While Americans observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the historic swearing-in of President Barack Obama to a second term today, using the bibles of Lincoln and MLK, across the pond they're honoring another champion of freedom.
Today is the first ever "Orwell Day." The prolific George Orwell, whom another Brit, Martin Amis, in conversation, summed up to me as having a fierce commitment to basic common sense, will be celebrated with a month of events and special publications. Those behind the idea--the Orwell Estate, The Orwell Prize, and his publisher Penguin--chose this date, because Orwell died 63 years ago today.
Orwell is best remembered for his last two novels, chilling works against totalitarianism, Animal Farm and 1984. We need Orwell and his torch carriers now more than ever. At a time when the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, with its system of government terror and concentration camps, exists, and slavery persists around the globe, and CCTV cameras are the new normal, it's important to take time to reflect on the fearless writer who warned us: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."
The "Orwell Day" festivities will include a mass giveaway of his essay "Politics and the English Language" by the website of the Orwell Prize, which will also take part in an international literary festival in the author's birthplace of Burma.
The BBC Radio 4 will begin a month of special Orwell programs. (Those outside of the UK can listen to Radio 4 online.) From The Guardian:
BBC Radio 4 begins a major Orwell season, including adaptions of Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia and Nineteen Eighty-Four, a reading of Down and Out in Paris and London as the station's "Book at Bedtime", and glimpses of Orwell's own life through looks at his time as a young policeman in Burma, his relationships and his last days on Jura writing Animal Farm. "Of course there is no real George Orwell – it was the pen name of Eric Blair – but he was a writer and political commentator who is very hard to pin down," said the BBC. "Through dramatisations of the key books, through four newly commissioned plays that explore the disjuncture between the man who was Eric Blair and the writer who was George Orwell, and through factual programming and readings, Radio 4 will take the listener on a journey from Burma via Catalonia, Wigan, Jura and Manor Farm along the road that led eventually to Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the most influential novels of the 20th century."
Big Think has featured Orwell's advice over the years. I've written here on the incredible true story of Orwell working by letter with a group of Soviet refugees, stranded in displaced persons camps in postwar Germany, to bootleg Animal Farm in Ukrainian. Orwell had dreamed of smuggling thousands of copies of his anti-Stalin satire behind the Iron Curtain. He had hopes that its scathing message would inspire an uprising. Instead, the Soviet refugees, like my mother's family, took his book with them in the opposite direction--West--as they immigrated to the free world. When I recently interviewed the Ukrainian political dissident Inna Shevchenko, she, not surprisingly, had never heard of Orwell. Of course, as my friend Benjamin Ramm, former editor of The Liberal, pointed out, "And yet, she knows the world he describes; it's the naive & complacent among us who need to heed his message."
And now, to celebrate "Orwell Day," here's a fun video from British Pathe on the making of England's first feature length cartoon, "Animal Farm":
Image Credit: Molly Crabapple