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Classic Book of the Month: Animal Farm

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WORLD Radio - Classic Book of the Month: <em> Animal Farm</em>

Animal Farm by George Orwell may help families guard against some of the worst anti-Christian thinking of our day


75th Anniversary book cover

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

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

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

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: WORLD’s Classic Book of the Month. For August, a cautionary tale.

Children and young adults are heading back to school this month. WORLD reviewer Emily Whitten says this book can help your family withstand some of the worst anti-Christian thinking of our day.

EMILY WHITTEN, REVIEWER: Our Classic Book of the Month for August is Animal Farm by George Orwell. In this clip from the 1954 TV version, a pig named Old Major speaks to the other animals on Manor farm.

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

In that opening scene, Old Major blames Farmer Jones for all of the miseries of life, and he calls 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, that utopian vision works out well for the pigs, especially Napoleon, the leader. But as for the other animals…well, here’s an audiobook clip from the Doses of English Youtube channel.

CLIP: …the hens barely hatched enough chicks to keep their numbers at the same level. Rations reduced in December were reduced again in February. And lanterns in the stalls were forbidden to conserve oil. But the pigs seemed comfortable enough, and in fact, were putting on 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 pen name for British author Eric Arthur Blair. In fact, Animal Farm follows the basic plotline of Russia’s revolution—and for that reason, several British publishers in World War II refused to publish the book. They didn’t want to offend their Soviet allies at the time.

Thankfully, Orwell did find a publisher in 1945. And as the West moved into the Cold War, Orwell’s criticism of the Soviets became more important. The book went on to sell more than 11 million copies worldwide.

GUINNESS: The whole parable is a wonderful one of what happens when you have woke leadership taking things over. All pigs are equal, some things are more equal than others, and so on.

That’s apologist Os Guinness. He’s written several books on the Biblical roots of American freedom, including The Magna Carta of Humanity from 2021.

GUINNESS: The greatness of Orwell was he was a left winger. And the honesty of the man was he saw the problems on the left, and was prepared to write about them.

For one thing, Orwell shows how communists twist language to support their cause. Originally, Animal Farm’s characters embrace several maxims such as “Four legs good, two legs bad.” But when 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. We as followers of Jesus should have the highest view of words of all. But the point is today, when words break down, then violence is never far away.

We see that 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 clip from the audiobook.

CLIP: Just at this moment, Napoleon stood up, and casting a peculiar sidelong look at Snowball, uttered a high-pitched whimper of a kind no one had ever heard him utter before. At this, there was a terrible baying sound outside, and nine enormous dogs wearing brass-studded collars came bounding into the barn. They dashed straight for 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 especially tempting. As idealists, they see a gap between what people are and what they should be. When they can’t bridge that gap using persuasion, communists often turn to “coercion and violence.”

GUINNESS: If you and I disagree, and I want to persuade you, I try and do it rationally, respectfully. But if I'm frustrated, I'll just attack you ad hominem or be rude to you. Worse still, if I'm a communist leader, I will force you to do what I want.

Christians, of course, see another way of bridging the gap between who we are and who we should be. Ultimately, it’s found in Jesus.

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

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

Thankfully, Soviet-style communism isn’t as popular today. But most families will face pressure from new strains of socialism and cultural Marxism. Guinness says Animal Farm can help.

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

Our Classic Book of the Month does include a reference to drunkenness and can be hard to understand for the political novice. For that reason, I recommend the 2019 graphic novel version of Animal Farm for younger readers. It does show some violence, but it’s muted enough for most older kids and teens.

As families head back to school this month, Guinness offers one more piece of advice to busy parents—don’t skip the dinner table discussions. For centuries, Christian families have used those conversations to pass on their values, including the value of ordered political freedom.

GUINNESS: You cannot coerce the heart. That is freedom of religion and conscience and again, evangelicals have benefited from it. We've been the pioneers of it. We should be the champions of knowing how to stand for it today.

I’m Emily Whitten.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. 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 record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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