Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, creator of the most famous detective in English literature, was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was a chronic alcoholic, while his mother, Mary, passed her gift for storytelling to her son. Arthur recalled his mother’s habit of “sinking her voice to a horror-stricken whisper” as she reached the climax of a tale. Her stories overshadowed the hardships of a home with little money and an erratic father. “In my early childhood, as far as I can remember anything at all,” Arthur said, “the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.”
Any innocence that was salvaged from that childhood ended during Arthur’s early education. Beginning at age nine, wealthier Doyle family members paid his way through the Jesuit boarding school Hodder Place, where he spent seven unhappy years in Stonyhurst, England, plagued by bigotry in academic subjects and the brutal corporal punishment common to such schools of the period. His only relief came in corresponding with his mother and practicing sports, mainly cricket, at which he excelled. He also discovered his own aptitude for storytelling during these years, drawing upon his innate sense of humor to delight younger students, who would crowd around to listen.
After graduating in 1876, Arthur returned to Scotland, determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps. “Perhaps it was good for me that the times were hard, for I was wild, full blooded and a trifle reckless. But the situation called for energy and application so that one was bound to try to meet it. My mother had been so splendid that I could not fail her,” he wrote years later. The first necessary action was to co-sign the committal papers of his father, who was by then seriously demented, to a lunatic asylum.
Aside from Charles, the Doyle family held a prominent position in the world of art, and it would have been natural for Arthur to have immediately carried on in that tradition. But he chose medicine instead, attending the University of Edinburgh to complete his training. At the university he met several fellow students who would later become major British authors, including James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson. But the man with the greatest influence over seventeen-year-old Arthur was a teacher, Dr. Joseph Bell, who ultimately inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. One can clearly see the qualities Arthur most admired in Dr. Bell in the detective. “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes,” he wrote the doctor. “…[R]ound the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man.”
Holmes would not appear for several years, but it was during medical school that Arthur began to write short stories. The first piece, The Mystery of Sasassa Valley, was reminiscent of his favorite authors, Edgar Alan Poe and Bret Harte, and was accepted for publication in Chamber’s Journal, an Edinburgh magazine. The next story, The American Tale, was published the same year in London Society. “It was in this year,” he wrote later, “that I first learned that shillings might be earned in other ways than by filling phials.”
At the age of twenty and in his third year of medical school, Arthur boarded the whaling boat Hope as the ship’s surgeon, traveling to the shores of Greenland for the crew’s seal and whale hunts. “I went on board the whaler a big straggling youth. I came off a powerful well-grown man,” he reflected. The trip had “awakened the soul of a born wanderer.” He returned to school in 1880, and while he struggled with his medical studies after his Arctic adventure, he nevertheless completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree a year later, officially becoming Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle.
The new doctor opened his first private practice in Portsmouth. Although it is said he only had £10 to his name when he began, by the end of three years he was starting to make a living for himself. In 1885 he married Louisa Hawkins, a “gentle and amiable” young woman. In the midst of his medical practice and new marriage, he also spent time developing his writing career. In 1886 he began A Tangled Skein, a novel featuring characters named Sheridan Hope and Ormond Stacker. When it was published two years later in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, he had changed the title to A Study in Scarlet and now introduced readers to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
Sherlock Holmes quickly became world famous, and so began a dichotomy in Conan Doyle’s life. He struggled between the commercial success of the Holmes stories and his preference for writing historical novels, poems, and plays, which he believed would bring him recognition as a serious author. Another disparity arose between Conan Doyle’s brilliant use of logic and deduction, on one hand, and his fascination with the paranormal and spiritualism, a practice to which he became devoted later in life, on the other.
By the late 1880s, Conan Doyle was better known in the United States than in England. But in 1889 the publisher of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in Philadelphia came to London to create a British edition of the magazine. He arranged a dinner with Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. The two writers got along famously. (“It was indeed a golden evening for me,” Conan Doyle wrote), and the publisher commissioned a short novel from Conan Doyle, which was published in 1890 in both England and the U.S. This story, The Sign of Four, played a significant role in elevating the profile of Sherlock Holmes and his creator in literary history.
In order to write The Sign of the Four, however, the young author had to put aside an historical novel on which he had been working, The White Company. As this was the type of literature he most enjoyed writing, he felt he would never find as much satisfaction in or accomplishment in the Holmes series. “I was young and full of the first joy of life and action,” he remarked about writing The White Company, “and I think I got some of it into my pages. When I wrote the last line, I remember that I cried: ‘Well, I’ll never beat that’ and threw the inky pen at the opposite wall.”
After a brief move to Austria, Conan Doyle relocated to London, opening an ophthalmology practice in Upper Wimpole Street. Lacking any patients, however, he had plenty of time to contemplate the next step in his career. He decided to write a series of short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. It turned out to be the most profitable decision of his life. His agent made a deal with The Strand Magazine to publish the stories, and the visual likeness of Holmes was immortalized by illustrator Sidney Paget, who used his brother Walter as a model. The artistic collaboration between Conan Doyle and Paget would last for many decades, branding both the persona and the image of Sherlock Holmes worldwide.
Conan Doyle’s medical career came to an end after a near-death bout of influenza in 1891, which helped to clarify his priorities. “With a rush of joy” he chose to step away from his medical career. “I remember in my delight taking the handkerchief which lay upon the coverlet in my enfeebled hand, and tossing it up to the ceiling in my exultation,” he recalled. “I should at last be my own master.”
Being his own master, however, involved making artistic choices that did not always meet with public approval. Conan Doyle felt burdened by Sherlock Holmes. In November 1891 he wrote to his mother,
“I think of slaying Holmes…and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.” In December 1893 he did the deed, killing off Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem by sending the detective and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, plummeting to their deaths at the Reichenbach Falls. The author was now free of the character that had eclipsed what he considered his better work. But his mother had warned him, “You may do what you deem fit, but the crowds will not take this lightheartedly,” and indeed, twenty thousand readers expressed their disapproval by cancelling their subscriptions to The Strand Magazine.
The Hound of Baskervilles, serialized in The Strand Magazine beginning in 1901, was inspired by a stay on the Devonshire moors in southwest England. The real-life Fox Tor Mires were supposedly the inspiration for the novel’s great Grimpen Mire, the prison at Dartmoor contributed to the idea of an escaped convict – Slasher Seldon – on the loose, and folklore lent the spectral hound to the story. At some point, however, Conan Doyle realized his tale lacked a hero. He’s quoted as having said, “Why should I invent such a character, when I already have him in the form of Sherlock Holmes?” Since he had killed off Sherlock in The Final Problem, he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles as if it was a previously untold Holmes caper. In subsequent Holmes stories Conan Doyle brought the detective back, explaining that he had not actually died along with Professor Moriarty but had arranged to be temporarily “dead” to evade his other dangerous enemies.
In his personal life, Conan Doyle was dealing with weighty issues. Louisa had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 1890s. The prognosis was dire, but Conan Doyle was able to nurse her years beyond her doctors’ expectations. He also, however, fell in love with another woman during that time. When Louisa died in his arms in 1906, he had been involved in a clandestine, although platonic, courtship with Jean Elizabeth Leckie for nine years. Conan Doyle fought a deep depression for several months after Louisa’s death, but roused himself by helping to exonerate a young man who had been accused of vicious crimes that the former doctor realized the man wasn’t capable of committing. The next year, Jean Leckie became Lady Conan Doyle.
The young man was the first of several individuals on whose behalf Conan Doyle intervened in the courts. He was deeply committed to justice and public service and used his instincts and training to further those causes. Turned down for military service in both the Boer War and World War I due to his age, he nevertheless volunteered as a medical doctor in South Africa during the Boer War. In 1902 he was knighted by King Edward VII for his service to the Crown. He also twice ran for Parliament as a Liberal Unionist, earning respectable votes but neither time winning the election.
Conan Doyle had five children – a daughter and a son with Louisa and two sons and a daughter with Jean – and lost five men in his family – his first son, brother, two brothers-in-law, and two nephews – in World War I. After his marriage to Jean, the pace of his writing subsided considerably. He did, however, give playwriting further attention. 1912’s The Speckled Band, was based on a well-known Holmes story. It proved both a critical and commercial success on the stage, unlike some of his earlier plays. Before too long, though, Conan Doyle decided to retire from theatrical work, “Not because it doesn’t interest me, but because it interests me too much.”
He may be best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, but Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger series, which began with The Lost World in 1912, was also highly successful and made a profound mark on the as-yet-unnamed “science fiction” genre. Increasingly, the celebrated author retreated into this world of science fiction, and also into spiritualism. He and his family traveled to three continents on psychic crusades. He spent over £250,000 on his religious pursuits and wrote primarily about spiritualism for a period, until the financial toll drove him back to writing fiction. First came three more Professor Challenger books, followed by a compilation of Sherlock Holmes adventures in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes in 1927.
Near the end of his life, Conan Doyle was diagnosed with angina pectoris, commonly caused by coronary heart disease. Pushing himself to the end, he took one final psychic tour of northern Europe in late 1929, after which he was bedridden for the rest of his days. He died on July 7, 1930, surrounded by his family, whispering his last words to Jean: “You are wonderful.” The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, reads, “Steel True/Blade Straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician & Man of Letters.” A statue honors him in Crowborough, East Sussex, England. And back in Edinburgh, close to the house in which the beloved writer was born, stands a statue of Sherlock Holmes.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, led a robust life worthy of the pages of his fiction. He embarked on daring journeys to the Arctic and the Alps, investigated crimes and—though his most famous character is the paragon of rational thinking—staunchly believed in fairies and spirits. Here are 11 facts about this fascinating, complicated author.
1. Arthur Conan Doyle grew up in poverty.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859, Conan Doyle was the second of seven surviving children. His father, the artist Charles Doyle, struggled with alcoholism and even stole from his children’s money boxes to fund his addiction. The family’s finances were chronically strained: “We lived in the hardy and bracing atmosphere of poverty,” Conan Doyle wrote in his autobiography. Charles was ultimately committed to an asylum due to his erratic behavior [PDF].
Throughout this domestic turbulence, the author’s mother, Mary Foley Doyle, was a stabilizing force. Conan Doyle credited her with kindling his imagination and flair for storytelling. «In my early childhood, as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories which she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life,” he recalled. “I am sure, looking back, that it was in attempting to emulate these stories of my childhood that I first began weaving dreams myself.»
2. Arthur Conan Doyle trained as a medical doctor.
When he was 17 years old, Conan Doyle began his studies at the University of Edinburgh’s medical school, graduating with Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degrees in 1881. Four years later, he completed his thesis on tabes dorsalis, a degenerative neurological disease, and earned his M.D. He later traveled to Vienna to study ophthalmology [PDF].
Conan Doyle established a medical practice in the English city of Portsmouth, where he also wrote his first two Sherlock Holmes novels: A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. Holmes was based in part on one of his professors at medical school, Dr. Joseph Bell, known for his ability to deduce facts about his patients through close observation.
In 1891, Conan Doyle relocated to London to work as an ophthalmologist. The venture was not a resounding success; he would later joke that his rented offices had two waiting rooms: “I waited in the consulting room, and no one waited in the waiting room.” But that left Conan Doyle with ample time to devote to his budding literary career. He soon gave up medicine in favor of writing—a decision that he called “one of the great moments of exultation” in his life.
3. Arthur Conan Doyle traveled to the Arctic on a whaling expedition.
While in the midst of his medical studies, Conan Doyle accepted a position as a ship’s surgeon on a whaler headed to the Arctic Circle. A hardy young man with an adventurous spirit, he joined his shipmates in hunting seals, not at all deterred by his lack of experience on the ice and frequent tumbles into the freezing waters. Conan Doyle did have some qualms about the slaughter, writing that “those glaring crimson pools upon the dazzling white of the ice fields … did seem a horrible intrusion.” Nevertheless, he found the journey—particularly the whale hunts—exhilarating. “No man who has not experienced it,” Conan Doyle opined, “can imagine the intense excitement of whale fishing.”
4. Arthur Conan Doyle got sick of Sherlock Holmes.
The popularity of Sherlock Holmes skyrocketed after Conan Doyle struck a deal with the Strand Magazine to publish a series of short stories featuring the mastermind detective. Readers would line up at newsagents on the days that new issues dropped, and Conan Doyle eventually became one of the highest-paid writers of his day. But he grew exasperated by the public’s love for Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle also wrote historical novels, plays, and poetry, and he felt that his detective fiction overshadowed these other, more serious works. “I have had such an overdose of [Holmes] that I feel towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day,» the author quipped.
In the 1893 story “The Final Problem,” Conan Doyle killed off Holmes, sending him plunging to his death over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Fans were devastated; more than 20,000 of them canceled their subscriptions to the Strand in protest. Conan Doyle did not publish another Holmes story for eight years, ending his strike with The Hound of the Baskervilles, which takes place before Holmes’s death. In 1903, prompted by a tremendous offer from British and American publishers, Conan Doyle decided to resurrect his much-loved sleuth. Over the course of his career, he featured Holmes in 56 stories and four novels—now known to fans as the “Canon.”
5. Arthur Conan Doyle helped popularize Switzerland as a skiing destination.
In 1893, Conan Doyle’s first wife, Louisa, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The couple decided to head to Davos, in the Swiss Alps, hoping that the crisp, clear air would be beneficial to Louisa. Her health did improve, for a time, and Conan Doyle decided to take up skiing, a Norwegian sport that was new to Switzerland and virtually unknown in Britain. He wrote a humorous article in the Strand about his attempts to master skiing and his daring journey over the Furka Pass, which soars 8000 feet above sea level. The article was republished multiple times and drew attention to the Swiss Alps as a skiing destination. Today, a plaque in Davos honors Conan Doyle for “bringing this new sport and the attractions of the Swiss Alps in winter to the world.”
6. Arthur Conan Doyle believed it was possible to communicate with the dead.
Conan Doyle began exploring mystical ideas about spirits and the afterlife as a young doctor. In later life, he became one of the world’s most prominent advocates of Spiritualism, a movement rooted in the belief that the souls of the dead can communicate with the living, usually through a medium. Spiritualism took root in Britain during the Victorian era and continued to flourish in the years after WWI, when many families were eager to connect with lost loved ones. Conan Doyle’s own brother and son died during the influenza pandemic that swept the world in the wake of the Great War, and the author believed that they reached out to him during séances.
He wrote books on Spiritualism, debated the subject with skeptics and traveled the world delivering lectures on the Spiritualist cause, which he described as the “most important thing in the world, and the particular thing which the human race in its present state of development needs more than anything else.”
