Sunday, May 24, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (O)

Some letters are just difficult, I know I'm going to struggle with X and Z, O is some such letter, but I did manage to find someone, although I'm not all sure that people will agree with me here.

Eric Arthur Blair June 25, 1903 - January 21, 1950. He's better known as George Orwell, and will be forever known for two works, one which is here and was a social commentary and the other has become one of the most celebrated, studied and quoted works of science fiction in history.

Despite being quite intelligent and seeming to prefer writing to most other things he did, Eric Blair joined the Imperial Police and was posted to Burma. After contracting dengue fever, he took advantage of a leave of absence back to England, resigned from the Imperial Police and decided to become a writer. He used his Burmese experiences to write a novel and two essays.

His family wasn't poor, but Blair seemed to enjoy living amongst and studying those that did live in abject poverty. He even wrote a book about those experiences in both London and Paris (Down and Out in Paris and London).

He drifted into teaching and continued to write as he did so. He seemed to have trouble settling and found himself working at a second hand bookstore owned by friends. He left that job and was prompted by friend and publisher Victor Gollancz to investigate social conditions in economically depressed northern England. This eventually turned into The Road to Wigan Pier, which outside of Animal Farm and 1984 is one of his best known works.

Not long after this he took part in the Spanish Civil War. He was shot in the throat during that conflict. Back in England his views on the war (he fought for the Republicans) were wildly out of favour. He and his wife spent time living in France, but returned to England in 1939.

The reviews that he had been writing for many years got him more journalistic work during the war. He wrote Animal Farm towards the end of the war and it's success got him more journalism work and he wrote 1984 after the war, it was published in 1949.

George Orwell, as the world now knew him, had struggled with health for many years and he was rarely in the best of health from the time that he returned to England after his time in Burma. The amount of time he spent living rough and his wounding in the Spanish Civil War didn't help. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1947 and his health declined steadily from that point onwards. He passed away in his sleep in early 1950.

His two most famous works have earned him undying fame and a place amongst the most highly regarded literary figures.

I know Animal Farm is an allegory for the decline of Marx's communistic ideal under Joseph Stalin in Russia, but it is also a fantasy. Unless that is of course there really is a farm somewhere that is run by pigs who keep the rest of the animals under iron control and lie to them about their actual intentions. It's a wonderfully written book, and despite the very serious message in it's text, it can also be looked at as a fantasy about anthropomorphic animals. It's not uncommon for authors to use animals to illustrate very human events, people have been doing it since the days of Aesop and his fables. While it can be read as just a book about anthromorphised animals, and I'm sure plenty of people do (the cartoon version I had to watch in high school certainly seemed to see it that way, it even had an annoyingly cute little duckling and changed ending to feature a 'peasants revolt' let by Benjamin the donkey), it's a brilliantly told look at one person's view of the communist revolution in Russia and it's rather tragic aftermath.

Further reading and related work: If you read Animal Farm, you should also read 1984. Totally different, but at the same time going over similar ground. Orwell based his future on what he saw happening around him in England following the war. It didn't turn out that way, but to a certain extent 1984 is the real version of what happens after Animal Farm. There's also the non fiction Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in London and Paris, as well as numerous essays, reviews and articles.

Along the same lines as Animal Farm there's Richard Adams' Watership Down. Adams doesn't look at political views with his rabbits, but one of the final battles is based on the Battle of Arnhem, a WW II action in which Adams served. At times I almost felt Orwell was using the style of Beatrix Potter with his farm animals to reach as wide an audience as possible and make his story easier to understand.

Next week the P's. Should be a few more of them and far less controversial.

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