10 Facts About George Orwell's Animal Farm

George Orwell's oft-banned book Animal Farm.
George Orwell's oft-banned book Animal Farm. / Shraddha Agrawal, Unsplash // Public Domain

On August 17, 1945, legendary British author George Orwell—who also penned 1984—published Animal Farm, a satirical allegory of Soviet Russia featuring animals who revolt against the farmer Mr. Jones and wind up in a pig-led Communist dictatorship. Orwell called Animal Farm “the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” It went on to find a spot on many school reading lists and cracked top-100 novel lists by Modern Library and TIME. Here are a few things you might not have known about Animal Farm.

1. Animal Farm was rejected by the biggest names in publishing.

Faber and Faber editor T.S. Eliot, whose poetry inspired the musical Cats, rejected Animal Farm. Eliot disdained its mockery of Stalin’s USSR, Britain’s then-World War II ally. Jonathan Cape, Ernest Hemingway’s British publisher, rejected it after consulting with the wartime Ministry of Information. One publisher told Orwell that “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” Ultimately, Animal Farm became a hit for Secker & Warburg.

2. Animal Farm touched writers like C.S. Lewis and Margaret Atwood.

C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, wrote that “The great sentence, ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others,’ bites deeper than the whole of 1984.” Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), who first read Animal Farm when she was 9, wrote in a column for the Toronto Star in 1993 that “I was traumatized early in life by the death of that poor horse in Orwell’s Animal Farm, which I thought was going to be ... like Peter Rabbit.”

3. The farm in Animal Farm is modeled on a real-life setting.

For periods in the 1930s and ‘40s, Orwell and his first wife, Eileen (who died in 1945), lived at a cottage at No. 2 Kits Lane in the village of Wallington, where Orwell ran a store and wrote. In 1999, historian Brian Edwards pinpointed nearby Bury Farm as Orwell’s likeliest inspiration for Animal Farm: Its barns, pond, hill, and orchard strongly resemble the book.

4. The CIA used Animal Farm as a propaganda tool.

From 1952 to 1957, the CIA’s “Aedinosaur” operation launched balloons from West Germany that dropped copies of Animal Farm into Iron Curtain countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia. The CIA also bankrolled the 1954 Animal Farm cartoon movie. Future Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt arranged to buy the rights from Orwell’s widow, Sonia.

5. The Soviet Union banned Animal Farm until the Cold War was almost over.

In 1988, as Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy liberalized the USSR, a Latvian journal called Rodnik published Animal Farm in four installments. The Russian government newspaper Izvestia printed an excerpt later that year, saying: “It is good that the prose of this great English writer reaches our readers, albeit late.”

6. Many other governments have banned Animal Farm.

Beyond the Soviet Union, Animal Farm has also been banned at various times in countries like Cuba (where the book was set on fire by the government), North Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and countries in Africa. In Malawi, government minister Albert Muwalo was charged with treason and hanged in 1977; one alleged piece of evidence was his ownership of Animal Farm, a banned book. And in 1991, Kenya’s government banned a Swahili-language play based on Animal Farm that attacked corruption.

7. Animal Farm has spawned some unauthorized sequels.

Snowball’s Chance by John Reed (2002) provocatively imagines Napoleon’s rival Snowball returning to Animal Farm and establishing a capitalist system, while Jon Zagrodsky’s 2007 book The Rats Are in the Cheese envisions a hedgehog leading the charge for tax reform.

8. Animal Farm has inspired Coldplay, the Beatles, and Pink Floyd.

Coldplay’s 2020 “Trouble in Town” music video shows a homeless person in a deer mask reading Animal Farm. “Piggies,” which George Harrison wrote for the Beatles’s 1968 White Album, is partially inspired by Orwell’s novel. Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, whose cover features a flying pig, is also based loosely on the book.

9. Patrick Stewart and Julia Louis-Dreyfus did voices for a 1999 Animal Farm film.

In this Hallmark TV movie, Patrick Stewart (Star Trek) voiced Napoleon, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld) did Mollie the mare. Other stars included Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) as Snowball and Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings) as Squealer. The movie got mixed reviews.

10. New Animal Farm movies and plays are coming out.

If you’re disappointed Elton John’s proposed Animal Farm musical never materialized, there are alternatives. The 2019 film Mr. Jones incorporates Orwell’s writing of Animal Farm into its tale of a Welsh journalist investigating Stalin’s Ukrainian famine. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) is set to adapt Animal Farm for Netflix, possibly in 2021. And an Animal Farm play by Robert Icke, who brought 1984 to Broadway, is slated for 2022.