7. Arthur Conan Doyle also believed in fairies.
In 1920, a pair of startling photographs came to Conan Doyle’s attention. The images appeared to show two schoolgirls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, posing with fairies by a stream in the English village of Cottingley. After conducting what he believed to be a thorough investigation, Conan Doyle became convinced that the photographs were genuine, and wrote two articles and a book on the “Cottingley Fairies.” With a renowned author championing them, the photos became a sensation. Conan Doyle was widely ridiculed by those who believed the images were fake, but he remained steadfast; he hoped that the photographs would propel an incredulous public to “admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life” and, by extension, to accept the “spiritual message” that he worked tirelessly to promote.
In 1983, Wright and Griffiths finally confessed that the photographs were a hoax. The “fairies” were simply paper cutouts, copied from a children’s book, and propped up with hat pins. They had only meant to trick their parents; Wright later said that she and Griffiths were too embarrassed to admit the truth once their story was believed by the famous Conan Doyle.
8. Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle had a fraught friendship.
Conan Doyle met Harry Houdini in 1920, while the famed magician was visiting England. They bonded over Spiritualism; Houdini, though fairly certain that mediums were tricksters and frauds, was at that time willing to be convinced otherwise. For his part, Conan Doyle believed that Houdini possessed psychic powers.
When Conan Doyle traveled to America in 1922, the friends met up in Atlantic City. Houdini agreed to participate in a séance with Conan Doyle and his second wife, Jean, who claimed she could channel the spirits of the dead. But Houdini quickly came to suspect that the séance was a sham. Jean filled multiple pages with automatic writing that she said came from Houdini’s deceased mother—though his mother could barely speak English. Houdini also found it curious that Jean’s automatic writing included the sign of a cross, considering that his mother was Jewish. The episode caused a rift between the friends, and they argued both privately and publicly over the legitimacy of medium cases.
9. Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted for his support of the Boer War.
Fueled by a sense of patriotism after the outbreak of the Second Boer War, Conan Doyle traveled to Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1900 to volunteer as a doctor in a field hospital. There he encountered a grim scene; Bloemfontein was in the grips of a typhoid epidemic, the hospital was overwhelmed with sick and dying patients, and sanitary conditions were abysmal [PDF]. But his conviction in the war did not flag, even as the conflict dragged on, became increasingly brutal, and began to lose support in Britain and beyond. Indignant over reports of British atrocities, Conan Doyle published a pamphlet defending his country’s actions in South Africa. He was knighted by King Edward VII in 1902, largely in honor of this influential work.
10. Arthur Conan Doyle came to the defense of two wrongfully accused men.
In 1903, a solicitor named George Edalji was found guilty of mutilating a horse and writing a series of menacing anonymous letters in a rural parish. The evidence against him was unconvincing—the letters had been sent to his own family, for one thing—and three years later he was released from prison, without a pardon. Edalji wrote to Conan Doyle, hoping the creator of Sherlock Holmes would help clear his name. Conan Doyle visited the scene of the crimes, met with Edalji, and was certain of his innocence.
He noted, among other things, that Edalji was so near-sighted that it would have been impossible for him to sneak across the countryside, attacking livestock in the dead of night. And he recognized that racial prejudice was likely at play; Edalji, whose father was of Parsee origin, “must assuredly have [seemed] a very queer man to the eyes of an English village,” the author wrote in an article arguing that Edalji had been wrongfully accused. Conan Doyle also sent a barrage of letters to the chief constable in charge of the case, proffering new evidence and theories of other suspects. Edalji was ultimately pardoned, but was not given financial compensation for the miscarriage of justice against him.
Conan Doyle also campaigned on behalf of Oscar Slater, a German-Jewish bookmaker who was convicted of murdering a wealthy woman in Glasgow. Though Slater had an alibi, police homed in on him as the culprit, and it would later emerge that key evidence was withheld during the trial. Conan Doyle was a vocal participant in the campaign advocating for Slater’s release from prison; in 1912, he published The Case of Oscar Slater, which highlighted grave flaws in the investigation and prosecution. His plea failed to sway the authorities, but Conan Doyle continued to pressure politicians and even pay for Slater’s legal fees. Slater was set free in 1927, having served more than 18 years in prison.
11. Family members celebrated at Arthur Conan Doyle’s funeral.
Conan Doyle died of a heart attack on July 7, 1930, at the age of 71. Three hundred people attended the funeral at his country home, and the atmosphere was uplifting, rather than somber. The mourners did not wear black and the blinds of the house were not drawn. “We know that it is only the natural body that we are committing to the ground,” his wife Jean told friends. On July 13, thousands of people packed into the Royal Albert Hall in London for a memorial service. During the ceremony, Estelle Roberts, one of Conan Doyle’s favorite mediums, gazed at a chair reserved for the writer and proclaimed: “He is here.”
By 1911, 36-year-old Ed Burroughs had reached a dead end.
His early life had more than its share of excitement. A stint in the U.S. Cavalry, chasing Apache “renegades” in the desert Southwest, was followed by a few years cowboy-ing on his brother’s Idaho ranch. After that, he was a gold prospector, then a railroad policeman.
Desiring something better in life, he returned to his native Chicago, where his father, a Civil War hero and successful businessman, helped him find the first of a series of white-collar jobs. Chief among these was a year spent as head of the stenography department of Sears, Roebuck and Company. There he oversaw 150 secretaries who turned out an estimated 4,000 letters a day for the colossal mail-order company.
Wanting to make his own mark, Burroughs quit Sears for a partnership in an ad agency that soon went under. After that came a stint as a salesman for a pencil sharpener company, then years as the low-paid editor of a magazine for small businesses.
Married to his high school sweetheart, with two young children, Burroughs began writing at night. He enjoyed spinning imaginative tales for his kids, and decided to create something for the cheap pulp magazines then gaining in popularity. “I remember thinking,” he told an interviewer years later, “that if other people got money for writing such stuff I might, too, for I was sure I could write stories just as rotten as theirs.”
In about two months he finished a short fantasy novel, Under the Moons of Mars, and sent it to Argosy magazine. He was embarrassed enough by the work to submit it under a pseudonym, Normal Bean. The adventure story of an American soldier magically transported to the Red Planet (much like how Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee traveled to King Arthur’s court) was bought for $400. Check deposited, Ed Burroughs did not look back.
A medieval adventure romance quickly followed. It was turned down by the editor of All-Story magazine, who nevertheless warmly encouraged him to keep at it. His next short novel, 1912’s Tarzan of the Apes, was accepted enthusiastically and published under his full name, Edgar Rice Burroughs, in a single issue of the magazine. It profoundly changed his life, along with popular culture, and the pop culture business, forever.
“Me, Tarzan,” The First Superhero
The orphaned infant child of marooned English aristocrats, Tarzan was adopted and named by a troop of advanced apes in the wilds of Africa, growing into an action hero. The novel was an overnight sensation. Its debut in All-Story led to newspaper serialization and a hardcover book the following year.
Fast-paced, imaginative, and ably told, Tarzan borrows from sources as diverse as Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1892), whose main character Mowgli was a boy raised by wolves; the jungle adventure tales of H. Rider Haggard; and even Joseph Conrad, from whom Burroughs took the As-Told-to-Me narrative frame of the 1906 classic novella, Heart of Darkness.
With his overnight success, Burroughs was able to draw on his hard-earned corporate savvy. Affable and easy-going, he considered himself a storyteller, not a writer, whose job was to steadily produce product that was then sold to the highest bidder.
In 1914, with Tarzan’s success making him the most famous author in America, Burroughs bought a large house in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. This almost certainly made an impression on 15-year-old Ernest Hemingway, who lived just eight blocks away.
Burroughs was the first writer to incorporate as a business – ERB Inc. – that licensed all of his characters and stories. In the early stages of his career, this mainly meant serial publication rights, magazines, newspapers, and hardcover editions of the novels that began to flow from his pen. His foresight, though, created a goldmine in 1918 when the first Tarzan film debuted.
Though the first movie Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, looked more like a weightlifter in a long, furry, off-the-shoulder gown, and not the lithe, nearly nude character of the novel, the film was an immediate smash. With then-groundbreaking special effects, and relatively realistic jungle scenes, it was one of the first films to gross more than $1 million. Burroughs’s share was a cool $45,000 (over $800,000 in 2021 dollars).
Tarzan Kick-Starts Action Hero Movies
Tarzan was the first superhero to appear across a range of consumer products – candy, games, toys, comic strips, comic books, radio shows, and films. Fourteen years after the first movie, Tarzan was back in theaters, now in the shape of Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller, exactly the trim and muscular figure Burroughs envisioned for his famous character.
The first two MGM Tarzan films were particularly notable for Weissmuller’s jungle yell, ever after associated with the character, and the sexy chemistry between him and costar Maureen O’Sullivan, Tarzan’s “mate” Jane.
Made before the Hays production code enforced a nearly Victorian modesty on Hollywood movies, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934) dressed their two gorgeous stars in the skimpiest outfits possible at the time. The second film even included a beautifully shot nude underwater ballet. Cut from the finished film, it was rediscovered in MGM’s archives decades later.
But if the ten next Weissmuller movies earned Burroughs another fortune, they also took Tarzan away from him. The plots for the films were cobbled together by studio writers, and drifted widely from the characters and stories Burroughs continued to produce.
Where Weissmuller’s Tarzan spoke in a pidgin English, and rarely left the jungle home he shared with Jane and their adopted son “Boy,” the Tarzan of the novels (human name: John, Lord Greystoke) had quickly regained the status and estate of his aristocratic parents, learned to fly airplanes, dressed well, could speak French, and lived with Jane (and their biological son Jack) on an enormous African ranch, returning to his jungle ways only as needed by the demands of plot.
Widely considered the best-selling American author of the first half of the 20th century, Burroughs’s dozens of adventure titles are estimated to have sold as many as 60 million copies.
Burroughs admitted that “most of the stories I wrote were the stories I told myself before I went to sleep.” As such, they are particular tales of wish fulfillment of a long-frustrated, white American man who grew up in the late 19th century. Burroughs, according to the novelist and critic Gore Vidal, “consoled himself with an inner world where he was strong and handsome, adored by beautiful women and worshipped by exotic races.” Consequently, his stories can present problems for many contemporary readers.
Though his cavalry experience left Burroughs with a respect for the black soldiers he served with, and an admiration of the Native Americans he encountered on duty, as he aged, and his writing became more formulaic, common racist tropes of savage Africans, and stereotypically comic Afro-American servants, infused his stories.
White supremacy – based explicitly on culture, not genetics – is the now-obvious subtext of the Tarzan and Mars adventures. Burroughs’s worst racial animus, however, was directed at the Japanese. In his last Tarzan novel, Tarzan and the Foreign Legion, written in 1943, Tarzan, helped by a drug giving him eternal youth, shows up to fight for the Allies in the South Pacific.
Tarzan And The Demands Of The Market
Burroughs escaped a financial dead end by writing Tarzan of the Apes, but churning out a stream of pulp novels with the same characters, year in and out, for two decades eventually brought on a creative one.
He was never too fussy about how his stories unfolded. The later works in the Tarzan (24 novels total) and Mars (10 books) series, along with a third series, six titles total, about the Land of Pellucidar, a prehistoric world inside a hollow Earth, rely on stock predicaments, outlandish coincidences, and bad dialogue.
The decline in quality was the direct result of a constant need for new product. For all the money Burroughs made, he spent it on a millionaire’s lifestyle once he moved from Oak Park to Los Angeles in 1918.
In 1918, Burroughs bought the 550-acre San Fernando Valley mansion estate of the late newspaper publisher H.G. Otis, naming his new home for his famous hero. Tight finances forced Burroughs to subdivide and sell the property, for a neat profit, six years later. In doing so he created the Los Angeles neighborhood still called Tarzana.
In California, he settled into a life of steady writing (producing many action novels outside the three fantasy adventure series) and business deals. A divorce and quick remarriage to a woman half his age preceded a move to Honolulu in 1936. There he witnessed the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. A two-year stint as a celebrity war correspondent, without seeing much action, in the Pacific brought a level of thrills missing from his life since his cavalry/cowboy days.
By then, though, Burroughs was suffering from decades of heavy cigarette smoking and vigorous social drinking. Divorced again, and increasingly incapacitated with a failing heart, he died of a coronary in Los Angeles in 1950. ERB Inc., however, continued to run, managed by his son and grandson, and still licenses products to this day.
Why Tarzan Matters
Given the poor quality of Burroughs’ later stories, and the tacit racism of so many of the tales, is his work still worth reading? In spite of those liabilities, Edgar Rice Burroughs did a lot of stuff right. He took great pride in researching details for his African stories, and created maps and languages for his make-believe realms.
He was a genius at what’s now called world-building, hanging his fantasies on a frame of realistic details. He came up with some excellent names, and was peerless at describing action – everything from sword fights to horseback riding. Most of all, he had a rich imagination that makes his best works, none of them very long, fun to read.
What’s more, Burroughs’s immense popularity gave an early drive and distinction to pulp fiction, that very American literary form, and by doing so inspired generations of young writers. And if his prose can’t compare with the work of the best pulp authors, his characters certainly do.
Tarzan, like any mythic being, has survived for more than a century in the popular imagination by representing wide and ongoing cultural concerns. Once standing for a certain kind of European management of wild places and remote people, Tarzan now represents an immersive encounter with nature, a vivid connection between humans and animals that recognizes our shared existence on the planet, and the threat to endangered species and pristine landscapes.
Tarzan as Eco-Warrior? It’s a safe bet that Ed Burroughs, were he alive today, would be happy to tell that story.
Published originally in a pulp magazine called All-Story in 1912, Tarzan of the Apesby Edgar Rice Burroughs was the first novel about a white child who was raised by primates after his parents died. He grew up to usurp the alpha male ape as king of the jungle after learning their ways. He swung from vines, had a trademark call of the wild, was eventually introduced to a bunch of abhorrent humans and the less abhorrent Jane, the love of his life, and finds out he is the heir to a title and a fortune. The series was an immediate massive hit and Burroughs capitalized on that popularity by writing two dozen sequels.
Hollywood came calling
Not counting the adult films, there have been at least 45 movies starting with 1918’s silent Tarzan of the Apes and including a bunch of cheesy adventures in the 1930s and 1940s with Johnny Weissmuller and a softcore romp with Bo Derek in 1981 that featured the characters from Burroughs’ books. There was also a 1966-68 NBC television series starring Ron Ely as the savage swinger and an animated children’s program in the 1970s. The most well-know adaptation is likely the Disney animated movie made in 1999, which like many other Disney films and Disney rides, feature real-life places.
