Animal Farm parodied; Orwell estate is not amused

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 25 10:29:30 MST 2002


NY Times, Nov. 25, 2002

A Pig Returns to the Farm, Thumbing His Snout at Orwell
By DINITIA SMITH

What if Snowball had his chance? An American novelist has written a
parody of "Animal Farm," George Orwell's 1945 allegory about the evils
of communism, in which the exiled pig, Snowball, returns to the farm and
sets up a capitalist state, leading to misery for all the animals. The
book, "Snowball's Chance" by John Reed, is being published this month by
Roof Books, a small independent press in New York. And the estate of
George Orwell is not happy about it.

William Hamilton, the British literary executor of the Orwell estate,
objected to the parody in an e-mail message to the James T. Sherry, the
publisher of Roof Books, saying, "The contemporary setting can only
trivialize the tragedy of Orwell's mid-20th-century vision of
totalitarianism."

"The clear references to 9/11 in the apocalyptic ending can only bring
Orwell's name into disrepute in the U.S.," Mr. Hamilton wrote. Reached
by phone, he said he had nothing more to add to the message.

"Snowball's Chance" is being published at a time when Orwell's
reputation has been under attack because of revelations that in the late
1940's he gave the British Foreign Office a list of people he suspected
of being "crypto-Communists and fellow travelers," labeling some of them
as Jews and homosexuals as well. One of those condemning Orwell has been
the writer Alexander Cockburn, whose father, Claud, a British journalist
and member of the Communist Party, was a bitter foe of Orwell's.

"How quickly one learns to loathe the affectations of plain
bluntishness," Mr. Cockburn writes in an introduction to Mr. Reed's
novella. "The man of conscience turns out to be a whiner, and of course
a snitch."

Coming to Orwell's defense in a book published in September, "Why Orwell
Matters" (Basic Books), Christopher Hitchens calls Orwell "a great
humanist" whose opinions still hold water. "It has lately proved
possible to reprint every single letter, book review and essay composed
by Orwell," he writes, "without exposing him to any embarrassment."

The debate is set to continue this evening, when Mr. Hitchens is
scheduled to appear at Cooper Union with Simon Schama, James Miller and
the New Yorker writer Bill Buford for "Orwell Now," a symposium
presented by the PEN American Center.

Mr. Reed said he was watching the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on
television in his East Village apartment on Sept. 11 when the idea came
to him to rewrite the Orwell classic. "I thought, `Why would they do
this to us?' " he remembered. "The twin towers attack showed us that
something is wrong with our system, too."

He decided, he said, that the world had a new form of evil to deal with,
and it was not communism. It was the evil, he said, within American
corporate capitalism itself, and American arrogance in protecting its
interests in the Middle East oil fields. To Mr. Reed, "Animal Farm" was
the ultimate expression of pro-capitalist ideology. "It has inoculated
generations of schoolchildren against the evils of communism," Mr. Reed
said.

Mr. Reed says he is definitely one of those in the anti-Orwell camp. "I
really wanted to explode that book," he said of "Animal Farm." "I wanted
to completely undermine it."

In Orwell's allegory, the animals go hungry and are worked to death for
the benefit of their communist pig masters. In the final scene the
animals gaze into the window of the farmhouse watching the pigs
cavorting with their human oppressors and can no longer tell the two apart.

Mr. Reed decided to turn Orwell's classic back on itself. In his parody
Napoleon, the Stalinist pig dictator of "Animal Farm," dies, and his old
rival, Snowball, returns transformed into a corporate capitalist dressed
in cuff links and a blazer. "Tonight, I present an animalage of such
erudition that all the wisdom of the village is now ours," Snowball
says, announcing a new, decidedly free-market credo for the farm: "All
animals are born equal — what they become is their own affair."

The farm initially expands under capitalism. The animals get hot water
and air-conditioning, start wearing clothes and begin walking on their
hind legs. The farm encroaches on the territory of the neighboring
woodland animals. The pigs bomb the beaver dams and disrupt the free
flow of water — make that oil — in the forest. Eventually the farm's
ecology is destroyed by overdevelopment, and it is turned into one giant
Disney theme park, complete with confessional sideshows.

The woodland creatures, led by the beavers — read Islamic
fundamentalists — incensed at the destruction of their environment,
attack the twin windmills, which power the farm and are a stand-in for
the towers of the World Trade Center. The book ends with the farm
animals crying out for revenge against the fundamentalists: "`Kill the
beavers! Kill the beavers! Kill! Kill!"'

Mr. Sherry said he believed that he had the right to publish the book
under a 1994 Supreme Court ruling that in some cases protects parody as
a form of free speech. Last year a federal appeals court in Atlanta
overturned a publication ban on "The Wind Done Gone" by Alice Randall, a
retelling of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" from the point of
view of a slave, on the ground that it was a political parody.

"Snowball's Chance" is the 33-year-old Mr. Reed's second novel. His
first was "A Still Small Voice" (Delacorte, 2000), an allegory about the
Civil War. He is a native New Yorker who grew up in TriBeCa, the son of
artists. As a child, Mr. Reed said, he used to play in the spaces under
the twin towers, and their destruction had a particular resonance for him.

Despite the brutal ending of "Snowball's Chance," Mr. Reed said, he
still thinks "capitalism has a better chance of working than communism,"
but "it would be a true capitalist system rather than a conglomerate
system."

"We would have an America of true democracy, with equal protection under
the law for all," he said.


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