As Ukraine’s army fights heroically to repel the Russian invasion, a little book I recently re-read is as relevant today as it was almost 80 years ago when it was first published. It’s little more than 100 pages, but although it’s a story about animals, it’s a powerful commentary on how a dictator can overcome and smother a nation’s dreams of democracy.
From time immemorial, rites and journalists have used animal figures to convey criticism, information, ideas and joy. But in recalling some of them, I have to start with this little book, which is a big book given what is happening in Russia and Ukraine.
in the animal farm, George Orwell’s animals rebel and look forward to a life where all will be equal, free and happy. However, you soon discover that some are more equal than others.
The pigs, led by one named Napoleon, take over and the animals find themselves living in a dictatorship. First published in 1945, it was a powerful satire that described in simple terms how the dream of democracy could be shattered by someone like Stalin.
However, Orwell’s message is no longer in the past tense. Reading it again, I realized that it could also apply to Putin. The resemblance is uncanny.
But why did Orwell use animal figures in his sweeping attack on Stalin? After returning from Spain, he explained how he intended to expose the Soviet myth in a story that was easy for almost everyone to understand. However, the real details of the story only came to him when he saw a little boy, “maybe 10 years old,” pushing a giant draft horse down a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn.
“It hit me,” he said. “That such animals, once they realized their strength, would no longer have power over them, and that people exploit animals as much as the rich exploit the proletariat.”
So there you have it
From global politics to politics at home. In the 1960s, John Healy occasionally used a sow and her piglets as an analogy to poke fun at a backbench TD trying to draw attention to himself. He wrote in a column entitled Inside Politics from Backbencher. Sunday reviewa tabloid then published by The Irish Time.
For those of us who have worked with John, this type of comment was natural for him and indeed for his friend Ted Nealon, who endorsed him in writing the column as they never forgot their roots in the west of Ireland. Snipegrass Country as John called it.
Her column was so popular that I remember letters from backbenchers asking for a mention and saying they didn’t care if it was good or bad.
And so John could say that this and that TD was on the back “tit” – a slang word for teat and not one we would use in polite society today. This was a reference to the dwarf, the weakest in a sow’s litter, struggling to find a teat. It was his way of describing a backbench trying to get his foot up the ladder.
Ted and himself wrote the column at a time when Charlie Haughey, Brian Lenihan, and Donogh O’Malley were in their heyday as aspiring Ministers of State, and no doubt he received many a tidbit (no pun intended) of information from them.
In fact, they were so well informed that Taoiseach Seán Lemass tried to stem the leaks. Ironically, it was revealed in another leak that Lemass felt like “Backbencher” was sitting under the closet table and listening to everything that was said.
When future Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was told before the Beef Tribunal that the dogs in the street knew the answer to a question he was asked, he joked that the dogs in the street were his friends, an answer met with great Amusement was recorded as he confessed to a pet food store in Longford.
Years ago when another head of state spoke of animals as his friends, it helped promote my favorite book when I was a boy. The wind in the willows had been negatively received when it was first published in 1908. But US President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to author Kenneth Grahame to say he had read and reread it and had come to accept the animal characters as “old friends.” Audiences loved it too and it soon became a bestseller.
One of his most endearing characters is Toad, who is obsessed with cars, and I love Jonathan Barry’s painting of him, in his glasses, hat, coat and all, bombing around in an open red car.
The wind and the willows That being said, many of my favorite books are about real animals, including Tarka the otter by Henry Williamson and watership below by Richard Adams.
Some of my own are about foxes, badgers and other animals. run for the hills also features goats, and there you will find a tale stranger than fiction.
Spider silk thread is among the most powerful substances known to man, and in the United States scientists have argued that if enough could be produced, it might be used for medicinal purposes.
Of course, developing such advanced technology would require a lot more of it, and researchers at a Utah State University farm had found an ingenious way to provide it.
They transferred a gene from a spider to a goat. They were then able to obtain spider silk from goat’s milk. The expectation was that one day it could be used by doctors to perform repairs on the human body, such as stitches. I often wonder what became of this experiment
Tom McCaughren is the author of the Run with the Wind book series and the recent adult novel The Whitethorn of the Dancing.
https://www.independent.ie/life/dogs-of-war-how-we-use-animals-to-tell-powerful-stories-42121769.html War dogs – how we use animals to tell powerful stories