Tarzan’s image, according to the Los Angeles Times, has been used to sell everything from T-shirts to vitamins and chest wigs. In Japan, a fitness magazine was even named after him. The Southern Californian community, Tarzana—where Burroughs built his office in 1926 and was buried—is also named after the lord of the jungle. There is no denying that Tarzan is one of the most beloved and enduring characters in the whole of literature.
The author who originally wrote under a pseudonym because “he thought writing was a lark” and a “silly profession for a big vigorous outdoorsman, as he fancied himself to be,” according to a Los Angeles Timesinterview with Scott Tracy Griffin, who wrote Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration, a scholarly coffee-table book published when the first novel turned 100 in 2012. Griffin says Burroughs was always “canny about his inspirations.” He “was a very well-read man” who “studied Greek and Latin through his school years, did research in the Chicago Public Library” and “had a very firm grounding in the classics.”
Burroughs usually claimed Tarzan was based on classic tales and mythology, often citing the story of Romulus and Remus. According to Britannica.com, they were the twin grandsons of King Numitor, who was deposed by his brother, and fathered by the war god Mars. They were sentenced to death by drowning as infants so as not to leave any rightful claimants to the throne. But they wound up floating down the Tiber River to the site where they would later found Rome, only surviving by being suckled and fed by a she-wolf and a woodpecker.
Many believe Burroughs was so specific and canny about the origins of his idea because he was plagued by accusations of copying Rudyard Kipling, whose Jungle Bookwas published many years earlier in 1894 and featured Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves, befriended by other animals, and eventually faced with both internal and external human dilemmas. (Coincidentally, it was also turned into a Disney cartoon and a live-action film.) Kipling himself once accused Burroughs of jazzing up the Mowgli plot in order to make Tarzan a hit, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Possible real-life Tarzan
But like a good book, the plot thickens. It turns out Kipling might have been wrong, at least partially, and Burroughs might have hidden his actual inspiration for the hero. It wouldn’t be the first incidence of a writer basing an iconic character on a real person.
Enter the 14th Earl of Streatham, William Charles Mildin. According to a 1959 article by journalist Thomas Llewellyn Jones in Man’s Adventuremagazine, Mildin’s shocking tale of survival and primates sounds pretty familiar.
To recap, Tarzan aka John Clayton was the child of aristocrats. The family was marooned in Africa and, after both of his parents perished, he was left to fend for himself in the jungle. He learns survival skills from a family of apes who call him Tarzan, meaning “white of skin.” He eventually tangles with a bunch of other humans including his shady family members and his beloved Jane and learns about his moneyed heritage.
Both came from English nobility
A Telegrapharticle explains that the earl’s story surfaced when family documents were released after his son died in 1937. Lord Mildin left 1,500 handwritten pages of memoirs. Tarzan’s real identity was Lord Greystroke. (Lord Greystroke is, however, a made-up name.)
Both were shipwrecked in Africa
The Earl also spent more than a decade, 15 years to be exact, in the wilds of Africa after a job on a boat went terribly wrong. His papers begin: “I was only 11 when, in a boyish fit of anger and pique, I ran away from home and obtained a berth as cabin boy aboard the four-masted sailing vessel, Antilla, bound for African ports-of-call and the Cape of Good Hope …”
His ship was destroyed during a three-day storm and he claimed he survived by clinging to a “piece of the wreckage.” He washed ashore somewhere between Pointe Noire and Libreville in French Equatorial Africa, according to The Telegraph. The original Man’s Adventure article said official insurance documents proved the Antilla had been totaled in 1868.
Clearly, if he was the prototype for Tarzan, this is where Burroughs took some liberties. Mildin was 11 and had run away from home; Tarzan was a small child who was stranded with his parents.
Both palled around with primates
The papers say he did not seek out natives as he “had always heard they were savages — headhunters and cannibals.” Mildin’s memoirs claim he took up with a group of apes after they provided him with food. According to a fanzine called ERBzine article, which reprinted Llewallan Jones’ 1959 article, the journals stated: “For some strange reason, I was not afraid of these strange creatures. They were hideous to look upon but seemed gentle and harmless.”
He writes that they gave him nuts, grubs, and roots. He was starving so he ate the castoffs, which apparently were rejected by his system at first. “I was terribly ill afterwards and the apes appeared to understand this. One ancient female hunched her way over to me and cradled me in her arms.”
He “gathered branches to make a crude treehouse.” He returned the favor to the family by making fire and stealing weapons from a native settlement: “I found new and easy ways to root under logs for grubs and dig for roots with a sharp-tipped stick. He talks about dressing their wounds with cool moss or wet mud.
Mildin brags that he was “unusually strong and agile for his age” but never claims he became the leader of the animals. “The brutes came to look upon me, not as a leader for I could not match their feats of strength and endurance, but as a mute well-intentioned and helpful counselor,” says an excerpt in the ERBzine piece.
Unlike Tarzan, he did not speak to the apes but did figure out some form of communication. Sounds wild, but scientific experiments and studies like the long-term one with Koko The Gorilla prove apes can be taught sign language. Once Mildin became a teen, he claims he left the beasts and moved in with a native tribe.
Both were swingers
Albeit different kinds, but Mildin was a bit of a player before he re-entered the realm of the white man. He alleges he married five local women and sired four children during his time in the village. His papers allege that the barren wife was speared to death in a ritual as it was the tribe’s custom to punish sterility.
When bad blood began to boil again with rival tribes, according to the ERBzine article, Mildin fought alongside his adopted people and taught them the art of “surprise attacks.” After he tired of war, he went full deadbeat dad, deserted them, and worked his way slowly up the coast until reaching a trading post some 250 miles away. Within months, he had returned to his homeland to claim his title, estate, and white male privilege. Warring tribes in that part of Western Africa at the time is a verifiable fact and according to the ERBzine article, there was an 1884 report from Fort Lamy that confirms Mildin came through there to get home.
According to the Reporter-Herald, the story goes a little differently. They mention that Mildin returned to London 15 years later but it was after being captured by adventurers and returned to civilization. If you remember, Tarzan also spends time in civilization, eventually learns of his nobility, and was often hunted by other humans.
Either way, Mildin made it home to his family fortune and title. He married again and had one son, Edwin George, in 1889. He died in 1919 and his son died in 1937 never having married.
Given that most of the players in this scenario died before this theory could be proven, there’s no way to 100 percent know that Mildin’s story helped in at least part to spark Tarzan’s creation. Mildin’s detailed papers were only released, per his will, when his last legitimate heir had passed away. However, the broad details of his marooning in Africa and his return, a few decades before Burroughs wrote the book, were covered in several articles in The London Times and romanticized in English illustrated papers and magazines, according to ERBzine. We’ve already established that experts believe Burroughs was a very well-read man who did lots of research. And if he did reach out to Mildin, it is entirely possible that Burroughs agreed to keep it a secret because Mildin knew the details of his papers, largely admitting the existence of his illegitimate African-based children, would complicate his will.
Jane of the Jungle
Pretty sure this tale has you wondering about Jane. But sadly for fans of Tarzan’s lady friend who first appeared in Tarzan of the Apes — A Romance of the Jungle in 1912 in All-Story, she does appear to be a pure figment of Burroughs’ imagination. Jane’s introduction was such a hit that it spurred Burroughs to write a bunch of tales about the pair’s life together in the jungle. Perhaps best of all, she inspired one real-life Jane, Jane Goodall, to live among the apes in Africa. “Silly man,” Goodall is reported as saying by the Jane Goodall Institute. “He married the wrong Jane.” We guess we can add Tarzan and Mildin to the list of classic cartoons and their real-life inspirations.
Back in 2012, the Library of America published special facsimile editions of two Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novels: “Tarzan of the Apes,” introduced by Thomas Mallon, and the nearly as famous planetary romance, “A Princess of Mars,” introduced by Junot Diaz. This year, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. has begun to issue a uniform authorized edition of the entire Tarzan series, each volume featuring action-filled cover art by Joe Jusko. The company has also continued the “Carson of Venus” saga with a newly commissioned exploit by Matt Betts titled “The Edge of All Worlds.” While Burroughs (1875-1950) churned out every kind of pulp adventure, including several books set in the hollow-earth realm of Pellucidar and a fast-moving lost-world trilogy assembled as “The Land That Time Forgot,” the first Tarzan novels, in particular, show how deeply his mythic storytelling can captivate the imagination.
The books do this, moreover, despite Burroughs’s sometimes stilted language, period stereotypes (dotty professor, “humorous” Black maid, cartoon Russian anarchist) and myriad improbabilities in their plotting. Racial attitudes and beliefs are typical of the time yet more nuanced than you might expect: Tarzan judges people, regardless of their skin color or ethnicity, solely by their character. Courage, fortitude and compassion — these are the qualities that matter.
Burroughs opens “Tarzan of the Apes” (1914) with an irresistible hook: “I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.” The pages that follow describe how the infant son of the dead Lord and Lady Greystoke is reared by an anthropoid ape named Kala and learns to survive and flourish in the African jungle. One day, the grown Tarzan swings out of the trees to rescue a party of shipwrecked Westerners, thereby encountering Baltimorean Jane Porter and her suitor, the English aristocrat William Clayton, heir-apparent to the Greystoke title and estates. Many adventures follow but, with a daring that most writers would shrink from, Burroughs brings the novel to a climax in, of all places, Wisconsin.
There, Jane and Tarzan finally acknowledge their love for each other, even though Jane feels honor-bound to keep her promise to wed Clayton. Shortly after a tearful farewell, the brokenhearted ape-man learns that he is, in fact, the rightful Lord Greystoke. Just then, Clayton enters and cheekily asks, “How the devil did you ever get into that bally jungle?” The answer provides the novel’s throat-catching final lines:
“ ‘I was born there,’ said Tarzan, quietly. ‘My mother was an Ape, and of course she couldn’t tell me much about it. I never knew who my father was.’ ”
This act of renunciation drives home one of Burroughs’s main themes: That despite a brutish, not British, upbringing, Kala’s son possesses unassailable nobility and fineness of character. Note that this isn’t because of aristocratic blood, family background or race. Rather the novel presents Tarzan as Rousseau’s unspoiled child of nature, a literally noble savage free from the vices and corruption associated with advanced industrial society. However, the encounter with Jane Porter has seriously shaken his equanimity.
As “The Return of Tarzan” (1915) opens, the ape-man feels psychologically divided between the claims of “civilization” and the call of the wild. (This is a common literary theme of the era — think of Jack London’s sled dog Buck, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.) What should a lord of the jungle do with his life?
First, Monsieur Jean C. Tarzan tries to adapt to Parisian high society — at least until a dastardly Russian named Nikolas Rokoff contrives to make it appear that Tarzan’s friendship with the Countess de Coude masks a full-fledged love affair. To save the lady’s honor, Tarzan again chooses self-sacrifice, resolving to die in a duel with her husband, the finest pistol shot in France. Miraculously, he survives and, for good measure, proves the countess’s innocence.
Next, the ape-man travels to Algeria to expose a traitor in the French Foreign Legion. By freeing a young Arab woman from slavery, he earns the undying gratitude of her father, a powerful desert sheikh. “All that is Kadour ben Saden’s is thine, my friend, even to his life.” Tarzan rapidly comes to admire the sheikh and his stern, dignified warriors, but resists the temptation to settle among them permanently.
After thwarting several murder attempts by Rokoff, our hero finally returns to his beloved African homeland. “Who would go back to the stifling, wicked cities of civilized man when the mighty reaches of the great jungle offered peace and liberty? Not he.” Before long Tarzan, by now a specialist in rescuing people from certain death, saves an African named Busuli, then joins his new friend’s people, the Waziri, among whom he finds contentment — for a while.
Even the most casual reader of “The Return of Tarzan” will notice its neatly orchestrated shifts, as its displaced protagonist “tries out” life among White Europeans, sunburnt Arabs and Black Waziri. But Tarzan’s journey of self-discovery isn’t over yet. While exploring the mysterious, half-ruined city of Opar, he is captured by its savage inhabitants, most of whom are virtually indistinguishable from H.G. Wells’s bestial Morlocks. Only Opar’s high priestess La preserves a fully human beauty and Tarzan the Irresistible naturally catches her eye.
Following a lucky escape from Opar, the weary-hearted lord of the jungle finally decides, in Walt Whitman’s phrase, to “turn and live with the animals. They are so placid and self-contained.” He rejoins the apes he grew up with and gradually begins to forget the heartache and complexity of being human. At which point Jane reappears – along with Clayton and Rokoff.
As this précis indicates, the Tarzan novels repeatedly extol glad animal spirits and natural instinct over western culture’s soul-deadening constraints and artificiality. This is a simplistic dichotomy, albeit useful for highly melodramatic storytelling. In his many, many adventures to come, the ape-man will sometimes appear as the urbane and proper Lord Greystoke, but whenever serious danger threatens, he will, in approved superhero fashion, quickly doff his bespoke suit and take to the trees as Tarzan the untamed, Tarzan the invincible.
George Orwell was a novelist, journalist, essayist and critic, best known for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
What was George Orwell’s real name, and when was he born?
George Orwell was the pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair. He was born in Motihari, Bengal, India, in 1903, to a family which he described in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) as ‘lower-upper middle class’: ‘upper-middle class without money’. According to his biographer Bernard Crick, Orwell used a pseudonym ‘partly to avoid embarrassing his parents, partly as a hedge against failure, and partly because he disliked the name Eric, which reminded him of a prig in a Victorian boys’ story’.
He worked hard and won a place at Eton but while there dedicated himself more to reading widely than passing exams. Rather than going on to University, he took the Indian Civil Service exams and became a policeman in Burma in 1921 – he was probably the first and only old Etonian to attend the Burmese police training academy. His experiences inspired his first novel, Burmese Days, which was published in New York in 1934 (British publishers feared libel cases).
What did George Orwell write?
Orwell’s first book was the non-fictional Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), and was based on his experiences after he left the police. The critic Bernard Crick tells us that during this time, he took to making journeys among tramps, and spent time living amongst the poor and homeless in London and around the hop fields of Kent, writing that he wanted to see if the English poor were treated in their country in the same way as the Burmese were in theirs.
Orwell then moved to Paris in 1928, where in his own words, he lived for about a year and a half in Paris, writing novels and short stories which no one would publish. He described how, ‘After my money came to an end I had several years of fairly severe poverty during which I was, among other things, a dishwasher, a private tutor and a teacher in cheap private schools.’
How did Orwell’s political views inform his writing?
