Animal Farm

Animal Farm is George Orwell’s 1945 classic novel.

Orwell is considered to be one of the great authors and Animal Farm, along with Nineteen Eighty-Four, is considered to be one of his masterpieces. It is about talking anthropomorphic animals that overthrow their human farmer master and run the farm on their own terms.

I recently re-read Animal Farm with the idea that I would review it for [adjective][species]. I was planning to conclude that it’s a great book, and a great furry book, and that all furries should read it.

I have re-read Animal Farm, but I’m not recommending it: don’t read Animal Farm. Read something else.

I don’t think that Animal Farm a furry book. Which got me thinking about what constitutes a furry book.

I’ll try to define what a furry book is later, but let’s look at Animal Farm first. It has many qualities that might make it attractive to a furry audience:

  • Animal Farm is not complex or difficult to read. Its full title is “Animal Farm: A Fairy Story“, and it’s written in a very deliberate children’s storybook style. The writing is magical in its clarity, akin to Dr Seuss, J.K. Rowling or Philip K. Dick.
  • Animal Farm is short: you can start and finish it in a single sitting. It took me a couple of hours.
  • The animal characters are fully realized and easy to empathize with.
  • Many furry readers will appreciate that the only romance in the book is homosexual, between Benjamin the donkey and Boxer the horse. In line with the writing style, the relationship is chaste and friendly, and would perhaps be better described as homosocial, a bit like Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street. Still, Benjamin and Boxer are devoted to one another and are inseparable to the point that they plan to retire together.

And yet I don’t think it’s a furry book.

Why? For starters, I think that furry is escapist by nature.

Furry books tend to embrace an alternate universe. Makyo touched on this is some detail in his Layers of Fantasy post earlier this year. He pointed out that furry art tends to exist in this context:

It is a sort of stacking of different layers of fantasy, with our focus on anthropomorphic animals being layered atop science fiction or fantasy elements.

Makyo goes on to point out that this isn’t a rule that applies to all furry art, and that the alternate-universe concept falls over when we furries socialize in the real world. But I think that furry does necessarily involve some disconnection from the real world, if only to accommodate our self-images as animal people. I understand that this point is arguable (and please do comment away).

I think that a real-life furry gathering is always different from a non-furry group. The alternate names; the blasé acceptance of ears and tails and fursuits; the non-traditional treatment of sexuality, and;- most importantly – the implicit acceptance that each of us are the being that we feel we are on the inside. I’m an anthropomorphic horse; RandomWolf is in a funny mood because there is a full moon; Bob is just a friendly human who likes Thundercats.

I think that furry books reflect the furry community, in that the community is disconnected from the real world. As furries, we want to escape – however marginally – from the real world. We create our own reality.

Animal Farm, despite its talking animals, exists firmly within the real world. It is allegorical, not fantastical. I wouldn’t recommend Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita as a furry book either.

Animal Farm is an allegory of the Russian Revolution. It retells the story of Russia and the USSR from around World War I through to the last years of World War II. The primary porcine protagonists – Major, Napoleon and Snowball – are respective literal analogs for Marx, Stalin and Trotsky. Animal Farm is no fairytale: there is no redemption, no success. The farm, following revolutionary overthrow of the despotic Farmer Jones, charts a course back to corrupt dictatorship as straight as an arrow.

The children’s storybook language is key to the book’s power and testament to Orwell’s genius. The language primes us to expect and hope that our farm animals will earn themselves a better life through hope and struggle: we’ve read storybooks before. We expect conflict and dark times, but we also expect redemption or at least an engaging Brothers-Grimm-style grotesque coda. But there is no hope for our animals. They are as doomed under the pigs as they were under Farmer Jones.

As well as escapism, a furry book will often employ a literary device where species is shorthand for behaviour. (Cheetahs are fast; foxes are vain; bulls are strong.) This does occur in Animal Farm to an extent – for example we have a strong horse, a lazy cat, and a grumpy donkey – however like the characterization of the pigs, this is meant allegorically. That is, Orwell explores the fates of the Russian people against their (respectively for my three examples) loyalty, work ethic, and cynicism.

