Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to......

             Saturday, November 22nd, 2014, was someone's birthday.  I'll call her.....let's say...maybe Vanita.  (Not her real name).

            …So who is Vanita?  She’s the pretty girl who sits at the end of the aisle in the staffroom, and who is very well spoken.  She’s usually got a smile on her face, although often it is a mischievous smile.
            Anyway, I digress…the point is, it was Vanita's birthday.
            Several weeks previously, I had agreed to buy Vanita a birthday cake in exchange for an ice coffee that she had bought for me.  I decided to buy her cupcakes instead from Bloom’s Café.
            I was teaching a class in the morning.  (I don’t usually teach on Saturday, but I was doing a cover).  So I bought the cupcakes after lunch, and left them on Vanita’s desk with a birthday card containing a short note: Happy Birthday.  Enjoy.

            The length of the note (or rather the lack thereof) was a subject of criticism.  It was pointed out (with perhaps some justification) that since I regularly write long book reviews on my blog, I should have been capable of writing a much longer birthday note.  And it was proposed that I write a long blog post about Vanita’s birthday as a penance.

            I agreed to it, thinking it was all a joke.  And then received some criticism when the blog post was never written.

           I explained that, after some initial youthful blogging indiscretions, I have over the years made it a policy on this blog to avoid posting about my personal life, which includes birthday messages to friends and co-workers. These days it is blog policy to only to blog about impersonal things like book and movie reviews.  So I don’t write about my friends or co-workers on my blog.  (Or at the very least, I don’t directly reference them.  Although sometimes the careful reader can find indirect references.)

            I was informed that I since I had made the promise, I was locked into the action, whatever the policy of the blog was.  And furthermore, it was pointed out to me that it was unwise to make promises to girls that I had no intention of fulfilling.  

So, here is the message.  Happy birthday Vanita.  Hope it was a good one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A World On Fire by Amanda Foreman

Subtitle for British Edition: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
Subtitle for American Edition: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War

What is this Book About?
            This is an epic book that runs close to 1000 pages and touches on many different aspects of the American Civil War, including some examination of American domestic politics and blow by blow descriptions of many of the battles.  But its primarily purpose is to examine Britain’s role in the American Civil War.
            Perhaps the tone and scope of the book can best be summed up by a quotation from the final chapter:
            Almost immediately after the [American Civil] war, the British writer William Michael Rossetti…tried to explain its impact on English public opinion in an essay for the American Atlantic Monthly.  Rossetti claimed never to have seen his compatriots so animated “in connection with any other non-English occurrences”: the entire country had divided over the merits of the Civil War, and whether abolition, democracy, the Union or the right to self-determination had been the real principle at stake.  Expressions such as “I’m a Northerner,” and “I am a Southerner,” were “as common on Englishman’s lips as ‘I am a Liberal or ‘a Conservative.’”  It has been the purpose of this book [A World on Fire] to restore to view the Anglo-American world that Rossetti described. (from pages 814-815)

Why I Read This Book
          The British view of the American Civil War has been popping up from time to time in some of the books I’ve been reading. 
* The historical documentary radio program This Sceptred Isle  mentions briefly the division in English society caused by the American Civil War, and the tendency of the British upper-classes to support the South, and the British lower-classes to support the North.
* One of the biographies of Marx that - I’ve - read (I’ve now forgotten which particular one) credited the anti-slavery demonstrations of British labor groups that Marx was associated with as one factor in persuading the British government not to intervene on the Southern side.
* Karl Marx himself was a keen observer of the American Civil War, and seems to have modified his revolutionary predictions based on what he saw as a parallel situation in America.  (Marx drew parallels between the European capitalists and the Southern slave owners.  Neither could ever be expected to peacefully surrender their wealth as a result of democratic elections.  It might be possible for socialism to win initial victories at the ballot box, but any newly elected socialist government would have to face a “revolt of the slave owners” just as Lincoln’s government had.  This language and terminology is reflected in Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune, particularly The Civil War in France.)
* The biography of Captain Richard Burton that I read recounts Richard Burton’s mysterious trip to the southern United States right before the outbreak of the war, and suggests that Richard Burton may have been acting as a secret agent for the British government.
* The short biography on Queen Victoria mentions Prince Albert’s work on the Trent Affair (W), and credits Prince Albert with narrowly averting war between the Northern Union and Great Britain.
* Some of the books in the Flashman series, particularly Flash for Freedom, and Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, give a British perspective on the American problem of slavery, and some insights into the British government’s policy at the time.
* The Decline and Fall of the British Empire mentions the ambivalence with which the British viewed the American Civil War, and in particular how the British Government was worried that after the war a unified United States could one day become stronger than the British Empire.