Four years later in his essay ‘Why I write’, he explained that ‘what I have most wanted to do is to make political writing into an art’. His political convictions, which have been described as democratic socialism, inform books such as The Road to Wigan Pier, a documentary account of poverty in Britain. Its second half, critical of Socialist intellectuals who supported Stalin, was enormously controversial, as was his account of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia (1938), which criticises leftist infighting in the context of a broader struggle against Fascism.
Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four
His novel Animal Farm(1945) also expresses his hatred of totalitarianism, satirising the developments of the Russian revolution in the style of a fable based on the eponymous farm. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) deals with similar subject matter by describing a dystopian future overseen by the all-powerful Big Brother. Both books have been translated all around the world, and were read differently by conflicting parties during the Cold War.
When did George Orwell die?
Having adopted a son, Orwell died of tuberculosis on 21 January 1950.
Animal Farm (1945) is a novella by George Orwell. Orwell finished writing the draft, originally sub-titled A Fairy Story, in summer 1944. After being rejected by a number of publishers, Animal Farm was finally published in August 1945.
What is Animal Farm about?
Animal Farm is a commentary on the development of Russian communism under Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) delivered in allegorical form. The thoroughgoing allegory compares the inequalities of brutal, socially unequal pre-Revolutionary Russia with a cruelly run farm on which the humans represent the capitalists and aristocrats, and the animals represent the people.
Old Major, Napoleon and Boxer: what do the pigs and horse represent?
The Old Major – a prize boar who dies relatively early in the action – represents the Marxist-Leninist principles behind the Revolution through which the animals take power. In the short term, conditions are improved, but gradually corruption creeps in, and Napoleon – another boar, who represents Stalin – betrays the principles of the Revolution. Notably, he deceitfully sends the horse Boxer, who has been a noble, hardworking servant of the original principles of the Revolution, to the knacker’s yard to fund the increasingly human-like luxuries indulged in by the pigs who have assumed control of the farm.
The final perversion of the original principles of the revolution is expressed in the line ‘all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’, a phrase which has passed into the public consciousness.
Like Nineteen Eighty-Four after it, the book was misread as being critical of all forms of socialism, rather than specifically Stalinist communism, and the American Central Intelligence Agency funded a cartoon version in 1955. Because of its illegality, many in Soviet-controlled territory first read it in pirated, ‘samizdat’ form.
How did George Orwell describe Animal Farm?
In the essay ‘Why I Write’ (1946), Orwell described Animal Farm as ‘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’. In the clarity of its story and structure, it reflects Orwell’s commitment – in that essay and elsewhere – to expressing political ideas in what is now celebrated as a ‘plain style’, in particular contrast to what he saw as the worst jargonistic excesses of Marxist philosophy.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm is one of the best-known examples of animal fable, a symbolic narrative in which animal characters are endowed with human qualities. The best-known beast fables in Western literature are the narratives attributed to Aesop, an ancient Greek story teller who is thought to have lived circa 620–564 BCE. Aesop’s fables were characterised by their brevity and clarity, and by the inclusion of an explicit moral at the end which summarised the lesson illustrated by the story. Showing human values through animal characters allowed readers to examine their behaviour from a distanced perspective.
Orwell’s satirical tale is a more developed version of the beast fable. Rather than stating a moral at the end, the emphasis is placed on the plot of the story, on the narration of different episodes that show the progressive degeneration of the pig-led administration of the farm. However, Orwell’s novella still contains some of the features that made beast fables traditionally popular: it is relatively brief and fast-paced and it is written in a straightforward style.
Most of the elements that form the plot of Animal Farm correspond directly to specific historical events relating to the Stalinist regime, and the pigs Napoleon and Snowball have an allegorical relationship to Stalin and Trotsky. However, Animal Farm can also be read as a broader fable warning against totalitarian regimes and their use of violent repression and propaganda campaigns.
The animals of Animal Farm
Animal stories have traditionally been associated with children’s literature, and Orwell himself gave his novella the subtitle of ‘A Fairy Story’. While the subject matter of Animal Farm is unquestionably political, there is something whimsical and evocative about the use of talking animals as characters. The reader learns about the events on the farm through the perspective of the largely naïve, idealistic animals who witness, astonished, the evolution of the pig-led regime.
While Orwell gives us a grim description of the brutal and corrupt behaviour of the pigs in charge of the farm, the majority of the animals are portrayed sympathetically. Traditional fables were not so much stories about animals as about human qualities expressed symbolically though the figure of the animal. But in Animal Farm Orwell goes one step further. Episodes such as the exploitation of the hens for their eggs are written with true compassion for the mistreatment of animals.
Orwell himself was familiar with barnyard animals, as he kept goats and hens at his house in Wallington. In the preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, he explained to his readers that the idea to write the novel had occurred to him while he watched a boy driving a carthorse and repeatedly whipping it when it tried to turn. Orwell explained how ‘It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat’.
The 1954 animated film version of Animal Farm by John Halas and Joy Batchelor also paid particular attention to the physique of the animals, and how their bodies – the birds’ lack of arms, for instance – would have conditioned their ability to run the farm. From the comedic interpretation of how an animal could do the work of a human farmer, to the portrayal of the physical suffering of Boxer the carthorse, the film makes an effort to understand the story through the perspective of the animal.
A new ending
While Halas and Batchelor’s film was generally faithful to the plot of the book, there were some substantial alterations. Some of the book’s characters were removed from the film version, including the mares Molly and Clover. However, the most significant change was its ending. Orwell’s novel ends pessimistically by describing the pigs as indistinguishable from their human masters. In contrast, the film presents a more uplifting ending in which the animals obtain outside help from other farms to successfully overthrow Napoleon.
Animal Farm and the CIA
During the 1950s, at the beginning of the Cold War, the works of Orwell became very popular – Orwell had famously denounced the Soviet Union as a repressive and totalitarian regime. The 1954 film version of Animal Farm was secretly funded by the American intelligence agency the CIA, who bought the rights from the writer’s widow, Sonia Orwell. The film was commissioned as part of their anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet Union propaganda strategy. Halas and Batchelor, who had previously worked on films for the American Marshall plan and the British Ministry of Information, were chosen for the project, although it is uncertain whether they knew who was funding the film.
The early Sixties. Everything is up in the air, not least love, drugs and sex. A group of talented teenagers from academic backgrounds in Cambridge — Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett, Roger Waters and David Gilmour — are all keen guitarists and among many who move to London, keen to discover more of this new world and express themselves in it. Mainly in further education — studying the arts, architecture, music — they mix with like-minded incomers in the big city.
In 1965, Barrett and Waters meet an experimental percussionist and an extraordinarily gifted keyboards-player — Nick Mason and Rick Wright respectively. The result is Pink Floyd, which more than 40 years later has moved from massive to almost mythic standing.
Through several changes of personnel, through several musical phases, the band has earned a place on the ultimate roll call of rock, along with the Beatles, the Stones and Led Zeppelin. Their album sales have topped 250 million. In 2005, at Live 8 — the biggest global music event in history — the reunion of the four-man line-up that recorded most of the Floyd canon stole the show. And yet, true to their beginnings, there has always been an enigma at their heart.
Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett, for example. This cool and charismatic son of a university don was the original creative force behind the band (which he named after the Delta bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council). His vision was perfect for the times, and vice versa. He would lead the band to its first precarious fame, and damage himself irreparably along the way. And though the Floyd’s Barrett era only lasted three years, it always informed what they became.
These were the summers of love, when LSD was less an hallucinogenic interval than a lifestyle choice for some young people, who found their culture in science fiction, the pastoral tradition, and a certain strain of the Victorian imagination. Drawing on such themes, the elfin Barrett wrote and sang on most of the early Floyd’s material, which made use of new techniques, such as tape-loops, feedback and echo delay.
Live, the Floyd played sonic freak-outs — half-hidden by new-fangled light-shows and projections — with Barrett’s spacey lead guitar swooping over Waters’ trance-like bass, while Wright and Mason created soundscapes above and beneath. On record they were tighter, if still ‘psychedelic’. Either way, they sounded ‘trippy’. And perhaps that was Barrett’s intention. He certainly ingested plenty of LSD and other drugs, which didn’t help his delicate mental balance.
Over the spring of 1966, the young band were regulars at the Spontaneous Underground ‘happenings’ on Sundays at the legendary Marquee Club, where they were spotted by their future managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King. And by the autumn, the Floyd had become the house band of the so-called London Free School in west London.
A semi-residency at the All Saint’s Hall led to bigger bookings — at the UFO and the International Times‘ launch in the Roundhouse — as well as the recording of the instrumental ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ with the UFO’s co-founder, producer Joe Boyd. (This track was later used on hip documentaries of the scene.) A signing to EMI followed in early 1967.
«We want to be pop stars,» said Syd. In March, Boyd recorded Barrett’s oddly commercial ‘Arnold Layne’ as a three-minute single. And with a Top Twenty hit to promote, the band took on a gruelling schedule of gigs and recordings.
They appeared at the coolest event of the summer, The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream in Alexandra Palace. They gave a concert under the banner ‘Games for May’ in a classical venue — the Queen Elizabeth Hall — where they displayed their theatrical ambitions through the use of props, pre-recorded tapes and the world’s first quadraphonic sound system. (They received a lifetime ban for throwing daffodils into the audience.) And in June the Floyd released a single originally written for this event.
‘See Emily Play’, which was produced by EMI’s Norman Smith, charted at Number Six and made it on to primetime TV’s Top of the Pops three times (with Barrett acting increasingly strangely). This was followed in August by Pink Floyd’s first LP, The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, which they recorded at Abbey Road next door to the Beatles, then working on Sergeant Pepper. Again making the Top Ten, the album is mainly Barrett’s and is a precious relic of its time, a wonderful mix of the whimsical and weird.
Talking of which, Barrett’s behaviour and output were threatening to bring the band down with him: refusing to speak, playing one de-tuned string all night, writing material like ‘Scream Thy Last Scream, Old Woman with a Basket’. The band wanted to keep their frontman and hoped he would recover himself, so they asked David Gilmour — now back in London after a sojourn abroad — to take over Syd’s role on stage, and thought Barrett might become their off-stage songwriter. They tried a few gigs as a five-piece. But in the end, they decided they could do without Barrett, and by March 1968 were in their second incarnation and under new management.
Set the Controls
Barrett went his way with Jenner and King, and later recorded two haunting solo albums — on which Waters, Wright and especially Gilmour helped — before retreating to Cambridge for the rest of his life. The other four acquired a new manager — Steve O’Rourke — and in a state of some consternation finished their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets (begun the previous year).
Lyrical duties had now fallen to the bassist Roger Waters. And apart from ‘Jugband Blues’ — a disturbing track by Barrett, who contributed little else — the album’s standout moments included the title track and Waters’ ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’.
This hypnotic epic signposted the style the band would expand on in the Seventies, its vision at first more appreciated by an ‘intellectual’ and European audience. The Floyd played the first free concert in Hyde Park, and laid down the soundtrack for the bizarre Paul Jones movie vehicle, The Committee. They toured continually, developing new material on stage as well as in the studio.
And they worked on the experience, in April 1969 revealing an early form of surround-sound at the Royal Festival Hall — their rebuilt ‘Azimuth Co-Ordinator’. (The prototype, first constructed and used in 1967, had been stolen.) They worked on their concepts, too – at that concert, performing two long pieces fusing old and new material, entitled ‘The Man’ and ‘The Journey’.
So their star continued its inevitable ascent. In July, the Floyd released More, less a soundtrack than an accompaniment to Barbet Schroder’s eponymous film about a group of hippies on the drug trail in Ibiza. The same month, they played live ‘atmospherics’ to the BBC’s live coverage of the first moon landing. In November, they released the double-album Ummagumma, a mixture of live and studio tracks — and that same month reworked its outstanding number, the eerie ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’, for Antonioni’s cult film Zabriskie Point.
With Ummagumma at Number Five in the UK charts, and a growing reputation in both Europe and the US underground, the Floyd played some of the key festivals of their time — Bath, Antibes, Rotterdam, Montreux — and between October 1970 and November 1971, put out two more albums.
Atom Heart Mother, their first Number One, featured the Floyd in their pomp — ‘I like a bit of pomp,’ says Gilmour (who also made his first lyrical contribution with the gentle ‘Fat Old Sun’). And Meddle included two timeless and largely instrumental tracks that showcased their lead guitarist in all his vertiginous, keening glory: ‘Echoes’, which took up the whole of Side One and began with a single ‘ping’ created almost accidentally by Wright, and ‘One of These Days’.
Increasingly successful, in 1972 the band was still pushing the boundaries. They shot the film ‘Live at Pompei’ in a Roman amphitheatre, recorded another movie soundtrack for Schroder — Obscured by Clouds — and performed with the Ballet de Marseille. But more importantly, they began to work on an idea that would become their most popular album and with 45 million sold, the world’s third biggest.
Provisionally entitled ‘Eclipse’ and honed through an extensive world tour, The Dark Side of the Moon was released in March 1973, and defies a potted critique here. Demonstrating Waters’ talents as both lyricist and conceptualist, it was also a musical tour de force by Gilmour. But Waters was becoming de facto leader of the band — which in public at least was becoming less about the individuals than the experience.
That was (as Barrett had always intended) increasingly visual. The intriguing sleeve artwork commissioned from the ex-Cambridge outfit Hipgnosis was complemented by stage shows featuring crashing aeroplanes, circular projection screens and flaming gongs. There were backing singers on-stage and a guest slot for another pal from Cambridge, the saxophonist Dick Parry. In the dawning age of stadium rock, the Floyd were truly its masters.
Or maybe its servants? Even before Dark Side broke Middle America through FM radio — with the single ‘Money’ — alienation, isolation and mental fragility had long been Waters’ themes. As a stadium performer, and a cog in the music business machine, he was becoming more prone to all three. As Barrett’s ex-colleague, he had seen them embodied in his old friend. The results were evident in two of his best lyrics — for ‘Shine On, You Crazy Diamond’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’. These tracks were the high points of the Floyd’s next LP, also called Wish You Were Here, which was begun in January 1975 and released that summer.
Famously, Barrett briefly appeared unannounced at Abbey Road during the recording of ‘Shine On’ and shocked the band by his appearance and demeanour. It was the last time any of them saw him — but they were seeing less of each other, too. Personal and musical differences were starting to tell on the band, though it would be several years until these became unbearable — and two more LPs.
Which One’s Pink?
The first was Animals, released in January 1977 (although work had also begun on it in 1975). When this was toured with lavish special effects, including giant inflatables, Waters was dismayed that the crowds kept calling for old hits. In Montreal his patience snapped and he spat into the audience. It was a cathartic moment that gave birth to the Floyd’s most ambitious project ever: The Wall, a largely autobiographical reflection by Waters on the nature of love, life and art.