To put it more directly: Animal Farm doesn’t explore speciation as a philosophical idea in the way that a furry book does.

I wrote about Gulliver’s Travels a few weeks ago using this as the key “furry” idea. Swift’s rational horses and animalistic humans and are intended to disconnect our rational nature from our atavistic selves. In doing so, he asks us to consider what it means to be human, a question close to the heart of many furries (and, of course, [adjective][species]). I’d recommend Gulliver’s Travels to any furry interested in exploring the idea of identity.

Another example: The First Book of Lapism by Phil Geusz deals with the philosophical aspects of identity and species. Geusz imagines a world where people voluntarily transform themselves into bunny-people in the hope of creating a pacifist and highly-socialized race. Guesz’s books explore the consequences of this new race in an accessible alternate-universe manner. Speculative fiction isn’t personally my cup of furry tea, but Guesz’s works are well written and beloved by many.

Animal Farm is a work of genius and was a very important book when it was published in 1945. History is important, but the Russian Revolution is less relevant in our post cold-war world. And if a version of Animal Farm were published today as an allegory for conflict between the Western and Islamic worlds, I still wouldn’t recommend it as a furry book.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell is widely available for around £7. It is not available for download in the US. Recommended for furry European history buffs.
  • The First Book of Lapism by Phil Geusz is available for £11.30 paperback / £3.22 pdf ebook. Recommended for furries who enjoy speculative fiction and/or bunnies.
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is available to download for free from Project Gutenberg. Recommended for everyone.
  • The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is widely available in every format for around £5 or less. Recommended for anyone who has read the complete works of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

 

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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9 thoughts on “Animal Farm

  1. First to comment? o.o

    I do disagree. Animal Farm, though it wasn’t intended as a furry book by its author certainly, still qualifies as such. And the reason for that is that it can be read as such. So can Watership Down, or The Wind in the Willows. I don’t imagine that Kenneth Grahame or Richard Adams had any intention of entertaining a furry audience either, yet both do so perfectly well.

    The idea of “furry lit” is a slippery one. In the strictest sense, you’d have to look entirely at the stuff that is so labeled by its authors and editors, the output of Sofawolf Press or Furplanet. It would be about 80-90% erotica of some sort. Phil Geusz, by the way, is one of my favorites, but his usual intention is to write “transformation fiction” which is a rather different beast altogether (pun intended.)

    I prefer a broader definition that includes Aesop, Swift, Chaucer, and many other authors through history. Not because those authors set out to write “furry fiction” but because their work still can be read that way.

    Sure, Animal Farm or Watership Down are primarily political allegories. But by the very nature of an allegory, such works can be read at multiple levels. And on one level, these are furry stories with a “moral” at the end, just as Aesop’s ancient fables are.

  2. It’s always such a joy to read these and find someone deftly evaluating the aspects and elements of the topic so deftly, and with such crisp and vivid clarity. It’s a bit like like witnessing Teppanyaki, actually.

    You both have a lot of really valid points. I think whether someone would define Animal Farm as a furry book or not would say more about their definition of what a furry book is. Is furry lit principally defined by the use of animals, and how, or is it about something less specific and more benevolent? Orwell uses animals in a way few furry lit books would do, and his insightful novel is nevertheless anathematic to the vast majority of furry lit. In fact, he uses animals as a literary mechanism to convey practically the diametric opposite of what the furry world uses it to convey: where furry lit typically uses it to express the loving, adorable, compassionate and benevolent characteristics of lifekind, Orwell’s novel uses it to depict the baser, “animal” nature of large swaths of human society.

