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.
[Continued in Part Two]