The double album charts the progress of a rock star, ‘Pink’, facing the break-up of his marriage while on tour. This leads him to review his life from the death of his father – like Waters’ killed on the battlefield before he was born – to his spiteful teachers, his business, even his audience. He sees each as a brick in a metaphorical wall between him and the rest of the world. This wall intensifies his isolation, until he imagines the only solution is to become a fascist dictator. When he confronts his madness and deals with his issues, his torments cease and the wall crumbles.
The show — in which the band were slowly obscured by a giant wall of cardboard ‘bricks’ — was the most ambitious the rock world had ever seen, and was also turned into an Alan Parker film, starring Bob Geldof (who would return to the Floyd story 25 years later). The album sold 20 million, and spawned the band’s only Number One single, the anti-authoritarian ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’.
Though the album had its musical highlights — Gilmour’s solo on ‘Comfortably Numb’ being the most memorable — it was largely a lyrical piece. Waters drove the project and the others fitted in. They ceded their vision to his increasingly personal direction, and worked together on no new material for more than two years.
When they did get back in the studio, it was to record The Final Cut. This prophetically titled album, prompted by the Falklands conflict of 1982 and released the next year, explores themes of remembrance and the undelivered post-war dream — for which Waters’ father had given his life. Completely credited to Waters, it was attributed to ‘Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd’ and featured Gilmour’s vocals on one track.
After three years — during which all four band members had pursued solo projects — Waters announced he was leaving the Floyd and disbanding them. Wright had left the legal entity some time before, transferring to the payroll for The Wall tour and playing no part in The Final Cut, but Gilmour and Mason decided to continue Pink Floyd without its erstwhile ‘leader’. A turbulent period followed, but agreement was eventually reached: Waters would continue to perform the songs on which he worked while he was with the band, as well as new solo material. Gilmour — now first among equals — and Mason would continue to record and perform with Wright as Pink Floyd.
In 1987 came their next album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason — which emphatically proved that the Floyd could exist without Waters. The subsequent world tour, which also spawned the live Delicate Sound of Thunder, was the band’s longest and most successful ever. Over four years, 5.5 million people saw 200 shows, including one on a floating stage in Venice (which again earned them a venue-ban) while Thunder became the first rock album to be played in space, by the Soviet-French Soyuz-7 mission.
1994’s album and tour, The Division Bell, broke similar records; but more, it showed Gilmour and the band on a creative roll, with Wright contributing to some of the writing and Gilmour forging a new writing partnership with his wife, the novelist Polly Samson — ‘High Hopes’ being one of their new classics. However, since then, the Floyd has recorded no new material in the studio.
Not that they have been inactive — nor untouched by sorrows. In 2003, the band’s manager Steve O’Rourke died from a stroke and the three-man Floyd played ‘Fat Old Sun’ and Dark Side‘s ‘Great Gig in the Sky’, at his funeral in Chichester Cathedral. In 2006, Syd Barrett died from pancreatic cancer. And in 2008 Rick Wright followed him — but not before he had helped re-write the Pink Floyd story a couple more times.
In 2005, prompted by Bob Geldof, the band decided to perform at Live 8 (on the 20th anniversary of Live Aid) and invited Waters to join them. He accepted and — sharing vocals with Gilmour — they played two numbers from Dark Side, plus ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’. It was an epoch-making moment in rock history, and their final group hug became one of Live 8’s iconic images.
After that, the three-man Floyd performed together on two occasions — once during a solo gig by Gilmour in 2006 (Wright played the whole three-month tour and was ‘in great form’, says Gilmour); and again at an all-star memorial tribute to Barrett in 2007. Waters also appeared at the gig but was unable to join his old colleagues due to a previous appointment. Still, that was not the end of their association.
On 10 July 2010, with some of their favourite musicians, Waters and Gilmour performed a few Floyd songs — plus Phil Spector’s ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’! — at a private charity event in Oxfordshire. And on 12 May 2011, during one of Waters’ Wall concerts at the London O2, Gilmour appeared on top of the wall as of old, to sing and play his parts on ‘Comfortably Numb’. Nick Mason, who was at the gig, then joined them for the final song, ‘Outside the Wall’. Departing the stage, as they had before, Waters played trumpet, Gilmour mandolin and Mason tambourine. The audience was stunned and delighted.
But a handful of concerts was never going to sate the interest of the diehard fans. In 1995, they were rewarded with the double-album P•U•L•S•E, all recorded on the Division Bell tour and containing the first complete live version of Dark Side. A live compilation of The Wall from 1980-1 — called Is There Anybody Out There? — followed in 2000, and then a re-mastered ‘best of’, called Echoes. There have also been collectors’ editions of Dark Side, a complete works box-set — Oh, By the Way — and now (autumn 2011) an extensive reissue campaign by EMI, with new packaging and production values, not to mention some rare and archival recordings that go back to the Barrett days.
Nor, as individuals, have the survivors from those times been strangers to the studio or stage these last dozen or so years (and before). Gilmour put out his third solo album, On an Island, in 2006; Waters has had a prolific and varied career since 1986; Mason and Wright released one or two collaborative albums respectively.
There have been awards and honours along the way: induction into both the US and UK Rock ‘n’ Roll Halls of Fame; Sweden’s Polar Music Prize in 2008 for their ‘monumental contribution over the decades to the fusion of art and music in the development of popular culture’. And in 2010, The Royal Mail used Division Bell visuals on their stamps, also creating a unique sheet using only the Floyd’s imagery.
So is that the end of the Floyd’s road? Do they still exist? Yes, they do.
Animals was a new beginning for Pink Floyd and the beginning of the end. After this, the band, in its most well-known quartet format, would never officially exist again. Animals is the album many diehard fans proudly proclaim as their favorite, that contains none of the “money cuts” (pun intended) you grew up hearing on the radio, back when radio was still a thing. It’s the album that keyboardist/singer Richard Wright hates, for which guitarist/singer David Gilmour often equivocates and bassist/singer/principal-songwriter Roger Waters passionately advocates.
It doesn’t take a psychology degree to see how or why each party (diehards, casuals, individual band members) might arrive at their take. Your feelings on Animals likely depends on your respective stake. For Waters, it was the first time he became the lone songwriter on a Pink Floyd album, save a sole co-writing credit from Gilmour on “Dogs,” springing from an unfinished song originally titled “You’ve Got To Be Crazy” from the Wish You Were Here sessions.
Animals is precisely 41 minutes, 41 seconds long. Yet it’s intense enough to feel like 82 by the time it’s through. Animals is a concept album that lists five animal-titled tracks, but it’s done a disservice if experienced as anything other than one long song. If you start or end anywhere but the two parts of “Pigs On The Wing,” without listening in order to everything in between? You’re doing it wrong.
Pink Floyd had seen leadership and lineup shifts dating back to the acid-aided breakdown of former leading man Syd Barrett. Barrett was the band’s transmission during their early ascent, playing underground rock clubs in swinging London during 1966 before signing their record deal in 1967, with Barrett penning almost all the material on their acclaimed debut, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. However, within months of that initial success, Barrett’s regular LSD use combined with undiagnosed mental illness resulted in him being, according to bandmate Nick Mason, “completely detached from everything going on.”
Within a year, Syd was—save a credit or two on songs he’d previously written used over the next few albums—for all intents and purposes, gone. Each remaining member of the band (Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason, and relatively new-in-’67-addition David Gilmour) had in their own fashion expanded their horizons and found ways to step up into the leadership breach, whether it meant singing, songwriting, or playing instrumental lead. But the specter of Barrett’s fate would go on to haunt, bond, and inspire their future proceedings like PTSD.
Animals arrived either directly on the heels, or right smack dab in the middle, of Pink Floyd’s critical and commercial apex. It depends on who you ask. 1975’s Wish You Were Here, replete with its bookending song-suite salute to Barrett “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V and VI-IX),” sold twenty million records worldwide. And even that was still considered a drop-off, critically and commercially, to the work that preceded it: 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, one of the most acclaimed and highest-selling albums of all-time, which to date has sold forty-five.
That level of omnipresence put an experimental, previously underground London band into a mind-flip-fuckery blender while becoming the biggest rock band in the world, bar none. For the younger readers who grew up after rock music was no longer the lingua franca of the cultural zeitgeist, just try imagining whatever it was that Radiohead were moping about in the 1998 documentary-film Meeting People Is Easy, and then turn the knobs up to one-hundred-and-eleven.
Animals arrived in 1977, with Floyd almost an antithesis of musical movements bubbling around the streets of London ten years after they’d signed. Or were they? Perception, at least, said so at the time. The Sex Pistols’ lead singer Johnny Rotten was famously noted as wearing a homemade “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt in their feature for Rolling Stone later that year. Rotten has since changed his tune. Many others have too. Because although Pink Floyd had by then been embraced by the establishment, Animals was and remains an explicitly clear rejection of it.
Drummer Nick Mason even produced the second album by arguably the UK’s first punk band, The Damned, after failing to nab their reclusive first choice, his former bandmate Syd Barrett. The iconoclastic thematic approach of Animals should resonate within many factions of musical flock, whether old and bored enough to be “dinosaurs,” or young and unsullied enough to be “punk rock” or “hip-hop.”
If you didn’t care, what happens to me…and I didn’t care, for you.
Try that thought exercise in the form of melancholic opening line on for size.
Prescient words many moons ago that eerily foretold a sinkhole of the soul?
Or a seventies prog-rock band whose leader (Waters) read a lot of George Orwell, checked the social-political conditions outside in the late-seventies, then leaned into the dystopian themes that keep a species of sentient beings blessed and cursed enough to witness but unable to prevent history from perpetually repeating?
Someone who tackles big issues that haunt the human condition, but lacks the tools to interact peacefully with four fellow humans who made timeless music, but whom have barely been able to tick away a few minutes together in the same room, even with two of the other four now in a tomb, while the remaining few steadily grow shorter of breath, one day, closer to death.
Wondering which of the buggers to blame…And watching for pigs on the wing.
This album, like literary landmarks Animal Farm and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis before it, utilize animal imagery to conjure up an existential threat. But each author knows the true terror that they futilely attempt to reject is the awareness we have, which makes us a different kind of beast than the other creatures that occupy jungles, and those that become prey or pets.
The two parts of “Pigs On The Wing” that open and close the proceedings are the short (1:25 each), sweetly delivered (think Waters subbing in for the Gilmour lead vocals on “Wish You Were Here”) acoustical breading holding together the contents of an “oh, shit!” sandwich. You need these crucial top-and-bottom slices to maintain structural integrity. The small morsels of optimism contained within them, is necessary to digest the three heaping helpings of mystery meat served up on “Dogs,” “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” and “Sheep,” consecutively. Let’s dig into that meat, shall we? “How can you have any pudding if you can’t eat your-“…sorry, everybody, I couldn’t resist.
Speaking of irresistible, Dogs, Bruh…
Even for the mid-seventies and a psychedelic/prog-album-rock band known for fully committed exercises in musical epic, “Dogs” is a sonic saga of unprecedented scope. So have a good drown, as you go down. When Gilmour remarked later that Animals “…was exciting and noisy and fun. It really had some great bits and stuff of effects on there, but it was not one of our creative high points really,” even if you disagree, it’s easy to imagine at least one of those “great bits” of which he speaks.
For yours truly, “Dogs” is David Gilmour at his performative peak, on guitar and vocally. Gilmour’s baritone has long been, almost by default, this band’s most conventionally accepted voice tonally. But he steps out of his comfort zone for his only lead here with unprecedented urgency. While we mentioned Waters aping Gilmour on “Pigs On the Wing”, the deep bite in Gilmour’s bark on “Dogs” shows Waters that he’s also quite capable of doing his thing.
Then there’s those guitar bits. A sonic lightning storm of string-bending harmonic wails juxtaposed against reverberating echo stabs sounding like the hounds of Hell. Paired with Waters’ lyrical/vocal contributions and Wright’s impossibly funky synths punctuated by Mason’s percussive kick, these seventeen minutes encapsulate everything that seventies Floyd does well.
While that means ascending to heights few bands scaled before or since, they continue to ratchet up the tension as “Dogs” howls right into “Pigs.” Animal noises fed thru vocoders, guitar pyrotechnics, synths, and who-knows-what-else create a captivating cacophony. Are those modulated barks of dogs, or are they snorts from hogs? Does it matter? Well, not really. Naw.
While “Dogs” is this album’s musical zenith, for those needing to delineate, “Pigs” feels like its thematic mission statement. This is Roger Waters doing what he loves to do: tell the truth, shame the devil, and toss in a few righteously indignant “fuck you”-s. The bile unleashed, armed alongside organ creeps and guitar talk-box squeaks, has Waters spitting in the eye of real-world foes viewed as sinister: greed merchants of the ruling class, amoral campaigning moralists, the American President, the British Prime Minister.
The floating pig pictured on the album’s cover, suspended between smokestacks of London’s decommissioned Battersea Power Station, went on to become one of the most iconic stage-props in concert history. From the opening leg of In The Flesh, to the Gilmour-led and Waters-less Pink Floyd stadium shows of the late-80’s/mid-90’s, thru Waters’ solo Dark Side/Wall/In The Flesh revivals that continued into the late-2010s, a floating pig gets dug up like a truffle for any major Floyd-related-tour each take.
I feel blessed to have seen that pig floating above the fray in since-demolished Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia on The Division Bell tour in ’94. When Waters and his band performed on Night One (of three) at Hollywood Bowl in ‘06 Los Angeles, I was in the cheap seats watching a grafitti-d pig (with slogans like “Impeach Bush Now,” “Kafka Rules, OK?” and “Free At Last” on it) moving beyond us after Roger cut the cords, sailing away on the night’s sky into the hillside. It was reportedly found the next morning, laying deflated on the front lawn of a neighboring estate high up in the Hollywood Hills. The jokes write themselves.
When you’re done getting your eyebrows singed by the guitar heat at the end of “Pigs,” in comes the bah-bah sounds and opening bass rumblings of “Sheep.” “Sheep,” like “Dogs” before it, started out as a holdover from 1974, a song previously known as “Raving and Drooling” recorded for the Wish You Were Here sessions, but subsequently lying on the cutting-room floor. Like the docile creatures that inspire its title, and perhaps society at large metaphorically, by this point as a listener over the past thirty-plus minutes, we’ve nearly been pounded into submission. While “Pigs” is clearly intended as a critique of capitalism, “Sheep” adds in an even more popular opiate of the masses: religion. Specifically, in terms of the linguistic imagery, the chosen European tonic of Christianity.