    Not only does this raise the question of whether to categorize it as a furry book – it also raises the perhaps more interesting question of whether the benevolence and compassion that furry lit typically seeks to express using animals could also be effectively ported to other mechanisms. Could we, then, have the embodiment of what the vast majority of furry lit seeks to express in other, as-yet-unthought-of forms of lit and art? Take for example the Japanese chibi phenomenon, which doesn’t always resort to cuddly animals but occasionally uses cute-ified cartoonish versions of humans instead. And rather effectively.

    What’s more, this may even assist us in diagnosing and improving the current state of the furry community itself. If furry isn’t principally defined as anthropomorphic, but rather emotionally warm, compassionate, and benevolent, then a lot of that is being diluted as the furry scene grows and takes on members of what had until recently been mainstream society. As they jump on the bandwagon, they adopt and emulate the requisite Ear And Tail Regalia without fully comprehending – or embracing and embodying – the affectionate, emotionally-cuddly benevolence that had once been the hallmark of the furry community. They become like the animals in Animal Farm – anthropomorphic, yes, but also base and bestial. Essentially, the diametric opposite of the initial ideals of the furry community. But unless the distinction is made, unless someone draws attention to the possibility that furry isn’t principally anthropomorphism per se, the distinction – not to mention the drift – goes unnoticed and unaddressed, and the community suffers as a result.

    We can ascribe labels to these different approaches to furry-ness, communicate about them, and even very nearly quantify them. Perhaps we can even diagnose and resolve that drift before the furry community becomes, in large part, just another teenage excuse to go to yet another rave – albeit one in which Regulation Ear And Tail Ensembles have replaced tie-dye, or candy bracelets, or some other formerly-trendy affectation that is peripheral to any meaningful human quality or value. It’s a conversation I’ve for years wanted to have with other furs, but couldn’t quite articulate or find a way to bring their attention to the disparity I’d noticed.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Satori.

      It’s a curious thought experiment you propose, or at least I think it’s a thought experiment: what are the requirements for being a furry? Furry is unique in that it’s a group where there is one criterion – you’re a member if you decide you’re a member.

      I generally agree with the traits you’ve ascribed to the community – warmth and benevolence – however I think this has come about in part because the community is so inclusive. I don’t think we’d be living in such a caring and tolerant world if there were sentries at the gates.

      I love that it all comes down to the big question: what defines a furry? Why are we all here? It’s a difficult and interesting question, and I guess that’s what we’re trying to tackle here at [a][s]. Makyo and I, and the other writers, are all trying to finish the sentence:

      A furry is a ____

      It’s fascinating that you’ve proposed that anthropomorphism might not be a cornerstone of that definition.

      1. As for being a furry if one decides they’re a furry, that’s a response I’ve been getting from a lot of the community. I respectfully disagree, to an extent. When you have a community that is principally defined with anthropomorphism and have no community standards or any other defining criteria, it creates a situation in which all manner of behavior is considered acceptable and causes a dilution of the unspoken, undefined values of that community. Which is what I’ve been encountering, particularly as more people influx from the mainstream. This is a natural occurrence in any community; the U.S. political standards of what’s acceptable has been encountering the same dilution for the last couple of centuries.

        I’m not proposing that we hire bouncers to enforce a particular furry moral code, but for any community to retain its identity – and we haven’t yet established the specifics that define that – its members not only need to have some form of definition of what that is at least for themselves, but also uphold that as a standard in their in-community associations. There are many people who consider themselves to be furry by the “you’re a furry if you think you’re a furry” rationale that I quietly don’t accept as being legitimately furry. A good example of this would be the local frat boys who’ve been crashing FurCon’s parties in recent years; they don’t seem to have anything to do with the community the rest of the year, but heard there was a party and stopped by, picked up their Regulation Ear and Tail Ensemble for the night, and hit the party floor as an excuse to drink and whoop it up wildly. For a couple of days, they call themselves furry because it’s another excuse to drink. I don’t think that makes them furry any more than going to a rave the next weekend necessarily makes them members of the raver scene. But the majority of the furry community accepts them, not only at the parties – which seems natural to me – but as legitimate members of the furry community because they profess to be so, at least for the next couple of days. That doesn’t seem natural to me.