            All of these were small little tidbits, but the result of all of these collectively was to get me curious about Britain’s role in the American Civil War.
            The American history textbooks I had learned from in my school days always presented American history as if it were happening in a vacuum, and the rest of the world didn’t matter.  But in fact the world was very interconnected in the 19th century, and the predominate world power at the time was not yet America, but the British Empire.  I was curious to see how America’s Civil War played into the larger story of the British Empire.  (And for that matter, how the British Empire played into the story of the American Civil War.)  The British Empire at the time did not have a non-interventionist policy, and in the 19th century became involved in several conflicts all around the globe (from the Crimean War in Turkey to the Opium Wars in China.)  It was very possible that Britain could have become involved in the American Civil War and, as Amanda Foreman shows in her book, there were a few times when Britain nearly did.

            So when I came across this book while browsing in a bookstore one day, you can imagine I was interested—a whole book devoted to exactly the topic I had been curious about.
            And yet, despite the fact that this book seems to have been written for exactly someone of my interests, I hesitated before buying it.  It was a real doorstopper at 988* pages, densely printed.  There was no doubt that attempting a book like this would require some dedication and time commitment.  I, being a slow reader, and with the bad habit of getting easily distracted, might not be the ideal reader for a book like this after all.
            However, despite its intimidating length, this book must be fairly popular because I kept seeing it pop up at various bookstores.  Each time I saw it, I would browse through it, slightly tempted and yet slightly intimidated.  Eventually I bought a copy in Thailand just because I saw it at a discount price in a used bookstore, but it still sat on my shelves unread for another couple years after that.

            And then, one evening, when I was feeling slightly ambitious, I decided to finally take the plunge, and give this book a try. 

*Although excluding endnotes and indexes, the actual text is 815 pages.

The Reading Experience
          Everyone’s subjective reading experience is different, and my personal experience reading this book may be different from someone else’s.  But for whatever it may be worth, here is my personal reading experience:
            After having been intimidated by this book for so long, I was pleasantly surprised to find how well-written it was.  Yes, it is long, but it’s story-telling historical narrative at its finest. 
            The text interweaves big historical events with more personal biographical narratives, but ultimately the book is more character driven than event driven.  Throughout the narrative, the different biographies of many different fascinating historical figures are interwoven with each other, and with the big events of the time.

            It’s an ambitious project, and one that in the hands of a less talented writer could easily have been a disaster.  Amanda Foreman lays out the scope and ambition on the book in her introduction:
            Biography is a subset of history, and yet it stand independently, too.  The most obvious difference is that biographers delve deeply into individual lives and the influences that shape them, whereas for historians it is the sum of individual experiences that is important.  In A World On Fire I have tried to combine both approaches.  I decided from the beginning to treat each of the significant figures, and many of the lesser ones, as though he or she was the principal subject of the book, so that I could understand the antecedents of their motives and decisions during the Civil War.  This not only added several years to the project, but also created the problem of how to construct a single narrative out of competing points of view, within a timeframe that encompassed multiple simultaneous events.  The challenge seemed insurmountable until one day I remembered how years before I had seen Trevor Nunn’s 1980 production of Nicholas Nickleby, an extraordinary ‘theatre-in-the-round’ which brought together a vast panoply of characters through a combination of three-dimensional staging, shifting scenes and running narratives that created an all-enveloping experience for the audience. This memory became my guide and inspiration, and I set about writing a history-in-the-round in the hopes of being able to immerse the reader inside the British-American world of the Civil War (Author’s introduction xxiv-xxv)

            I’ve never seen Nicholas Nickleby, but despite missing that reference I’m relatively sure Amanda Foreman pulled off what she intended to.  Although she juggles a cast of hundreds, she succeeds in making each character’s story seem important to the reader.
            In fact, it was almost incredible to me how fully these characters come to life.  Amanda Foreman has dug up all sorts of personal correspondence, diaries, and memoirs of her subjects.  I was fully expecting the old letters and diaries to read in antiquated stiff-sounding Victorian English, but I was surprised how modern all of her characters sounded and acted, and I became immersed in their stories completely.
            For the first couple weeks I was reading this book, it was fully pleasure reading.  I would open it first thing in the morning to read a few pages before getting ready for work.  And I would read it in the evening to relax.