Midway thru this, our now third straight ten-minute-plus opus, momentum starts to sag a bit. Perhaps it’s due to all the darkness we’ve been navigating thru, or the fact that you notice similar note clusters re-used for more ponderous transitions on Animals’ bloated double-length follow-up, The Wall. Whatever the case might be, exhaustion might start setting in somewhere around the church hymn and organ-led 5-6 minute-marker of “Sheep.” How many more miles to go before we sleep?
And just as you’re wondering when it might end, as if this is almost exactly the effect the band had planned, they stomp back into the song’s conclusion signaling alarm to make sure you’re fully awake. Long before “woke” became yet another term misunderstood and bastardized by primarily white folk, Waters was calling on people to shoot up from slumber to resist manipulation in big numbers.
Sentiments that remain as true today as they were back then, and undoubtedly had already been for hundreds and thousands of years before then. Individualistic thought that shows empathy for your fellow Earthly inhabitants. Peace. Love. A few of our favorite promises, repeatedly broken, while existing within the parameters of the human condition. And just as it’s all starting to either make sense, or signify a swan song into a madness-inducing fever dream descent, we hear those liltingly beautiful acoustic-guitar chords that started it all again:
You know that I care what happens to you…And I know that you care for me too
How George Orwell inspired one of Pink Floyd’s greatest albums
Dystopian, cynical, fearful and disillusioned; these are all adjectives one could use to describe the scathing masterpiece of an album, Animals, by Pink Floyd, released in 1977. This would be the year that punk rock exploded and took the world by storm. Punk was classified by a DIY ethos, it was musically simplistic and accessible, homegrown and mean; Pink Floyd was on a totally different wavelength and in their own league. Pink Floyd, having come out of the underground psychedelic scene in Cambridge and London in the late 60s, could certainly appreciate the dirty punks. However, Animals, musically speaking, could not be further away from the punk sound. This does not mean, however, the psychedelic-turned-arena rockers didn’t know how to get overtly political with their expression.
Pink Floyd was, and still remain, one of the most conscious and socially-driven bands around. At times acting as a vehicle for the band’s chief songwriter, Roger Waters’ vehement, and at times, providing their own disillusioned view of the world and more specifically, of the socio-political and economic conditions of Western capitalist society. The songs found on Animals, of which there are only five, are all long-form compositions and all written by Roger Waters, with some songwriting contributions by David Gilmour, predominately on ‘Dogs’, which was originally coined, ‘You’ve gotta be Crazy’. The songs on the album were very much developed while on the road and were all also considered for the Wish You Were Here album.
Prior to the completion of Animals, the songs were a series of loosely based fragmented ideas. A key ingredient that would give the album its political character, would be George Orwell’s satirical and allegorical novel, Animal Farm. By the way of suspension of disbelief, the story is told through the perspective of farm animals; the animals collectivise, organise and rebel against the human farmer. The rebellion is ultimately betrayed and a dictatorship is established underneath a pig named Napoleon. It has been generally determined as a critique of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and more specifically, Stalin’s regime. The collective of animals who make up the basis of the allegory is eventually categorised into a hierarchical society of social classes, based on the type of animal.
This would be the underlying source of inspiration that Roger Waters would adapt to the 1977 album. Within the polarising and politically polemic Animals, the pigs are the rulers, the dogs are the wannabe imperialists but nevertheless, they possess material wealth, and the sheep are on the bottom, the mindless followers.
Roger Waters used Orwell’s premise and allegory to expertly criticise late-stage capitalism. Stalinist dictatorship and life under his regime was underpinned by the kind of poverty and oligarchy rule that, many would argue, exists today in Western countries. It often intersects in their realistic manifestations; whether it is big government or big corporations, they both represent an anti-democratic form of society where a large majority of people do not have any say in their own affairs. In songs like ‘Pigs on the Wing (Part One)’ Roger Waters points out the devastating effects of alienation and dullness that occurs in people’s powerless lives:
“If you didn’t care what happened to me, And I didn’t care for you, We would zig-zag our way through the boredom and pain Occasionally glancing up through the rain. Wondering which of the buggers to blame And watching for pigs on the wing.”
The ‘Pigs on a Wing’ is a striking image that triggers a sort of cognitive dissonance. On one hand, it could be viewed as an image of the leaders up high maintaining their position of elitism. On the other hand, Roger Waters made a comment that would actually suggest otherwise: “The flying pig is a symbol of hope.” ‘Pigs on a Wing’ — both parts — might also be more personal to Roger Waters himself and his marriage. Waters continues his remarks on the opening number, “there was a certain amount of doubt as to whether that one was going to find its way onto the album. But I thought it was very necessary. Otherwise, the album would have just been a kind of scream, you know, of rage.” At the very least, there is a tinge of hope within this song.
To add more confusion to the equation, Waters describes a sort of strange concoction of frustration, cynicism and love, about ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’. “’Pigs’ is a kind of fairly compassionate scream of abuse – if you can scream abuse and be compassionate, just by virtue of the last lines of each verse.” Roger Waters also commented on the song’s verse about Mary Whitehouse, who at the time ran an anti-pornography campaign. “I kept throwing that verse away, for about 18 months. But I never managed to write anything else. And I kept coming back to it. I worried a lot about it, because she doesn’t really merit mention, you know? Except in a way, she does.”
Roger described Whitehouse as a “terribly frightened woman. She’s frightened, isn’t she? That we’re all being perverted.” Whitehouse stands out as an archetypal character within Floyd’s Animals concept album; her fear of perversion is the kind of paranoia of the progressing world that modernism tends to sweep over the masses. This paranoia is something we can all relate to, whatever the fear may be. In many ways, Animals, through the prism of the socio-political dystopian lens of Orwell, examines these different aspects of the human experience, whether it be love, fear, paranoia, hierarchies within society, or late-stage capitalism.
Overall, Pink Floyd’s seminal record Animals is a commentary on the sweeping effects of modernism and the alienation that results from technological advances. It took the works of Orwell and updated them through Pink Floyd’s own prog-rock spectrum.
In the album’s three parts, «Dogs», «Pigs» and «Sheep», pigs represent the people whom Roger Waters considers to be at the top of the social ladder, the ones with wealth and power; they also manipulate the rest of society and encourage them to be viciously competitive and cut-throat, so the pigs can remain powerful.
Why is Pink Floyd the pig?
Along with dogs and sheep, pigs are one of 3 animals represented on the album. The pigs represent people, like Whitehouse, who feel they are the moral authorities. The sheep are the people who obey the pigs and believe that it is the «Christian» thing to do and are just your normal, hard working innocent bystanders.
What is the Flying pig A symbolize?
«When pigs fly» is an adynaton, a way of saying that something will never happen. The phrase is often used for humorous effect, to scoff at over-ambition. There are numerous variations on the theme; when an individual with a reputation for failure finally succeeds, onlookers may sarcastically claim to see a flying pig.
Who is the first pig Pink Floyd?
Inflatable flying pigs have been a part of the English rock band’s image for 40 years, ever since the first of the breed – named Algie by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and doing its bit to advertise the 1977 Animals album – broke free from one of the chimneys of Battersea Power Station and flew, unplanned, to a farm in …
What do the Animals represent in Animals Pink Floyd?
Concept. Loosely based on George Orwell’s political fable Animal Farm, the album’s lyrics describe various classes in society as different kinds of animals: the predatory dogs, the despotic ruthless pigs, and the «mindless and unquestioning” herd of sheep.
What do the sheep represent in Animals Pink Floyd?
The sheep represents the mindless people who follow the herd. Pink Floyd started performing this in 1974. It was known as «Raving And Drooling,» but was changed to fit the animal theme of the album.
What is a flying pig called?
The original flying pig was a winged board named Chrysaor, the offspring of the Gorgon Medusa, and the Greek sea god Poseidon, and the brother of the winged horse Pegasus. The creature was conceived while its mother consorted with the sea god in mortal form.
What does charade you are mean?
«Charade you are» means «»you are wrong» for example: person one says: dinosaurs were giant origamis!» and the other person would say «HA! charade you are! they were real animals!»
What does a pig mask mean?
The pig mask is a prop worn by Jigsaw and his accomplices throughout the Saw film series to conceal their identities while abducting their «test subjects.» As the series continues, the purpose of the pig mask is explored in detail; it is explained to be a tribute to the «Year of the Pig,» the year in which Jigsaw …
What is the building on Pink Floyd Animals?
Battersea Power Station, the iconic building on the River Thames featured on Pink Floyd’s 1977 Animals album cover, will be reconstructed later this year and transformed into luxury villas with a roof garden.
Why does Cartman say charade you are?
When Cartman leaves Scott’s house to go to the fictitious Pube Fair, he says «Ha-ha, charade you are, Scott.» This is a reference to the Pink Floyd song «Pigs (Three Different Ones)», from their 1977 album Animals. Scott Tenorman was loosely based on Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story.
What do dogs represent in Pink Floyd?
Waters has said before that pigs were the politicians, dogs were the businessmen that support the politicians (capitalists) and sheep were the masses that followed mindlessly.
Is Pink Floyd Animals based on Animal Farm?
Roger Waters, Pink Floyd’s bassist and primary creative force, took inspiration from George Orwell’s satirical novel “Animal Farm.” However, rather than take aim at the Soviet Union and communism, Waters felt compelled to fire shots at the Cold War-era capitalist society that had taken hold of the UK.
The Message Of Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ Still Resonates 45 Years Later
On January 23rd, 1977, Pink Floyd shocked the world with their politically charged new album, Animals. A musical take on George Orwell‘s novels like 1984 and Animal Farm, the release spoke to the corruption and social injustice that was prevalent in 1970’s Britain, with pigs, dogs, and sheep symbolizing the aristocracy, military, and working classes, respectively.
The album begins with the soft guitar work of “Pigs On The Wing (Part One)”, a short and somber ballad about two apathetic souls lost in a dreary world of “boredom and pain,” fearful of their ruling class—the pigs on the wing. The next song paints a dramatic picture of the “Dogs”, gliding through some soaring guitar work from David Gilmour between vast, spacious segments composed by the album’s principal songwriter, Roger Waters. The lyrics are incendiary, with Gilmour and Waters both taking turns describing the daily outrages and reaction of the “Dogs”. Phrases like “Pick out the easy meat” and “You gotta strike when the moment is right, without thinking” show their immediate call to action. It’s all done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, telling them to “have a good drown.”
As “Dogs” get dragged down by the stone, the listener is introduced to the “Pigs” themselves—three different ones to be precise. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” has a similarly dreary tone, though it does touch on a more funky rhythm. The song is just as cheeky in Waters’ true sardonic style, calling the pigs a “charade” and even pointing criticism to British politician Mary Whitehouse by dropping her name directly in a lyric—and, perhaps incidentally, confusing American listeners into believing that the lyric was critiquing the White House itself.
Ultimately, the “Sheep” get their revenge in the album’s final lengthy piece. Unlike its predecessors, “Sheep” comes in with a more optimistic tone, leading to the sheep’s rebellion over their ruling classes. After invoking the Lord’s name to say things like, “He converteth me to lamb cutlets,” in an otherworldly echoing prayer, the sheep ultimately rise over their oppressors to conclude this classic album. The concept is summarized in the conclusion, “Pigs On The Wing (Part Two)”, flipping the narrative voice to one of compassion and protection from the rulers.
As we find ourselves in the midst of political turmoil at the onset of a new administration, with many on both sides taking to the streets in order to make their voices heard, it’s hard to not find similarities between Pink Floyd’s message and today’s current events. Though Animals certainly depicts a darker reality, the parallels are almost overwhelming. Let’s hope we can ultimately work together to create a stronger future for everyone.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (January 27, 1832-January 14, 1898), a.k.a. the writer known as Lewis Carroll, was a Renaissance man of the Victorian Era. He was an accomplished mathematician, poet, satirist, philosopher, inventor, and photographer in the art form’s earliest days. Yet most of us know him best as a children’s author because of Alice and her adventures through the nonsense and tea of Wonderland. If you’ve only seen him through the looking glass, here are a few other things you should know.
1. Lewis Carroll invented a way to write in the dark.
Like a lot of writers, Dodgson was frustrated by losing the excellent ideas that inconveniently come in the middle of the night, so in 1891 he invented the nyctograph. The device is a card with 16 square holes (two rows of eight) that offers a guide for the user to enter a shorthand code of dots and dashes. Dodgson also considered it useful for the blind.
2. He suffered from a stutter for most of his life.
Dodgson had a rough childhood. He developed a stutter—which he called his “hesitation”—at an early age. It stuck with him throughout adulthood and ultimately became part of his personal mythos—including the evidence-free claim that he only stuttered around adults, but spoke without problem to children. A childhood fever also left him deaf in one ear, and a bout of whooping cough at 17 weakened his chest for the rest of his life. Late in life, he developed debilitating, aura-hallucinating migraines and what doctors at the time diagnosed as epilepsy.
3. Carroll was the dodo in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Dodgson delivered the original story concept for Alice in Wonderland while on one of his boating trips with the Liddells—the children of his boss, Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford—and he marked the July 4, 1862, event in the book itself as the Caucus Race. Alice is Alice Liddell, the Lory is Lorina Liddell, the Eaglet is Edith Liddell, the duck was colleague Reverend Robinson Duckworth, and the dodo was Dodgson himself. The popular story is that he used the bird as his caricature because his stammer made him sometimes introduce himself as “Do-Do-Dodgson,” but there’s no evidence to back up the claim.
4. Carroll spelled out his inspiration for Alice in the last chapter of Through the Looking Glass.
Throughout his life, Dodgson denied that Alice was based on any real-life person, but “A boat beneath a sunny sky,” the poem at the end of Through the Looking-Glass, is an acrostic that spells out Alice Pleasance Liddell.
5. He wrote 11 books on mathematics.
A master logician, Dodgson’s work in the fields of linear algebra, geometry, and puzzle-making is noteworthy. He wrote almost a dozen books that ranged from An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations to The Game of Logic to The Theory of Committees and Elections. His interests and expertise widely varied; he also wrote the first printed proof of the Kronecker-Capelli theorem [PDF] and a conceptual system for better governmental representation.
6. The Alice stories are possibly satires of non-Euclidean math.
Dodgson was a conservative mathematician, living and working in an age in which the discipline was dramatically changing. In a 2010 op-ed for The New York Times, Melanie Bayley made a compelling case that Alice’s adventures parodied an incipient, conceptual math that featured imaginary numbers and quaternions, which Dodgson scoffed at. The Cheshire Cat may represent the growing abstraction in the field, and the overall absurdity of Wonderland may be meant to match the “absurdity” the conventional Dodgson saw emerging in his discipline.