        I wouldn’t bar these people from attending, but I do maintain unspoken standards of who I consider to be valid-as-furry and it affects who I socialize with. I don’t discuss it with these people, which might or might not be a rude or offensive thing to do. I’ve found it difficult even approaching the topic meaningfully with regular members of the furry community, who don’t seem to share the mindset I have. But I’ve noticing the furry community’s identity, standards and value to me diluting as a result of the disinclination of the community to address the situation: it’s been swelling in numbers, but – I’ve found, at least – losing a lot of what defines it to me.

        I think you’re right. The requirements for being a furry depend fundamentally on the definition of the furry community. And maybe that’s been so difficult to define with finality because, just as with languages, what a community is at any given point – and it will fluctuate – is probably a consensus of what the definitions and standards are for the individuals that actively comprise the community. This often happens with various religious communities; while there may be tenets and a written, fixed doctrine, what the community adheres to in actual practice at any given time is defined instead by what its adherents are living by on a daily basis. Mainstream Christianity, particularly among the upper-middle-class, is probably a good example of this phenomenon. Without enough individual adherence to the actual doctrines of their community, the result of a collective drift away from it’s founding values. Give it long enough and it will become customary for a community like that to misapply the founding doctrines to condone practices and lifestyles that fundamentally conflict with those doctrines. The quality of the community suffers as a result, and the community starts to acquire a reputation for its new definition from the mainstream. Like the definition of a word, it has metamorphosed over time through a very different customary usage. And a lot of the original meaning has probably been lost in the process.

        I would certainly like to avoid that happening to the furry community. It’s very close to my heart, and it has a lot of value to me specifically and much potential value to society at large as well. I care about it, and people tend to want to safeguard the things and people they care about. I think every community tends to need some amount of social maintenance and upkeep in order to keep functioning well. It’s great to want to party wildly for instance, but I think any good party needs at least some of the people in it to remain sober and mindful in order to do well, or someone’s going to end up stoned in the kitchen and leaving the gas on. That’s not good.

        This phenomenon is by no means specific to the furry community. The Gay Rights movement, for example spent decades and a lot of effort from sincere activists in an attempt to get “gay” accepted as a household word by the mainstream, to get acceptance of the community from it, and to clarify to people that being gay was very different from being a transvestite. We now find those efforts completely subverted by the comparatively tacky and offensive Gay Pride scene. Just think of the imagery that gets broadcast of Pride Parades on the local news; it’s the diametric opposite of the Gay Rights movement, and seems to be systematically undoing the results of those efforts.

        I think a good solution to this phenomenon for the furry community might happen quite naturally if its members considered and honestly assessed what defined the community /for them/. We’re all here for a reason; what do we, individually, find the value in? This is going to vary drastically for individuals, and that’s probably a very good thing. For those who are here principally because they have animal spirit beliefs, the anthropomorphism is probably going to have intensely more value for them than the art or fursuiting opportunities. Others will find the primary value for them in various other elements. This is completely natural and very desirable; the consensus of each of these individuals who comprise the scene, and what their values, standards and priorities of the community’s members at any given point in time are, is probably what defines the community in the sense of what it’s “actually” about. In other words, what the practice actually is rather than any fixed community doctrine or lack thereof.

        For my part, while I adore the anthropomorphic element of the furry community and find it a very spiffy bonus, it’s not the primary draw of the furry community for me. I want to socialize with people who are unconventional, well-considered and certainly high-functioning, and that’s not going to happen in the mainstream community on the majority of occasions. What I really adore about the community is its emotional openness, its warmth and benevolence. In another era, that particular value or draw for me would probably have been fulfilled by attending a church community back when people had their values and priorities more together.

