Classic Book of the Month: Animal Farm

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Tuesday, August 2. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Hello. I am Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next The world and all in it: WORLD Classic book of the month. For the month of August, a cautionary tale.

Children and young adults return to school this month. WORLD reviewer Emily Whitten says this book can help your family resist some of the worst anti-Christian thinking of our time.

EMILY WHITTEN, REVIEWER: Our Classic book of the month for the month of August is farm animal by George Orwell. In this clip from the 1954 TV version, a pig named Old Major talks to the other animals at Manor Farm.

CLIP: But we’ll never get our fair share of Farmer Jones. Overthrow this tyrant, and we will be rich and free! [ANIMAL SOUNDS]

In this opening scene, Old Major blames Farmer Jones for all of life’s miseries, and he calls on the animals to revolt – to kick Jones out and rule themselves. Then, he says, all the animals will live peacefully together, sharing the farm as equals.

Several chapters later, this utopian vision works well for the pigs, especially Napoleon, the leader. But as with the other animals…well, here’s an audiobook excerpt from the Doses of English Youtube channel.

CLIP: …the hens have barely hatched enough chicks to maintain their numbers at the same level. The rations reduced in December were reduced again in February. And the lanterns in the stalls were forbidden to preserve the oil. But the pigs seemed quite comfortable and, in fact, were gaining weight…

Of course, this story isn’t really about farm animals. It’s a cautionary tale about Soviet communism written by George Orwell – that’s the pseudonym of British author Eric Arthur Blair. In reality, farm animal follows the basic plot of the Russian Revolution – and for this reason several British World War II publishers refused to publish the book. They didn’t want to offend their Soviet allies at the time.

Fortunately, Orwell found a publisher in 1945. And as the West entered the Cold War, Orwell’s criticism of the Soviets became more prominent. The book has sold over 11 million copies worldwide.

GUINNESS: The whole parable is a wonderful story of what happens when you’ve awakened leadership by taking matters into your own hands. All pigs are equal, some things are more equal than others, and so on.

This is apologist Os Guinness. He has written several books on the biblical roots of American freedom, including The Magna Carta of Humanity from 2021.

GUINNESS: Orwell’s greatness was that he was a left winger. And the honesty of the man was that he saw the issues on the left and was willing to write about them.

On the one hand, Orwell shows how communists twist language to support their cause. Originally, farm animalThe characters embrace several maxims such as “Four good legs, two bad legs.” But when the pigs in charge decide to walk on two legs, they change the maxim to “Four legs good, two legs better”.

Guinness says communist distortion of words and truth leads to violence. He points to China, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela to make his point. But Christians, he says, should have a higher view of words.

GUINNESS: Our Lord is the Word made flesh. As followers of Jesus, we should have the highest view of words of all. But the fact is that today, when words fall apart, violence is never far away.

We see this clearly in Orwell’s tale. In one scene, Snowball the pig makes a speech to convince the other animals to build a windmill. But Snowball’s rival, Napoleon, seeks power in a different way. Here’s another excerpt from the audiobook.

CLIP: Just then, Napoleon stood up, and casting a strange sidelong glance at Snowball, uttered a high-pitched moan of a kind no one had ever heard him utter before. At this there was a terrible sound of barking outside, and nine huge dogs wearing copper-studded collars entered the barn. They rushed straight at Snowball who only sprang from his place just in time to escape their snapping jaws.

In his book The Magna Carta of Humanity, Os Guinness explains why communists find violence particularly tempting. As idealists, they see a gap between what people are and what they should be. When they cannot bridge this gap using persuasion, communists often turn to “coercion and violence”.

GUINNESS: If you and I disagree, and I want to persuade you, I try to do so in a rational, respectful way. But if I’m frustrated, I’ll just attack you ad hominem or be rude to you. Worse still, if I am a communist leader, I will force you to do what I want.

Christians, of course, see another way to bridge the gap between who we are and who we should be. Ultimately, it is found in Jesus.

GUINNESS: Christian thought is obviously always between radical pessimism and radical optimism. Because we know people have fallen. The highest vision of mankind is the vision of people made in the image of God, living with God’s truth with God’s righteousness, and all of these things, [cut words] But we’ll never do that until the Messiah comes. And this is the greatness of our confidence in the Messiah.

Orwell doesn’t offer biblical solutions in his writing, so it’s helpful to read a Christian like Os Guinness alongside him. I should also note – know that Orwell’s other classic novel, 1984, covers similar themes, but it includes much more problematic content.

Fortunately, Soviet-style Communism is not as popular today. But most families will face pressure from new strains of socialism and cultural Marxism. Guinness says farm animal can help.

GUINNESS: Now the challenge, of course, is to get our children to start thinking. So Animal Farm highlights some of the dangers you see of authoritarianism and the wrong view of equality and leveling. It doesn’t work that way with envy and other things that happen. But we have to get them to think Biblically about everything.

Our classic book of the month includes a reference to drunkenness and can be difficult for the political novice to understand. For this reason, I recommend the 2019 graphic novel version of farm animal for young readers. It shows some violence, but it’s understated enough for most kids and older teens.

As families head back to school this month, Guinness offers another piece of advice for busy parents: don’t skip dinner discussions. For centuries, Christian families have used these conversations to convey their values, including the value of orderly political freedom.

GUINNESS: You cannot compel the heart. It’s freedom of religion and conscience and again, evangelicals have benefited. We were the pioneers. We should be the champions of how to defend it today.

I am Emily Whitten.

WORLD Radio transcriptions are created on very short notice. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of WORLD Radio programming is the audio recording.

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