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Animal Farm | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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George Orwell's dystopian novel Animal Farm was a thinly veiled satire of the failures of the Soviet Union. The novel features animals that represent historical characters, including Napoleon the pig, who stands in for Joseph Stalin. However, present-day readers can draw connections between the novel's characters and events in almost any totalitarian state.

The novel was picked up by the Book-of-the-Month Club soon after its publication in 1945, and sales topped one million by the 1950s. By the turn of the 21st century the deceptively simple Animal Farm still draws opposition and incites debate.

1. A vicious 10-year-old inspired Animal Farm's setting.

When George Orwell lived in a small rural village, he saw a 10-year-old boy whipping a large cart horse, trying to get it to keep to a narrow path. He claimed he realized that "men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat." Thus the idea for a tale about the failings of the Soviet state using animal characters was born.

2. The Spanish Civil War helped shape the events in Animal Farm.

George Orwell fought against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. He was wounded in the conflict, and after recovering he was chased from the country by Stalinists, for whom he was not left-leaning enough. Orwell was convinced by this experience that the Soviet Union was not an up-and-coming utopia—but rather a dark and destructive threat. He wrote Animal Farm because he felt "the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement."

3. Many publishers refused to publish Animal Farm for political reasons.

Orwell began trying to publish Animal Farm in 1943, when the Soviet Union was allied with the United States and the United Kingdom in World War II. The book's allegorical criticism of the Soviet Union was politically unpopular at the time, and five reputable publishers refused the novel, citing in particular its use of pigs to represent the communists. A small press led by Frederick Warburg finally took on the novel, as well as Orwell's next novel, the best-selling 1984.

4. A Soviet spy tried to stop publication of Animal Farm.

The publisher Jonathan Cape accepted Animal Farm for publication in 1944. However, he was convinced not to publish the book by Peter Smollett, who was the head of the Russian section of the British government's Ministry of Information. Smollett was later unmasked as a Soviet spy.

5. Orwell actually had a pet goat named Muriel.

The author and his first wife had several farm animals on their property in Wallington, England—most notably a goat named Muriel. Photographs of Orwell taken around 1936 show the author feeding his pet goat near their cottage. The writer's four-legged friend obviously made quite the impression, coming to life again in Orwell's 1945 book as the wise, old goat in Animal Farm.

6. Pink Floyd used Animal Farm as inspiration for one of their albums.

Orwell has inspired thousands of creative minds, including those of English rock band Pink Floyd. Instead of critiquing Joseph Stalin and communism, however, Floyd's 1977 album Animals is a stinging commentary of capitalist ideals of the late-20th century. Not exactly the kind of stuff you'd dance to—in fact, one music critic called it the band's "bleakest studio album."

7. An underground translation of Animal Farm was made for Soviet refugees.

In 1946 a Soviet refugee read Orwell's Animal Farm aloud in Ukrainian to a captivated audience of refugees in West Germany. When the refugee asked Orwell to publish a Ukrainian translation of the novel, Orwell not only obliged—he refused any royalties made from the book, AND he wrote the refugees a letter commending them for standing up to the totalitarian regime. The letter would become the only published introduction for Animal Farm.

8. Poet T.S. Eliot rejected Orwell's views in Animal Farm.

It has to hurt when one of the biggest poets of the 20th century rejects your work, but that didn't stop Orwell. In 1944 Orwell submitted Animal Farm to London publishing house Faber and Faber, where poet T.S. Eliot was director. Eliot let down Orwell easy enough though—he said Animal Farm was "a distinguished piece of writing" but rejected it on the basis that it was unwise to "criticize the political situation at the present time."

9. Orwell's first word as a child was "beastly."

It seems Orwell had a flair for drama even as a tot. According to biographers, an 18-month-old Orwell—who had been laid up in bed with bronchitis—rolled over and spoke his first word: "Beastly!" Orwell's mother noted in her 1905 diary entry that Baby Eric had a penchant for calling everything beastly, and the adjective commonly appeared in his writing—ironically, though, not in Animal Farm.

10. The animated film adaptation of Animal Farm was funded by the CIA.

In 1954 the British film company Halas and Batchelor released an animated version of Animal Farm. The film rights to the novel were acquired by E. Howard Hunt, later of Watergate scandal fame, who eventually revealed that he had been a member of the CIA Psychological Warfare Workshop and had bought the rights at the CIA's direction. The film was well-received, although the ending was changed so that the animals got outside help to crush their pig ruler, an ending approved by the CIA.

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