        It’s tempting to think that it may be precisely _because_ I’m seeking people who are more based primarily in emotional warmth, benevolence, joy, play-instinct and compassion that there’s been such a seeming reluctance to address the concept of “furry criteria” and personally-enforced community standards. It’s tempting to think that because that’s their nature, what I’ve been doing has actually been asking them to play against type. Sort of like asking a dog to calculate your taxes, that it’s just not going to happen. Nobody’s inferior because of it, but taxes certainly aren’t where the dog is at. But I can’t really accept this idea, because while I express my compassion and nurturing towards the community on a more cerebral basis than a lot of its members, attempting to spot problems as they start to form, address them and nip them in the bud, personal standards of what each of us find acceptable is something we invariably practice on a daily basis anyway. It’s not whether we practice it that’s unsettled, but rather attempting to get furs to agree on a set of tenets for the community.

        Which probably shouldn’t happen anyway. But knowing that we affect the quality of any community by what standards we keep and live by, and having more prevalently in the community introspection by its members of what matters to them and the understanding that they’re collectively keeping or discarding it based on their own personal values and choices, would be awesome to achieve. In the furry community, in religious communities, the gay community, and even the mainstream political acceptance of the mainstream.

        It’s refreshing to find that sort of introspection and interaction happening on this blog. I think that fundamentally, most of us just want to make things better.

        1. Thanks for the fuller response. There is a lot to process there.

          I can think of an example where the furry community has organized in a way to set a minimum standard for behaviour – Perth in Australia, where I lived up until a few years ago. The furry group at the time was around 200 or so, and the group was close enough such that there were very few degrees of seperation between two furs. It wasn’t quite an everyone-knows-everyone situation, but it wasn’t too far away. The Perthfur Gatherings, which take place once or twice a year, irregularly (http://gathering.perthfurs.net) usually attract half or so of the city’s furry population.

          The Perth group had a couple of people who were widely considered to be anti-social. The behaviour of both these furries was so bad that everyone essentially agreed that they weren’t welcome. As a way of reinforcing this, the Perthfurs portal (www.perthfurs.net), set up a vouching system. When you create an account, you are given limited access to the forums and other content in the portal. Furry friends of your will “vouch” for who you are, and eventually you accrue enough points to be given full access. The system works well – it embraces good, new furries and rejects the few who have a negative impact on the community.

          However Perth is an unusual case. It’s a very isolated city with very few people living outside the city itself, so the furries are forced to get along, as there are no other real options. Any new furry in Perth is going to find out about perthfurs.net sooner or later.

          In a bigger city or somewhere where people are more spread out – basically anywhere else in Australia, north America & Europe – the system won’t work. Furry is often seen as cliquey as it is – any attempt to moderate behaviour would be seen as elitist. (I suspect that the good furries who run perthfurs.net suffer from this to a smaller extent too.)

          Even the Londonfurs organizing committee (disclosure: most of whom are good friends of mine), who do nothing more than organize a free furmeet at a central London venue every three week, plus two big parties, have to deal with a reasonable amount of flak for being elitists. It’s an outcome of a community which is so decentralized: because you’re a furry if you think you are, there are no rules before you can join Furrymuck, or get an FA account, or have a beer with someone who lives nearby. (There are a few doxies to negotiate though, hat-tip to Makyo.)

          I’m of the belief, in general, that change is inevitable, and that it’s a good thing. The furry community has changed a lot and it will continue to change. Rather than looking to keep the positive aspects it has had in the past, I’m looking forward to the new positive aspects coming in the future. But then I’m a horse, and therefore an optimist.

  3. I just wasted a good half hour pondering this and finally deciding that “Is this furry?” is about as answerable as, “Is this art?”

    My final decision that I think is as close as I’m going to get is that it’s furry if a fur could be produced from being a fan of it. Of course, some of us were pretty much always furs, but we discover it somehow, sometime, often through fiction. Robin Hood, Redwall, what have you. I’m still not entirely convinced this doesn’t have it’s own flaws, but it’s the best I’ve got so far.

    Everything else I considered: author intent, the importance of characters actually being animals, the number of anthro characters vs. human, etc. all could be easily defeated by a citing some exception to the rule.