            The first few chapters of this book were arguably juggling too many characters, but I didn’t care.  And if I was constantly having to flip back to the index, and re-read sections to remind myself of who everyone was in the story, I easily forgave it.  The book and the characters were engaging enough to justify it.

            But, having so far praised this book, I confess that I did begin to lose my patience with it at about the halfway mark.  When I was about 400 pages into the book, and barely keeping track of all the various characters and storylines already introduced, I became frustrated when Amanda Foreman still continued to introduce more and more characters.  Eventually, I gave up on trying to keep track of who everyone was.  When a name popped up that I didn’t recognize, I no longer went back to the index to try to remind myself of who it was.  Instead, I just plowed on with the story.
            Talented writer though she is, I think Amanda Foreman possibly overplays her hand in this book.  The number of characters the reader has to keep track of should have been reduced by half, and few new characters should have been introduced after the half-way point.

            Also, although I was very happy to learn about the lives of the major historical figures, I was less interested in learning about the minor ones.  I was interested in the stories of great politicians like William Seward, Charles Sumner, Charles Francis Adams, and William Gladstone.  I was less interested in the all stories of the ordinary British volunteers that Amanda Foreman narrates.  However, a major part of this book is devoted to following the stories of a number of British volunteers who served as ordinary soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War. 
            Although, in her introduction, Amanda Foreman states that the original purpose of this book was to simply follow the stories of the British volunteers during the American Civil War, before the book grew in scope to try to include the whole history of British-American relations during the same period.  So I suppose this is the book Amanda Foreman wanted to write, and if I’m not interested in the stories of these volunteers, it is my problem and not hers.
            A large part of my criticisms are subjective, and has less to do with the merits of the book itself than what I personally was interested in reading.

            My exhaustion with some of the long military parts of the book can also be chalked up to subjectivity.  Lots of people really go in for these military histories.  (In conversations, I’ve discovered that many of my fellow history buffs are primarily interested in history because of the military aspects to it.  But I’m not one of them.)
            No doubt, military history buffs will love all the battle descriptions in this book, but I was far more interested in the political and diplomatic sections of the book.  At the beginning of the book, the political and diplomatic intriguing was the main part of the book, but in the middle of the book, the military part of the story took predominance, and this also did much to dampen my enthusiasm.

            It’s somewhat unclear exactly what the scope of the book is intended to be.  I entered the book thinking it would be about primarily focused on Britain’s diplomatic relationship with the United States during the Civil War.  But as the book progressed, the Amanda Foreman included many descriptions of battles and military engagements which did not seem directly related to Britain.  At some points, it seems like Amanda Foreman was intending to include a comprehensive history of the whole American Civil in addition to her other aims.  But then, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, some battles were described in detail, and others are just skipped over.  Every chapter of the book is well-written in itself, but it was sometimes a bit confusing for me to decide what was, and what was not, the intended scope of the book.  And if I was confused on this point, I’m apparently not the only one.  Some of the reviews for this book express a similar confusion--see HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE...and many others.

            But lest I harp too much on the negatives, the political and diplomatic story in this book is fascinating—the story of the struggle of the government of Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell to steer a neutral course despite all the pressure from both British Northern sympathizers and British Southern sympathizers in their own country.  Amanda Foreman includes some great descriptions of British Parliamentary debates on the American Civil War question.  There’s also the story of the attempted maneuverings of both the Confederate and American diplomats in London.  And the continual headaches of Lord Lyons, the British ambassador back in Washington, in dealing with the frequently unreasonable demands of the American government on Britain.  And much more.

            Despite my caveats about the length and scope of this book, there’s a lot to recommend it.  If you’re a history nerd, I guarantee you’ll find it fascinating.

