity, brief and focussed on the confusion of the animals rather than moving forward with events.
- Then I found a reference to a Russian sequel retelling the Khrushchev era onwards, introducing new animal characters who were caricatures of 1960s-1990s politicians. I have not been able to track the original source. Can anyone help me?
- Next I discovered several rewrites of Animal Farm in different scenarios. The first was Snowball’s Chance by John Reed published in 2002 and written in Lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero, in the three weeks following September 11, 2001. The story begins with the death of Napoleon, the original antagonist of Animal Farm. The animals of the farm, fearing what will become of them, learn that Snowball is alive and well, and Snowball returns to the farm to encourage capitalism. The book describes the impact of capitalism on the animals and the environment. Snowball’s Chance focusses on a few specific events from an American perspective. It was not universally well received when it was published, especially by the Orwell Estate.
- Another parallel version of Animal Farm is Anarchist Farm written by Jane Doe aka Jan Edwards and published in 1996. Anarchist Farm continues the story of Snowball, Napoleon’s exiled partner, who, under the assumed name of “Pancho” (Trotsky in Mexico?), meets up with different groups of animals who all practice different forms of imaginative, cooperative, non-government. Receiving mixed reviews in terms of literary style and writing, Anarchist Farm does give a reasonable introduction to the concept of anarcho-syndicalism. The book gives an alternative view rather than coverage of the last seventy years.
- Hungry City by Carolyn Steel published in 2008 is not strictly a sequel to Animal Farm. It focusses on the food industry and its transformation. For the first time in history, supply no longer has any clear relation to demand. Output, and the complex international infrastructure that supports it, is controlled exclusively by profit. Chronic over-consumption with its attendant ills (obesity, diabetes, heart trouble) keeps pace in one part of the world with starvation in others. Steel cites several interesting statistics, for example, ninety per cent of milk in the United States now comes from a single breed of cow. An interesting and scary read.
- Manor Farm, written by J. A. Jones and published in 2006, follows the progress of the planet Gaia created by Mother Gaia from dinosaurs to Armageddon. Following her creation of the dinosaurs, which she was forced to exterminate as she knew they would eventually destroy the planet, Mother Gaia created many forms of different animals that she hoped would develop and live happily together on the planet: but she was wrong. The animals are beginning to destroy the planet and she had to decide whether to exterminate them as well. Manor Farm refers to a green and pleasant land. The book covers other farms, for example Black Eagle Farm, a totalitarian state with the führer – Ferit Lahdol.
- Manor Farm, I discovered, is a popular book title, and I found another, written by Boswell Taylor, and published in 1963. It tells of a year on a farm in the West Country. The black and white photographs show an idyllic world. No deep political meaning here but a nostalgic read if you need one.
In addition to books, there have been film versions which follow the original text or have a different emphasis.
- Animal Farm is a 1954 British animated drama film by John Halas and Joy Batchelor, based on the book Animal Farm. It was the first British animated feature to be released in cinemas. The CIA paid for the filming, part of the U.S. cultural offensive during the Cold War, and influenced how Orwell’s ideas were to be presented. George Orwell had died four years earlier having had no involvement, and his widow Sonia probably did not realise the role of the CIA. The CIA initially funded Louis de Rochemont to begin work on a film version of Orwell’s work and he hired Halas & Batchelor, an animation firm in London that had made propaganda films for the British government. The film closes with a bottle being thrown at the portrait of Napoleon as the animals presumably retake the farm. Rather than a sequel, it is an interpretation, at best, or, at worst, a bowdlerised version to suit the producer.
- Another version of Animal Farm is a made-for-TV film released in 1999 by Hallmark (they of the birthday cards) Films. It portrays the farm after Napoleon’s dictatorship has collapsed and the farm has fallen in ruins. The farm is bought by a new family (though what became of Mr. Jones and his wife is left unclear), and Jessie vows that the animals will ‘not allow them to make the same mistakes’. She says that they will work together to rebuild the farm now that they are finally free. An optimistic view that does not pick up on future events.
- More recently, Andy Serkis announced in October 2012 that he plans to shoot his directorial debut, an adaptation of Animal Farm. This will be the inaugural production of Imaginarium, the new performance capture studio co-founded by Serkis with producer Jonathan Cavendish. Serkis revealed Imaginarium is working with German concept artist Michael Kutsche, whose film credits include Alice in Wonderland, Thor, Maleficent and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, to create “a heightened design aesthetic” for Animal Farm, but there has been little news about the project since.
- In addition to films there have been radio versions. In 2013, commemorating 110 years since his birth, the BBC produced a series of programmes relating to George Orwell. On Saturday, 26th January 2013 they broadcast an excellent full-cast dramatization of Animal Farm narrated by Tamsin Greig. This production was based on Orwell’s own adaptation of his work broadcast on 14th January 1947. Orwell made minor changes before it was re-broadcast, live on the Home Service, on 2nd February the same year. The BBC producer removed the changes! Sadly there are no copies of these early BBC transmissions, although the scripts exist.
