[FS] Animal Farm by George Orwell

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The Folio Society (Affiliate link) | Animal Farm [FS] 2002 Reprint (Amazon used book link)
Ever since I read Animal Farm as part of my ninth grade English course (as part of an anthology – it’s a slim volume, so it’s easy to anthologize). I’ve always wanted to own Animal Farm in a nice edition, and had been holding off my purchase for decades until I finally found a suitable copy. When I heard that the Folio Society had issued an out-of-print edition of Animal Farm with Quentin Blake illustrations, I had to have a copy immediately. I found an used copy for a reasonable price and pulled the trigger on it, not knowing what it’d look like apart from images of the cover on the Internet.

Originally published in 1984 (and they picked that year for a good reason), this edition of Animal Farm has gone through several printings, and then it was reprinted up to 2002 [18-Aug-2012 Update: The Folio Society has reprinted this edition for their 2013 publishing year, and it is once again available directly from the Society]. The copy I have is actually a 15th printing! Anything that goes through that many printings, especially for the Folio Society has to be good, right? Especially with the ever-popular Quentin Blake, he of the magnificent pen & watercolors?

Well, when I received the volume in the mail, I was greatly disappointed. While the 2002 slipcase is a nice orange color to contrast with the visible section of the cloth binding illustration done by Blake, the colors of the pigs had sickly swathes of gray on them. At first, I thought I had gotten a damaged copy, but after inspecting it closely, it wasn’t damaged. That was just how the pigs were colored in a few parts. Based on the cover alone, I assumed that the stated black & white illustrations inside would at least be printed in a way to display greyscale shading, especially since it was reprinted in 2002.

How wrong I was. The illustrations appeared to have been Xeroxed, and rather poorly at that too. I flipped desperately through the pages, but they were just Xerox after Xerox. Finally I closed the book and then I noticed the endpapers. They’re a lovely tan color, but also have ribbing. Running my hand across the paper, the pages felt like corrugated cardboard, completing my shameful despair in having acquired an edition that I absolutely hated. Full of promise, being lured by the siren song of the Folio prestige, of being a favorite book, of having Quentin Friggin’ Blake doing the illustrations, the collapse was complete.

Mind you, the quality of the book itself – the paper, the binding, is unquestionably top-notch. I was just let down by my high expectations for Animal Farm, and wanted an edition that did it justice in my view. This isn’t that edition for me. It may be for you though, and you can find copies on the secondary market pretty easily, because it’s gone through at least 15 printings in all since 1984.

The Folio edition only has 104 pages, was set in Plantin with an Akzidenz Grotesque display, printed on Caxton Wove paper by the Bath Press at Bath, England, and bound in cloth by the same. It has been laid out well, with the illustrations being worked into the text block naturally and the page numbers are centered & bracketed on the bottom of each page if an illustration doesn’t take up that space. In short, the only issue I have is with the Xerox appearance of Blake’s illustrations, which was my biggest disappointment.

Having been let down by the Folio edition, I resumed my search for an suitable edition of Animal Farm, and to my great surprise, I was able to find such an edition from a mainstream publisher. Animal Farm: A Fairy Story is the 50th Anniversary Edition published April 18, 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The biggest feature is that Ralph Steadman illustrated this edition copiously. There are far more illustrations (perhaps quadruple as much, if not more) than the Folio edition. There’s also a great marketing tagline for this edition as well –

Though all editions of Animal Farm are equal, this one is more equal than others.

I can’t dispute that claim after having examined my copy of this edition. Ralph Steadman is best known in the US for two things – his collaboration with Hunter S Thompson, and the illustrations he has done for Flying Dog Ales (who brew some pretty damn good beer). Steadman has done all of the beer marketing illustration – from their logo, the beer labels, advertisements, and more. It’s certainly helped grow the beer here in the US (Steadman is British) – especially since his illustration style is rather unique.

The Steadman edition is quarter-bound in red cloth, with red paper boards and covered in a glossy white dust jacket featuring a large image of a menacing pig (Napoleon). It weighs in at 180 pages, and contains two appendixes featuring two different prefaces to Animal Farm written by Orwell himself. The pages are smooth and glossy, which fits Steadman’s artwork. The entire book has illustrations by Steadman either as black & white doodles on the sides of the pages, or full-color spreads, including some double-page full color illustrations. In short, the illustration budget for this volume was obviously rather lavish. And it shows!

The appendixes were both nice short essays from Orwell, and I enjoyed reading both of them. In short – I far prefer this edition to Folio’s, even though I’m pretty sure the binding and paper of the Folio edition are far superior. But I just wanted a nice edition that’ll last me my lifetime, and I’m pretty sure this edition will do the trick. I’ve included photographs of my edition at the bottom along with the Folio photographs.

Animal Farm by Orwell is a masterpiece of world literature. Thinly veiled as a political commentary/satire that uses the Russian Revolution as its backstory of allusion. Cannot be appreciated properly if you don’t know the history of the Russian Revolution with Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. There is a reason why it’s considered a “fable” by some people, and Orwell’s genius is in making this topic a highly readable and interesting story. It easily belongs on any of the 100 most important books or 100 best books or 100 books you must read before you die lists that you see being generated or written by anybody. What that rank is though, is up to the reader.

Animal Farm is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, and there aren’t very many books I would place into the stratosphere. This is one of the few. And it’s the second book I’m keeping in my permanent library – good enough to keep two editions of!

50th Anniversary edition details:
ISBN: 0151002177
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Dimensions: 10×7.9×0.8″
Weight: 1.9 pounds
List Price: $35.00

Animal Farm – A+
Folio Society edition – B (just for the Xeroxed appearance of the illustrations, it would easily be much higher)
50th Anniversary edition – A- (mainly for binding and paper quality, everything else is top-notch)

Special note: The final picture is courtesy of Flying Dog Ales. It’s their logo – illustrated by Steadman. Each beer they make receives a different illustration along with this logo. And if you were curious which of their beers I liked, I’m partial to the Doggie Style Pale Ale and the Tire Bite Golden Lager (a kolsch), which sadly has been discontinued. I have yet to try their replacement Lager beer. I’ve managed to try several of their beers over the years, such as Dogtoberfest (not so good), Double Dog Double Pale Ale, Gonzo Imperial Porter, Garde Dog (a biere de garde), K-9, and a few others. They’ve expanded their operations and added & removed beers since I last tried some of their beers. Doggie Style’s always a good option, although I haven’t tried most of their new lineup yet.

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