So What Was the British Attitude Towards The American Civil War
          As Amanda Foreman shows in her book repeatedly, British opinion on the Civil War was very divided.
            The one thing that did seem to be consistent was the British objection to slavery.  But there was considerable question in Britain over whether the American Civil War was about slavery or not.  The British supporters of the Confederacy (of which there were a great number) thought that the Confederacy was fighting for freedom and independence, and that the war wasn’t connected to the question of slavery.  Many of them also believed that slavery would die out eventually whether or not the South gained independence.
            The question of slavery in the American Civil War is a complex one.  (Historians are still debating these days whether slavery was the major cause of the Civil War or not.)  At the outbreak of the Civil War, both the Northern and the Southern governments wanted to avoid saying the war was about slavery.  The Southern government knew that it would lose any hope to international support if it said the war was about slavery, and Lincoln’s government would lose the support of the boarder states (the pro-slavery states which had stayed with the Union) if they made the war about slavery.  And it was because of this ambiguity that many British people felt justified in also not believing the war was not about slavery.
            The Emancipation Proclamation was intended, in part, to gain British support for the Northern cause, but it was greeted with a great deal of cynicism by many British, who noted that Lincoln had delayed too long in issuing it, and even when he did issue the Proclamation, it only applied to the states of the Confederacy, and not to the slave-owning states in the Union. 
            However, according to the picture Amanda Foreman gives, once the war ended with the abolition of slavery, then the British realized that the war had been a war to end slavery after all, and many one-time Confederate supporters in Britain actually repented of their former-sympathies.   

            The tremendous casualty rate of the Civil War was also something that shocked the British. 
            I’ve often heard in history classes before about how bloody the Civil War was, but sometimes without a basis of comparison it’s easy to forget exactly how bloody it really was.  At one point, Amanda Foreman notes that the Americans suffered more casualties in one battle of the Civil War than Britain suffered in the whole of the Crimean War.  (I forget the page number and the specific battle, but I think I’m remembering this right.)  The British public was absolutely shocked and appalled at the huge slaughter going on across the Atlantic.
            As Amanda Foreman describes, this lead to a peace movement among the British people that wanted the British government to put a stop to the fighting in America.  The British government itself was reluctant to get involved (it knew that a forced peace settlement would be appreciated by neither the North nor the South) but because of all the popular pressure it was at least obliged to debate the matter in Parliament.
            If you’re interested in this kind of thing (and I found the whole story fascinating) Amanda Foreman goes into a lot of detail about the discussions and debates in her book.

            [Sidenote: it’s somewhat outside of the scope of this book, but when discussing the American Civil War Geoffrey Blainey makes an interesting point.  There were actually two civil wars going on in the world during this period—the American Civil War, and the Taiping Rebellion in China.    Nowadays, everyone remembers the horrible bloodshed caused by the American Civil War, but the Taiping Rebellion has been more or less completely forgotten by everyone outside of China.  However, many more people were killed in the Taiping Rebellion—an estimated 20 million people died in the Taiping Rebellion, which in terms of civil wars is the bloodiest civil war in history, and in terms of wars in general is second only to World War II.  So, perhaps the complete absence of any mention of the Taiping Rebellion is an interesting omission from this book?]

Other Notes

Interesting Stuff I Learned
            Because the American school system is so hyper-focused on American history, I’ve done my best to avoid American history ever since I graduated from high school.    George Washington?  Abraham Lincoln?  Paul Revere?  I know all this stuff already.  I want to read about some other areas of the world for once.
            It is therefore slightly humbling whenever I do pick up a book on American history, and discover I don’t really know it nearly as well as I thought I did.  (As occasionally happens to me—see for example: Here, Here and Here)
            So it was with this book as well.  I was constantly learning fascinating things about my own American history that indicated to me I might not know everything as thoroughly as I thought I did. 
            For example, I didn’t know that New Orleans was captured by the Union early in the Civil War, and then subsequently for the rest of the War administrated under martial law in the face of a hostile pro-Confederate population.  Amanda Foreman goes into some interesting details on that whole story.
            Also, I knew Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1866, but I never knew that the original plan was to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and William Seward all in the same night.  And that, although Andrew Johnson’s assassin got cold feet, William Seward was stabbed several times by his would-be assassin in a vicious hand-to-hand struggle, and almost joined Lincoln in death the same night.
            I also knew about Charles Sumner from the infamous caning incident in the Senate floor, but I never knew about his career after that as one of the leaders in the Republican Party during the 1860s, and as one of Seward’s rivals.
            All of these fascinating details, and more, are contained in this book.