7. One person thought Carroll was Jack the Ripper.
The list of people suspected of being Jack the Ripper is a long one, and, for some reason, the mind behind Alice is on it. The Ripper and Dodgson were contemporaries; the murders took place in 1888, when Dodgson was in his mid-fifties. Author Richard Wallace theorized that Dodgson, following a strict religious upbringing and potential bullying during his unhappy school years, grew up to become a serial murderer following his successful teaching and writing careers. The bulk of the theory stems from Wallace rearranging Dodgson’s writing into “confessions.” While Dodgson did bury codes and clues in his books, scrambling random paragraphs into syntactically awkward statements about killing is more than a stretch.
8. He was an accomplished photographer.
Beginning in his mid-twenties and continuing for over two decades, Dodgson created over 3000 photographic images, including portraits of friends and notable figures (like Alfred, Lord Tennyson), landscapes, and stills of skeletons, dolls, statues, paintings, and more. According to Lewis Carroll: A Biography, Morton N. Cohen’s biography of the artist, Dodgson had his own studio and briefly considered making a living as a photographer in the 1850s.
9. Carroll was a lifelong bachelor, which has led to some speculation about his romantic interests.
Dodgson’s photography has also been at the center of a modern reconsideration of Dodgson’s sexuality. The author was a lifelong bachelor whose surviving photographic work is 50 percent comprised of depictions of young girls, including Alice Liddell, as well as several prints where the girls are nude. The most famous of these is a portrait of one Oxford colleague’s daughter, Beatrice Hatch. Not much is directly known about Dodgson’s personal relationships, which has led to speculation—notably by Cohen—that he had romantic feelings for the 11-year-old Alice, but author Karoline Leach suggested that the reframing of Dodgson as a pedophile is a myth borne from ignorance of Victorian morals and the popularity at the time of nude children in art, combined with Dodgson’s family burying information about the writer’s relationships with adult women.
10. Carroll may have been one inspiration for the novel Lolita.
Vladimir Nabokov, who translated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into Russian, once referred to Carroll as “Lewis Carroll Carroll, because he was the first Humbert Humbert.” Nabokov’s suspicions centered around Carroll’s photographs.
11. He became a deacon, but never a priest.
So much of Dodgson’s life invites speculation, including his refusal to become a priest, counter to the rules of Christ Church during his residency there. He was ordained as a deacon on December 22, 1861, but had to petition Dean Liddell to avoid becoming a priest. Once again, his stammer appears to be one possible explanation as to why he refused priesthood, but there’s no evidence that it might have impeded his ability to preach. Other possible reasons include a love of theater (which the Bishop of Oxford spoke out against), tepid interest in the Anglican Church, and a growing interest in alternative religions.
Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, was an artist and scholar who had considerable influence on his son’s work, became curator of the Lahore Museum, and is described presiding over this “wonder house” in the first chapter of Kim, Rudyard’s most famous novel. His mother was Alice Macdonald, two of whose sisters married the highly successful 19th-century painters Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Sir Edward Poynter, while a third married Alfred Baldwin and became the mother of Stanley Baldwin, later prime minister. These connections were of lifelong importance to Kipling.
Much of his childhood was unhappy. Kipling was taken to England by his parents at the age of six and was left for five years at a foster home at Southsea, the horrors of which he described in the story “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” (1888). He then went on to the United Services College at Westward Ho, north Devon, a new, inexpensive, and inferior boarding school. It haunted Kipling for the rest of his life—but always as the glorious place celebrated in Stalky & Co. (1899) and related stories: an unruly paradise in which the highest goals of English education are met amid a tumult of teasing, bullying, and beating. The Stalky saga is one of Kipling’s great imaginative achievements. Readers repelled by a strain of brutality—even of cruelty—in his writings should remember the sensitive and shortsighted boy who was brought to terms with the ethos of this deplorable establishment through the demands of self-preservation.
Kipling returned to India in 1882 and worked for seven years as a journalist. His parents, although not officially important, belonged to the highest Anglo-Indian society, and Rudyard thus had opportunities for exploring the whole range of that life. All the while he had remained keenly observant of the thronging spectacle of native India, which had engaged his interest and affection from earliest childhood. He was quickly filling the journals he worked for with prose sketches and light verse. He published the verse collection Departmental Ditties in 1886, the short-story collection Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and between 1887 and 1889 he brought out six paper-covered volumes of short stories. Among the latter were Soldiers Three, The Phantom Rickshaw (containing the story “The Man Who Would Be King”), and Wee Willie Winkie (containing “Baa Baa, Black Sheep”). When Kipling returned to England in 1889, his reputation had preceded him, and within a year he was acclaimed as one of the most brilliant prose writers of his time. His fame was redoubled upon the publication in 1892 of the verse collection Barrack-Room Ballads, which contained such popular poems as “Mandalay,” “Gunga Din,” and “Danny Deever.” Not since the English poet Lord Byron had such a reputation been achieved so rapidly. When the poet laureateAlfred, Lord Tennyson, died in 1892, it may be said that Kipling took his place in popular estimation.
In 1892 Kipling married Caroline Balestier, the sister of Wolcott Balestier, an American publisher and writer with whom he had collaborated in The Naulahka (1892), a facile and unsuccessful romance. That year the young couple moved to the United States and settled on Mrs. Kipling’s property in Vermont, but their manners and attitudes were considered objectionable by their neighbours. Unable or unwilling to adjust to life in America, the Kiplings returned to England in 1896. Ever after Kipling remained very aware that Americans were “foreigners,” and he extended to them, as to the French, no more than a semi-exemption from his proposition that only “lesser breeds” are born beyond the English Channel.
Besides numerous short-story collections and poetry collections such as The Seven Seas (1896), Kipling published his best-known novels in the 1890s and immediately thereafter. His novel The Light That Failed (1890) is the story of a painter going blind and spurned by the woman he loves. Captains Courageous (1897), in spite of its sense of adventure, is burdened by excessive descriptive writing. Kim (1901), about an Irish orphan in India, is a classic. The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) are stylistically superb collections of stories. These books give further proof that Kipling excelled at telling a story but was inconsistent in producing balanced, cohesive novels.
In 1902 Kipling bought a house at Burwash, Sussex, which remained his home until his death. Sussex was the background of much of his later writing—especially in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910), two volumes that, although devoted to simple dramatic presentations of English history, embodied some of his deepest intuitions. In 1907 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Englishman to be so honoured. In South Africa, where he spent much time, he was given a house by Cecil Rhodes, the diamond magnate and South African statesman. This association fostered Kipling’s imperialist persuasions, which were to grow stronger with the years. These convictions are not to be dismissed in a word: they were bound up with a genuine sense of a civilizing mission that required every Englishman, or, more broadly, every white man, to bring European culture to those he considered the heathen natives of the uncivilized world. Kipling’s ideas were not in accord with much that was liberal in the thought of the age, and, as he became older, he was an increasingly isolated figure. When he died, two days before King George V, he must have seemed to many a far less representative Englishman than his sovereign.
Legacy of Rudyard Kipling
Kipling’s poems and stories were extraordinarily popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, but after World War I his reputation as a serious writer suffered through his being widely viewed as a jingoistic imperialist. (His rehabilitation was attempted, however, by T.S. Eliot.) His verse is indeed vigorous, and in dealing with the lives and colloquial speech of common soldiers and sailors it broke new ground. Balladry, music hall song, and popular hymnology provide its unassuming basis; even at its most serious—as in “Recessional” (1897) and similar pieces in which Kipling addressed himself to his fellow countrymen in times of crisis—the effect is rhetorical rather than imaginative.
But it is otherwise with Kipling’s prose. In the whole sweep of his adult storytelling, he displays a steadily developing art, from the early volumes of short stories set in India through the collections Life’s Handicap (1891), Many Inventions (1893), The Day’s Work (1898), Traffics and Discoveries (1904), Actions and Reactions (1909), Debits and Credits (1926), and Limits and Renewals (1932). While his later stories cannot exactly be called better than the earlier ones, they are as good—and they bring a subtler if less dazzling technical proficiency to the exploration of deeper though sometimes more perplexing themes. It is a far cry from the broadly effective eruption of the supernatural in The Phantom Rickshaw (1888) to its subtle exploitation in “The Wish House” or “A Madonna of the Trenches” (1924), or from the innocent chauvinism of the bravura “The Man Who Was” (1890) to the depth of implication beneath the seemingly insensate xenophobia of Mary Postgate (1915). There is much in Kipling’s later art to curtail its popular appeal. It is compressed and elliptical in manner and sombre in many of its themes. The author’s critical reputation declined steadily during his lifetime—a decline that can scarcely be accounted for except in terms of political prejudice. Paradoxically, postcolonial critics later rekindled an intense interest in his work, viewing it as both symptomatic and critical of imperialist attitudes.
Kipling, it should be noted, wrote much and successfully for children—for the very young in Just So Stories (1902) and for others in The Jungle Book and its sequel and in Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies. Of his miscellaneous works, the more notable are a number of early travel sketches collected in two volumes in From Sea to Sea (1899) and the unfinished Something of Myself, posthumously published in 1941, a reticent essay in autobiography.
Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books were first published in 1894 and 1895, and they feature stories about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. The stories have remained popular and have inspired numerous adaptations – but their attitudes have been questioned by some parents and critics, who see them as a relic of Britain’s colonial past.
Indeed, a classic way of reading the tales is as an allegory for the position of the white colonialist born and raised in India. Mowgli – the Indian boy who becomes “master” of the jungle – is understood to be – as Kipling scholar John McClure interprets it: “behaving towards the beasts as the British do to the Indians”.
The classic account of Kipling, while persuasive in many ways, seems to me to be a bit limited. It misses some of the interesting questions the stories raise about notions of belonging and identity.
The standard account relies on the idea that the human and animal identities within the stories are clearly distinguished from each other and fixed – and that this fixed distinction extends via allegory to white colonial and Indian identities.
But what happens to our understanding of the stories if we don’t treat the human and animal identities as distinct? I would argue that a species name doesn’t necessarily fix a character’s identity in the reader’s mind’s eye.
For example, Bagheera, the black panther, is described in terms of a series of other animals: he is “as cunning as Tabaqui [the jackal], as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant”. Attributes that are supposedly intrinsic to one animal can be found in another. Like Bagheera, Mowgli describes himself in terms of other animals: “Mowgli the Frog have I been […] Mowgli the Wolf have I said that I am. Now Mowgli the Ape must I be before I am Mowgli the Buck,” and it is this process of transformation that will lead to the end in which he will become “Mowgli the Man”. In this way he blurs the distinction between himself and the other jungle inhabitants.
This undermines narratives of essential difference between species. If we follow this through with respect to the common allegorical reading that sets Mowgli apart from the animals, it also undermines claims that there are absolute differences between white colonialists and Indian “natives”.
Also take a closer look at the relationship of the child Mowgli to the inhabitants of the jungle and you’ll see the way this complicates accounts of the Jungle Books as straightforwardly imperialist in character.
The Jungle Book stories focus a great deal on the issue of belonging, raising questions about the grounds on which one may claim to belong to a particular group or community: is belonging a matter of being born a member of a group, or is it a matter of convention and social agreement?
Because Mowgli is raised by wolves and initiated into their society he has a hybrid identity. Shere Khan, the tiger, resists Mowgli’s hybrid identity, referring to it as “man-wolf folly”. He claims that his hatred of Mowgli is justified because Mowgli is intrinsically “a man, a man’s child”. On the other hand, Akela, the leader of the wolves, claims kinship with Mowgli on the basis that:
He has eaten our food. He has slept with us. He has driven game for us. He has broken no word of the Law of the Jungle. … He is our brother in all but blood.
For Akela, Mowgli’s belonging is secured by his actions and his conformity with wolf society. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the most strident advocate of the idea that identity and belonging are a matter of “blood” is Shere Khan, the villain of the piece.
Nuance and ambiguity
By the end of the first Mowgli story it may seem that those, like Shere Khan, who claim that one’s identity is what one is born to be, carry the day – since Mowgli is cast out of the jungle. Though he speaks of leaving the jungle and going to “his own people”, he also qualifies this with: “if they be my own people” and he also goes on to reassert his claim to be part of the wolf pack when he follows this with the promise: “There shall be no war between any of us in the pack.”
As Daniel Karlin points out in his Penguin Classics edition of The Jungle Books (1987), Kipling changed this in his final collected edition of the stories to: “There shall be no war between any of us and the pack,” and so in the later edition “he already identifies with men”.
Either way, Mowgli does go on to rule the jungle rather than just remain a member of the jungle “family” as seems to be suggested by the recent Disney live-action/CGI film based on the stories. So there are ambiguities there, but a close reading of the Jungle Book stories leads me to feel that there is more to them than an imperialist narrative.
After a century or so during which Kipling has frequently been painted simply as a cheerleader for the “white man” and his burden – and at a time when questions of identity and belonging are particularly relevant for Britain – perhaps it’s time for a more nuanced reading of his classic works that allows their ambiguities and ambivalences to come to the fore.
Charles Dickens was the most famous writer in the English language during the nineteenth century and he remains one of the best selling authors of all time.
He can seem remote: the frock coat, velvet collar, the fishtail beard, bow tie…
But he has a lot to say to us today. And that’s because he had a remarkable ambition: he believed writing could play a big role in fixing the problems of the world.
Dickens didn’t just write. From the very beginning, he was a showman. As a child, he loved putting on plays in the family kitchen and singing songs standing on a table in the local pub.
He was a performer – a star, an exceptional showman.
Often to the dismay of later literary friends, entertainment remained at the heart of the literary enterprise for Dickens. Even after he had secured his reputation as ‘the Inimitable’, he adapted his own novels for public readings and from 1858 took them out to perform himself to audiences in Britain and America. Profound as his works were, he was never any doubt that they were also entertainments.
Dickens is always hoping to get us interested in the evils of an industrialising society – horrendous working conditions in factories, child labour, vicious social snobbery, the degradation of the poor, the reckless scramble for money and the maddening inefficiencies of government bureaucracy… In theory we recognise that these – and their modern versions – are worthy themes. But when we are honest with ourselves, we admit that they don’t sound very inviting as things to read about in a novel in bed or at the airport.
Dickens’s genius discovery was that the big ambitions to educate his society about its failings and to spur social reform didn’t have to be opposed to what his critics called ‘fun’ – racy plots, a chatty style, clownish characters, weepy moments and happy endings. He rejected the idea that we have to make a fatal choice between being worthy but dull or popular but shallow. He set out to educate via entertaining – because he so well understood how easy it is for us individually and collectively to resist certain tricky but important lessons.