- There are also other less likely candidates to be considered as sequels. Chicken Run is an animation directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park and released in 2000. Having been hopelessly repressed and facing eventual certain death at the chicken farm where they are held, Rocky the rooster and Ginger the chicken decide to rebel against the evil Mr. and Ms. Tweedy, the farm’s owners. Rocky and Ginger lead their fellow chickens in a great escape from the murderous farmers and their farm of doom. Rather tenuous links to Animal Farm but an entertaining movie.
- Perhaps even more tenuous but very successful is Animal Crossing. This is a community simulation video game series developed and published by Nintendo, in which the human player lives in a village inhabited by animals who walk around on their hind legs. The animals carry out various activities including fishing, bug catching, etc. Four Animal Crossing games have been released worldwide. The series has been both critically and commercially successful, having now sold over 20 million units worldwide. Whilst lacking deep political statements, Animal Crossing does show the popularity of anthropomorphism.
‘Dystopia, n. “an imaginary place or society in which everything is bad”’, Concise Oxford English Dictionary. There are plenty of books portraying a version of dystopia. The top twenty, according to Shortlist.com has Nineteen Eighty-Four at the top but also includes other well-known books, for example, Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1932), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury, 1953), and The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985). Dystopian literature has been reviewed comprehensively elsewhere. I will not dwell upon the genre except to make one point relevant to Animal Farm. Dystopian literature follows the principle of reductio ad absurdum. It shows what would happen if any society followed a particular path to its conclusion – totalitarianism. It can be argued that such conclusions are still relevant when looking at some countries, particularly in Asia.
Animal Farm does not describe a totalitarian state. Rather it describes the transition or process of how this can happen. There have been other examples of literature using the process rather than the outcome.
Another audio book I had enjoyed was The Thirty-Nine Steps, much abused by film and TV producers since it first appeared in 1915. I decided to read more of John Buchan since audio tapes were unavailable. The Thirty-Nine Steps is a good thriller but his other books contain more political messages. Greenmantle, for example, appeared in the middle of the First World War, and one of its propaganda purposes was to get America in on the Allied side (which happened the following year, 1917). Its big central idea is that, to win in the East and thus to win the whole war, Germany needs to annex the dreams of Islam by controlling a mystical Muslim figure who can ‘madden the remotest Moslem peasant with dreams of Paradise’. The plan is foiled by Richard Hannay and his chum Sandy Arbuthnot. As one message of the book is the importance of understanding cultures different from our own Greenmantle is worthy of wider exposure; it has things to say about religion, conflict and the interests of this country. Even so, in 2005 BBC Radio 4 dropped its dramatization of Buchan’s Greenmantle from its schedule saying that the drama contained ‘unsuitable and insensitive material’.
Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954) is another book describing ‘process’. A group of British boys, following an aircraft crash, stuck on an uninhabited island, try to govern themselves, using a conch shell as the symbol of democracy but the semblance of order quickly deteriorates as the majority of the boys turn idle, giving little aid in building shelters. The boys divide into two camps representing individualism, the ‘savages’, versus the common good. The decline and fall results in the shattering of the conch and the killing of the overweight, bespectacled ‘Piggy’. The ‘savages’ set fire to the forest, but as most of the island is consumed in flames the boys are rescued by a passing warship investigating the fire. The children revert to their true ages and burst into tears. Lord of the Flies shows the fragile veneer of civilisation, perhaps reflected in the petrol crises of the UK in 2012 and both Nigeria and Pakistan in 2015.
Greenmantle, Lord of the Flies and other novels contain messages that are relevant to the present day. They do not, though, cover the events of the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. Whilst driving to Oxford, I thought about some of the major events: the Berlin wall going up and coming down, the invasion of Hungary, spy rings, the Cuban missile crisis, and more. I decided, perhaps foolishly, to write a sequel to Animal Farm called Manor Farm.
Whilst thinking about the novella I encountered a few problems. The world is now a global village. Any events are complicated by the involvement of one or more superpowers. It would be difficult to write about the farm in isolation. I needed to introduce other farms to give some idea of the complexity of the world. Another problem was when to stop? The last three years have seen problems in the Crimea, an unsettled middle east, the rise and faltering of China, problems in the EU, the economic plight of Greece with offers of a bail out from both Germany and Russia, and doping in major athletic competitions. The world is changing rapidly. I included events until 2013 but perhaps I stopped too early. Maybe there is scope for a sequel to the sequel or, at least, a regular short story in a quarterly magazine?
One final problem, today publishers talk to agents not authors. It is virtually impossible to publish any book unless you have an agent acting on your behalf. A successful television career or a potential blockbuster (involving sexual practices) may get you an agent. I am not sure that George Orwell would get an agent today unless he could make use of contacts in London.
In conclusion, seventy years later Animal Farm raises important issues. My Manor Farm attempts to extend those issues into the second half of the twentieth century. We can learn from history and, perhaps, we can also avoid making the same mistakes.