Connections Between the American Civil War and the English Civil War?
            This book also hints at another connection between the English Civil War and American history.  It is implied at a couple of points that the American North/South division traces back to the English Puritan/ Cavalier conflict. 
            The argument goes that the supporters of Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans mainly settled in the Northern United States, while the Southern United States were settled by royalist supporters, and the culture clash between North and South dates from this time. 
            A couple times in the book it is hinted at that the reason the English aristocracy felt sympathy with the Confederate South is because of this historical connection.  And Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate, made a speech in which he explicitly linked the North with Oliver Cromwell’s puritans, as Amanda Foreman reports on page 352. 
            Davis damned Northerners as the blighted offspring of Cromwell’s fanatical Roundheads.  It was in their blood to oppress others, he declared.  Their ancestors ‘persecuted Catholics in England, and they hung Quakers and witches in America’.  The liberty-loving South could never live in harmony with such monsters of intolerance.  (p. 352)

Connections With Other Books I’ve Read
            Many major figures of the 19th Century pop up in this book, so as a consequence it overlaps with many other books on the 19th Century I’ve read.

* William Howard Russell was a British journalist famous for his reporting during the Crimean War.  I had previously encountered him in the Flashman book Flashman at the Charge, but he appears as a major character in this narrative as well, since it turns out he was the reporter sent by The Times to cover the American Civil War.

* Henry Morton Stanley, who is one of the principle figures in The Scramble for Africa, is one of the British volunteers in the American Civil War whose story Amanda Foreman follows.  David Livingston, another major figure in The Scramble for Africa, has a son who volunteers in the American Civil War, and who is also in this book.

* Garnet Wolseley was a major figure in the British Empire, and pops up in Scramble for Africa, Three Empires on the Nile, and Flashman and the Dragon.  He appears in this book as a British observer of the American Civil War, and a Southern sympathizer.

* Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays,  is mentioned briefly in this book as a pro-Northern supporter.  (Somewhat curiously, Thomas Hughes’s name appears in the Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book, which made me think he would be a major figure in the book itself.  But he is only just briefly mentioned in the actual text.  I suspect he might have had a larger part in an earlier draft of this book, and was later edited out for space reasons, but then someone forgot to remove him from the Dramatis Personae.) 

* William Seward, who everyone thought would be president in 1860, until Lincoln came out of nowhere, and who was subsequently the Secretary of State under Lincoln, is another major figure in this book.  I first encountered Seward in the book Flashman and the Angel of the Lord . 
            Seward was also a major figure in the movie Lincoln, although in my review of that movie, I expressed some confusion over his portrayal.   In Lincoln, David Straithairn plays Seward with a quiet dignity and gravitas as a well-mannered New England Patrician type.  In Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, Seward is portrayed as a loud, blunt, cigar-chomping brandy-swilling wheeling and dealing politician.  In my review of the movie Lincoln, I questioned which portrayal was more accurate.
            After having read Amanda Foreman’s book, I can now say with confidence that the portrayal in Flashman seems to be more accurate.

* Rose Greenhow, the Washington D.C. hostess, who later turned out to be a Confederate spy, is another character I first encountered in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, and who is featured as a major character in A World on Fire.  In Flashman and the Angel of the Lord, Allan Pinkerton is credited with discovering and arresting Rose Greenhow.  I expected Allan Pinkerton to become a character in A World on Fire as well (especially since he was originally British, so he would have perfectly fit the theme of the British involvement in the American Civil War) but Allen Pinkerton never appears.  (I suppose Amanda Foreman was already juggling way too many characters as it was.)

* The Schleswig-Holstein question, which was one of the plot points of Royal Flash, also pops up in this book.  In this book, during the 1860s the British Government pledges to back Denmark if Prussia ever went to war over Schleswig-Holstein.  When the Prussians call the British Government’s bluff, and go to war anyway, the British do not intervene after all, and lose some of their international credibility as a result.  This then affects their decisions regarding the American Civil War, and their reluctance to make any promises to either side.

* The majority of the focus of this book is on the relationship between America and Britain during the American Civil War, but a side story in this book is the relationship with France during the same period.
            As mentioned briefly in this book, Napoleon III took advantage of the American Civil War to invade Mexico and try to set up a Catholic Monarchy there.  (This is something the American government probably would not have permitted under normal circumstances, but was powerless to do anything about in the middle of their Civil War.)  Alistair Horne cites this incident as one of many reasons why Napoleon III was so internationally isolated going in to the war with Prussia in 1870. 

* Napoleon III’s cousin, Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte, also shows up in this book.  He was fleeing from France to avoid a duel, and ended up being hosted by the White House for a brief period during the Civil War. 
            Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte would later gain infamy for killing the anti-government journalist Victor Noir.  The huge protests that resulted from this are seen as one of many events leading up to the Paris Commune, and are described in any number of the books I’ve read on the Paris Commune—for example it is featured in The Insurrectionist.