Dickens is significant because he was working out – for his own time – how to do something that’s crucial for ours: how to be seductive about serious things.
Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on February 7 1812. His father was a clerk in the Navy Office; they had to constantly move to follow his different appointments. It was a genteel life at first but there were always money troubles looming. When he was only ten,Dickens had to leave school because his parents could no longer afford the modest fees. He was sent to work in London at a blacking factory where they made polish for giving a dark sheen, much admired at the time, to metal surfaces. It was a grim experience. He hated the fumes and numbing speed with which he had to carry out repetitive tasks; the people he worked around were bullying and sinister.
Then his father was arrested for debt. At that time debtors could be confined to prison, along with their dependents, by their creditors until they they were able to start paying off what they owed. The whole family moved into the squalid Marshalsea Prison, except young Dickens who lodged nearby and continued with his horrible job.
Part of the continuing popular affection for Dickens comes from his strong sense of the precariousness of life and the deep compassion for those who are its victims. When his life improved (in his early twenties he discovered that he was an outstandingly brilliant journalist), Dickens was very good at remembering his own suffering. He used it in a very clever way. He always put really nice characters into the awful places of Victorian England. The blacking factory is described in David Copperfield, through the eyes of young David – who is a sensitive, intelligent, charming child. David is the reader when young, or the reader’s son or nephew. Dickens is saying: imagine someone like you, or someone you like, was in there.
When he writes about Poor Houses (which were local forced labour camps for people unable to support themselves) Dickens sends in little Oliver Twist – who actually belongs to a well to do family from whom he has been separated by a series of tragic accidents. He’s not at all typical of the people who ended up in Poor Houses, but he’s there so his readers (who at that time would be generally quite prosperous) can think: what if it were me?
On one occasion when Dickens shows us the miseries of a debtor prison, it’s in the company of a loveable buffoon – a rather muddled but very sweet and well meaning man called Mr Micawber. The background, protective assumption that only rather shady types could end up here is punctured.
Dickens was working with a key assumption: of course everyone knew already that there were Poor Houses, horrible working conditions and Debtors’ Prisons: these were obvious facts of early 19th century life in England. The point was that comfortable people – the kind of people who had the power to change things, if they were motivated – generally didn’t feel much sense of urgency. They didn’t feel personally connected to the problems.
Dickens used his own experience to get people to feel interested in, and sympathetic to, the plight of others that they’d normally have been emotionally distanced from. He didn’t say: look how awful it is for them; he says: here’s what it would be like for you.
In an ideal world, we’d perhaps care equally about everyone; but, in reality, our concern is much more readily directed towards the misfortunes of people we find likeable. So, if like Dickens, your project is to draw attention to a failure of the system, it’s probably a good strategy that he’s using: get us to like the people who are having a hard time and we’ll start to feel engaged.
Nice, ordinary things
The other thing that Dickens did – to keep us on board with his high-minded vision of social reform – was to keep on showing how well he understood the cosy, pleasing, enjoyable things of life. He desperately didn’t want the big causes to come across as meaning you couldn’t keep on liking all the sweet comforts of life. He was particularly good at evoking the pleasures of home. In one of his novels (Our Mutual Friend) he take us to the house of a loveable old eccentric who has refashioned his small suburban house as a miniature castle, complete with a tiny drawbridge that can be pulled up (by lengths of twine) to keep the wild world at bay. Dickens loves picnics, games of cricket in the park, going shopping for a new tie, a sizzling chop, doughnuts, sitting by the fire, having friends round for dinner, warm blankets and going on holiday. Being a caring and good person – he is saying – doesn’t mean disdaining the ordinary small pleasures.
It’s a key element in his general strategy. He knows that it’s hard to get people to care about difficult things if you don’t start from a deep recognition of what we like already. Otherwise you come across as cold and a bit obsessive.
Dickens took the practical, business side of writing very seriously. He was immensely productive. He didn’t have the ideal of producing a single perfect work, polished over many years. He churned out his books. And he was deeply concerned about copyright laws, sales figures and profit margins.
But Dickens didn’t simply want to sell a lot of novels; he wanted to change things in the world; but he knew perfectly well that a book wouldn’t have an effect unless it was in wide circulation – unless the business side was going well.
His writing draws attention to many things that were going wrong: the Poor Law (which forced people into Work houses); the dreadful state of schools, rampant nepotism, and harsh working conditions. But he wasn’t trying to advocate specific schemes of reform. If you’d asked Dickens what exactly the Government should do to improve the conditions in factories or what a better legal system would look like he wouldn’t have had a carefully worked out alternative policy to hand.
What he was doing was shaping the climate of feeling and opinion. Which makes it much easier for people trying to get an act through parliament, raise funds, or make local improvements. Others can much more readily see the point, the issues move up the mental agenda and feel closer to home.
Dickens was very interested in trying to help the world, and hugely sensitive to the suffering of others. But closer to home things didn’t work out so well. He wasn’t a good husband or father.
He got married in 1837 (when he was in his mid-twenties) to Catherine Hogarth and they had ten children together, eight of whom survived into adulthood. But Dickens increasingly found her dull and passive and when he was in his mid-forties, he fell in love with an 19-year-old actress Ellen Ternan. He couldn’t get divorced – it was completely taboo for a major public figure to take such a step. They separated. His wife left, after twenty years together, and never saw him again.
Dickens was unimpressed by all of his children, whom he regarded as idle and ever ready to sponge off him. They were prone to drinking too much and to gambling.
He’s a painful reminder of the terrible conflicts that can arise between different kinds of devotion. Dickens was immensely painstaking with his work, he’d stay up as late as needed, he’d think of it first thing in the morning; he’d exhaust himself, he’d use every resource of his imagination to improve it. Yet around his children and his wife he was plodding, conventional and often coldly detached.
We could blame him and say he should have been a better partner and father. Or we could feel a touch of pity for the horrible limitation of our nature which makes it hard for us to be very good at two very different kinds of thing at the same time. And hopefully a little of this pity can extend to ourselves, since we are the ones who now actually need it.
On 8 June 1870, when he was 58, Dickens died at home after his usual intense day’s work. He was at the early stages of his fifteenth novel. The Guardian published an obituary the next day:
“Wherever the English language is spoken the intelligence we publish this morning of the decease of Mr Charles Dickens will be received with feelings of deep regret. Early last night it became known that the distinguished novelist had been seized with paralysis, at his residence, Gad’s Hill, Kent.”
Dickens’s power doesn’t lie just in the particular things he wrote. What’s even more impressive is the bigger idea to which he was loyal all his life: that the task of writing, and art more generally, is to make goodness attractive; to make it easier and bearable for us to learn uncomfortable lessons; and to broaden our sympathies by helping us identify with people whose outwards lives may be unlike ours but whose inner lives are not dissimilar – and through this – to create the cultural foundation for a more humane and happier society.
“The English are, as far as I know, the hardest worked people on whom the sun shines. Be content if in their wretched intervals of leisure they read for amusement and do no worse.” – Charles Dickens
Perhaps best known as one of the most influential writers of English literature to date, Charles Dickens was a man who sought to write about topics society didn’t want to see. His books, books like Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations appear in school book lists around the world. They’re dearly loved by bookworms, historians, and English teachers alike. They transcend the story of Western History, delving in to the gritty, darker sides of human nature and our story on this planet. But, who was Charles Dickens, really? Why did he start writing? Specifically, What was Oliver Twist all about and what kind of history inspired characters like Fagin and Bill Sikes, Dodger and Oliver and Nancy?
Charles Dickens was born on bleak February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth in England. He had seven siblings, out of whom he was the second oldest. His father was a naval clerk and his mother was a teacher. Her parents dreamed of being rich, but never quite made it. His father had a horrible habit of living beyond his means, and was eventually sent to debtor’s prison when Charles was twelve. The teenager had to leave school to work at a factory along the smelly, dirty Thames. He earned six shillings a week, and that was all he could do to support his family. It marked a loss of his innocence, and soon a sense of utter betrayal, loneliness, and abandonment began to settle over the young boy. A year or so later, though, the family caught a break. His father came into an inheritance and was set free from prison, so Dickens was allowed to go back to school. Unfortunately, his father just kept accumulating debt, so when Charles was just fifteen, he had to drop out of school again and go work at an office to help support his family.
It turned out to be the best place he could have possibly ended up. Dickens began reporting at London’s courts within a year of being hired, and within two years, he was reporting for a few major London newspapers. His successes attracted a young lady named Catherine. The two would later marry and have a whopping ten children before being separated in 1858. Find more in-depth information about the life of Charles Dickens here.
Dickens first two published works: Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers were wildly popular with readers. Dickens also began publishing a magazine called Bentley’s Miscellany. It was in this medium that reached hundreds of thousands of readers in London and the rest of England that he began to publish his first major novel, Oliver Twist.
It’s generally accepted that Dickens’ inspiration for Oliver Twist stemmed largely from his own childhood. The book is set in the underbelly of London and follows a young, abandoned orphan named Oliver. In his book, he details the mistreatment and exploitation of poor children in the workhouses, an institution that was supposedly doing good by keeping children off the streets of England. Dickens wrote a successful commentary on Victorian Society and the hypocrisy that was rampant at the time. Twist was hugely popular, and for the first time in English history, the eyes of the Victorian upper class were opened to the plight of London’s working class.
Oliver Twist and the Workhouses
The main themes of Oliver Twist center around the corruption of young children in Victorian society. One of the main influences, one of the overhanging palls on young Oliver’s life was the infamous workhouse. But what was a workhouse? How did they come into being, how were they run?
The Victorian Era was notorious for its employment of young children in dangerous factories, mines, and as chimney sweeps. Child labor was cheap, and it played an important part in the success of the Industrial Revolution. Young children of England’s working class were often expected to contribute to their family budget, working long hours in dangerous conditions for just a pittance. Orphans had it even worse. Many orphans were rounded up, collected, and stuffed into workhouses. These workhouses fed them, clothed them, and put a roof over their heads, but they worked from dawn to dusk in factories, didn’t get paid, and were hardly ever fed enough. Children as young as four were put to work. Generally, most died before they ever reached the age of twenty-five. They worked 16-hour days. Often they were set strict quotas and were beaten or locked away in small dark rooms when they couldn’t make them. The workhouses were ridden with disease, and there was usually only one ineffective doctor or nurse per hundreds of children and adults.
Thanks to Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist, people became more and more aware of the terrible conditions of the workhouses and were outraged by the child labor that fueled their society. As early as 1802 and 1819, Factory Acts were passed to limit the working hours of workhouse children in factories and cotton mills to 12 hours a day. These acts weren’t very effective. But, as agitation toward the mistreatment of children kept stirring, less and less children were put into the workhouses. Due to a wave of laws passed regulating the workhouse infirmaries, requiring that the workhouse doctors serve not only residents, but the community around them, most workhouses began to turn into hospitals and homes for the elderly. Finally, in 1929, an act was passed that allowed the government to take over workhouses and turn them into municipal hospitals at their discretion. By 1948, in the National Assistance Act, the workhouses were finally completely abolished. Most of the buildings were converted into care homes for the elderly, or real shelters for the homeless. By the 1990s, the workhouses had completely, utterly disappeared from the face of England and people trapped in poverty were no longer being taken advantage of, but were actually getting the help they needed.
En este vídeo os traigo la lectura del relato titulado Fiesta de disfraces, del guionista y director de cine Woody Allen. Hay quien dice que la verdad no siempre se oculta tras una máscara. También hay quien asegura que una mentira se convierte en verdad a base de repetirla. Y muchos creen que los locos nunca mienten.
Fiesta de disfraces, un relato de Woody Allen
Les voy a contar una historia que les parecerá increíble. Una vez cacé un alce. Me fui de cacería a los bosques de Nueva York y cacé un alce.
Así que lo aseguré sobre el parachoques de mi automóvil y emprendí el regreso a casa por la carretera oeste. Pero lo que yo no sabía era que la bala no le había penetrado en la cabeza; sólo le había rozado el cráneo y lo había dejado inconsciente.
Justo cuando estaba cruzando el túnel el alce se despertó. Así que estaba conduciendo con un alce vivo en el parachoques, y el alce hizo señal de girar. Y en el estado de Nueva York hay una ley que prohíbe llevar un alce vivo en el parachoques los martes, jueves y sábados. Me entró un miedo tremendo…
De pronto recordé que unos amigos celebraban una fiesta de disfraces. Iré allí, me dije. Llevaré el alce y me desprenderé de él en la fiesta. Ya no sería responsabilidad mía. Así que me dirigí a la casa de la fiesta y llamé a la puerta. El alce estaba tranquilo a mi lado. Cuando el anfitrión abrió, lo saludé: “Hola, ya conoces a los Solomon”. Entramos. El alce se incorporó a la fiesta. Le fue muy bien. Ligó y todo. Otro tipo se pasó hora y media tratando de venderle un seguro.
Dieron las doce de la noche y empezaron a repartir los premios a los mejores disfraces. El primer premio fue para los Berkowitz, un matrimonio disfrazado de alce. El alce quedó segundo. ¡Eso le sentó fatal! El alce y los Berkowitz cruzaron sus astas en la sala de estar y quedaron todos inconscientes. Yo me dije: Ésta es la mía. Me llevé al alce, lo até sobre el parachoques y salí rápidamente hacia el bosque. Pero… me había llevado a los Berkowitz. Así que estaba conduciendo con una pareja de judíos en el parachoques. Y en el estado de Nueva York hay una ley que los martes, los jueves y muy especialmente los sábados…
A la mañana siguiente, los Berkowitz despertaron en medio del bosque disfrazados de alce. Al señor Berkowitz lo cazaron, lo disecaron y lo colocaron como trofeo en el Jockey club de Nueva York. Pero les salió el tiro por la culata, porque es un club en donde no se admiten judíos.
Regreso solo a casa. Son las dos de la madrugada y la oscuridad es total. En la mitad del vestíbulo de mi edificio me encuentro con un hombre de Neanderthal. Con el arco superciliar y los nudillos velludos. Creo que aprendió a andar erguido aquella misma mañana. Había acudido a mi domicilio en busca del secreto del fuego. Un morador de los árboles a las dos de la mañana en mi vestíbulo.
Me quité el reloj y lo hice pendular ante sus ojos: los objetos brillantes los apaciguan. Se lo comió. Se me acercó y comenzó un zapateado sobre mi tráquea. Rápidamente, recurrí a un viejo truco de los indios navajos que consiste en suplicar y chillar.