Animal Farm In The Nineties


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Every age ransacks the literature of the past. It's as if we need to reinvent it by digging up the cables that connect it to our own time. But in the process of rediscovery, the danger is that we chronically distort the original.

Look at the Hollywoodisation of the Frankenstein story, or what Disney has done to Winnie the Pooh, who now scurries through a series of 10-minute adventures with titles like "Party Poohper" and "Pooh Day Afternoon". Cast as Christopher Robin's assistant dog-sitter and having hearty fun with someone called Gopher, it can only be a matter of time before Winnie the Pooh pads around haunted houses or ventures hilariously into outer space.

Imagine if Disney met Animal Farm. We'd have big-eyed Boxer, like a huge, clumpy version of Bambi, staggering into the horse slaughterer's wagon, whilst the rest of the animals gathered against a tinted sky to croon: "Farewell to our chum Boxer ... you know, we're sure gonna miss you a lot, Sir..."

Ralph Steadman has no such taint of sentimentality. His startling illustrations for the 50th anniversary edition of George Orwell's classic novel capture the appalling, anarchic terror of the original. Napoleon and Snowball leer menacingly at us; sheep bleat from blood-spattered hay; the destruction of buildings - and ideals - is powerfully evoked. It is a breathtaking reinterpretation of the text taking us directly to the cold-blooded horror of Orwell's story.

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