Connections with The Education of Henry Adams
          So, who out there has ever heard of a book called The Education of Henry Adams?  If you’ve taken a few college literature courses, I suspect you’ve come across it. 
            The book is a memoir of the life of Henry Adams, who was descended from Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and whose father, Charles Francis Adams, was the American ambassador to England during the American Civil War.
            The memoir is famous for being written in a highly literary difficult-to-read style, and also for being chalked full of references to 19th century people and events that no one remembers anymore.  I was assigned to read a couple chapters of it back in a college literature class, and could barely make any of it out. 

            Anyways, it turns out that the young Henry Adams himself is one of the characters in A World on Fire.  Henry Adams travels to England with his father as an unofficial secretary-assistant at the American Embassy in London, and Amanda Foreman makes use of Henry Adam’s letters and memoirs to help bring to life the story of him and his family.

            After reading this book, and feeling like I got to know Henry Adams and his situation a lot more, I thought to myself, “If I was ever going to read The Education of Henry Adams, now is the time.”  And I actually went as far as printing out a copy of the book, and reading through the first few chapters.  And I found that it was actually (mostly) readable now that I had the proper background to understand who all these politicians were that Henry Adams keeps referring to.
            …and then, like so many of my reading projects, I ended up giving up on it.  (I have the bad habit of trying to read too many books at the same time, and a few months ago I decided I was going to have to give up on at least half of them.  And being a somewhat difficult read, The Education of Henry Adams was the first one to go.)

            But, if I ever did decide to read that book again, or if I knew anyone who ever wanted to attempt it, I would definitely recommend using A World on Fire as a companion volume to help the reader understand the events and circumstances Henry Adams is writing about.

            In the meantime though, here is a link to a review of The Education of Henry Adams by a different blogger: Blogging the Canon’s take on The Education of Henry Adams.

Favorite Narrative History List
            Despite all the problems I have with the breadth and focus and length of this book, it is incredibly well written and the author is a remarkably talented story teller.  So this book gets added to the list of my favorite narrative history books.

Link of the Day
Advice to Intellectuals

Monday, November 24, 2014

Animal Farm (1999)

Why I Saw This Movie
I was assigned to teach the book Animal Farm to an advanced English class, and after finishing the book we watched and discussed the movie together.

* The puppetry is impressive, and Jim Henson’s studio clearly did a good job on this.
* Although made after Jim Henson’s death, the production contains elements of Jim Henson’s type of dark humor and grotesque caricatures
* The cast is impressive: Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammar, and Pete Postlehwaite
* Some great character acting by the human actors in this movie
* The film adds in some characterization to the human characters that was absent from Orwell’s original book

* George Orwell’s original book wasn’t exactly subtle to begin with, and it needed no extra emphasis to make its point—this movie, however, was made by people who were worried you weren’t going to understand that the pigs were bad unless everything was constantly over-emphasized.
* As impressive as the puppetry is, the technology just wasn’t quite up to telling the story the filmmakers wanted to tell
* Some of the added characterization to the human characters comes at the expense of the animal characters, most of whom are much less developed in this film than they were in the book.
* Related to the above point—some of the added scenes with the human characters went absolutely nowhere, and added nothing to the story at all: the scene with Farmer Jones sleeping with Farmer Pilkington’s wife, for instance.
* They changed Orwell’s original pessimistic ending to an optimistic happy ending

The Review
          Although it has most of the same plot points from Orwell’s novel, this fails completely as an adaptation.  The important scenes are rushed through, and the ending is criminally changed.
            However, the dark humor of the tale is reminiscent of some of the darker toned fairy tales that Jim Henson experimented with in shows like The Jim Henson Hour (W).  The great character acting and great expressive facial expressions by the human actors also makes the movie feel like a Jim Henson Hour episode.

Other Things I Would Talk About if I Wasn’t Limiting Myself to 100 Words
* My love for the original book, and my history with the original book
* My experience teaching this book
* Reflections on my experience teaching this book, and thoughts on whether or not the themes of the book should be taught, or if the students should just be assigned to read the book and be left to draw their own conclusions

Rating :
2 out of 10 stars, judging this movie as an adaptation of Orwell’s book—if this movie existed in a universe where Orwell’s book never existed, it might earn 5 out of 10 stars for a dark Jim Henson-esque fairy tale.

* For more thoughts on Orwell, see this post here.  Also see my reviews of Burmese Days, George Orwell Essays, Homage to Catalonia, and Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Link of the Day