    I find myself reluctant to accept the escapist requirement as well. If I wrote a story about a cat with a happy childhood and a promising future in catnip mouse engineering who, despite graduating top of his class, ends up stuck in a stupid boring job totally unrelated to his passions day after day, slowly getting his soul sucked away just to pay rent, having trouble making friends because he’s not all that charismatic, never finding love or having his problems solved by a single musical number, and finally deciding his only escape is suicide which results in nobody even noticing he’s gone, I have a hard time seeing the furry community totally rejecting it as being furry because it’s not happy and relates too much to the very things they DON’T want to think about.

    Escapism is simply more popular because it is outside of the furry world as well. Social commentary through allegory isn’t quite as popular at the level of Animal Farm because it isn’t outside of the furry world, either. Most authors are going to write about elves or space ships when it comes down to it. That’s what’s interesting in our current culture.

    1. Hi Shade. Thanks for the comment, and it’s nice to hear that the article was thought-provoking. Those thoughts might have been self-referential and ultimately circular (and possibly frustrating), but you can’t have everything :)

      The question “Is this furry?” is, I think, a question worth exploring. It’s essentially the entire purpose behind [adjective][species]. It’s obviously not an easy question to answer, and probably not answerable at all, but by exploring it we can learn a lot. I reckon that these pages help give us all the vocabulary to delve into more and more detail, and hopefully lead to a better understanding of the community and why we’re all here.

      The same goes for “Is this art?”, I think. It’s not an answerable question, but we can say intelligent things about art by creating a language around it: we use terms like “minimalism” to talk about Phillip Glass; “surrealism” to talk about Dali; “postmodernism” to talk about Pynchon. Makyo’s recent post does this explicitly (and brilliantly) by giving us the term “doxy” – something immediately useful when talking about furry, and something that shines a light on an aspect of the community that was otherwise intangible.

      I don’t think many furries are going to read Animal Farm and enjoy it from a furry perspective. My reasons for that are far from perfect (and riddled with contradictions) but they’re my attempt to put some words around the question “why”.

      I’d read your book about the failed catnip mouse engineer. It’s poignant and relevant to furries, and I might even argue it would classify as escapism. I bet furries would identify with Mittens and see him as a bit of a hero, no matter how pathetic his life might be. And it’d make people think. They might even discuss amongst themselves whether it’s “art” and/or “furry”.

  4. Perhaps I’m a little out of place, and almost certainly late, in sharing this, but it came up today on FurryMUCK:

    “I often wonder where the less obvious species stereotypes come from. A popular character like that? I know Ricky from ASB made all raccoons effeminate crossdressers for awhile, but I don’t know what makes red pandas the same unless it’s just playing off the raccoon thing.”

    It’s interesting in that it’s sort of the opposite from some of the main points of your article here. In your article, you mention that there is relatively little connection with species and so on that is so prevalent within the fandom. Potentially (and here I’m mostly guessing) hidden in this quip is the idea that furry literature is something that influences character creation within the fandom, not simply literature that was taken from furry authors. In this case, yes, the raccoons from a decidedly furry comic, but certainly many badgers that I have seen on one MUCK or another have quite a bit in common with the badgers of the Redwall series, and ditto mice. Foxes have a lot in common with, say, the slyness of Robin Hood or the Fantastic Mr. Fox, and canines with the countless dog and wolf stories out there. Of course, all of these take their roots from the societal subconscious that informs the authors, but it takes that particularly powerful and evocative bit of writing, acting, or art of any kind to bring them closer to us.

    We owe a lot to our fandom roots, and sometimes, it seems, there is a work that will simply be adopted into those roots and appropriated into furry. Perhaps it’s this fact that we’ve had the animals brought closer to us by skill that helps to bring us closer to them in this unique mode of anthropomorphism. I certainly can’t say, for sure, but it definitely seems like an interesting avenue to look down!

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