Most books that want to be scary aren’t the least bit frightening. The books I reviewed in the zombie renaissance post are dark and bloody, but when you read about zombies, do you really think: “Oh man, this would be so scary if it was happening!”
If you do, there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t. I enjoy horror once in a while, but primarily for the thrill of the story. I grew up with ghost stories and campfire stories and have nothing but affection for all things spooky.
1984 is terrifying. It’s not cataloged as horror, but it could be and maybe it should be.
Pure Dread That Poe Might Have Envied
1984 is a noose. From the first paragraph, you feel cold and threatened. There is no way this story will end well for anyone. The noose tightens on every single page, and this goes on for hundreds of pages!
I say this not to turn you off, because 1984 is an enjoyable read in many ways. I think the overall effect is worth pointing out because there are thousands and thousands of books out there that want to pull off the mood Orwell imbues every single sentence with. It’s been a couple of years since I read the book, and this time around I’m listening to it on audio. I’m absolutely in awe, now as always, of how complete this book is. Every single word contributes to the mood. Nothing extra. Nothing wasted.
1984 is frightening in a way that zombies can never be, because it’s plausible enough that you are forced to imagine the circumstances Winston lives in.
I would love everyone to read this book. When you read it through the first time, you may be surprised at how familiar it is. Phrases like Big Brother, doublethink, Newspeak, Thought Police, and many of the lyrics from Rage Against The Machine’s songs are all here. They started with George Orwell back in 1948 when the book was published. The flipping of the dates isn’t coincidental, either.
There isn’t much else I can say that you might not know already. 1984 is a story about a nightmare future (dystopia) where individualism is punishable by torture and death. The book begins with an unimaginable act of rebellion: a man starts writing in a diary.
1984 shares territory with dystopian stories like Blade Runner, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, and about 90% of Philip K. Dick’s work. But if forced to choose, I would put 1984 on top of the mountain without any hesitation.
It is a scary, marvelous, jaw-dropping feat by a masterful author. When people say things like “The written word is man’s greatest achievement” or “novels are still important vehicles for ideas,” I think of good old George and can’t agree more.
On a side note, if you’re interested in Orwell, his history, and events that shaped his writing, you’ll get a kick out of Finding George Orwell In Burma. Orwell was stationed in Burma for military duty and there is a lot of talk about the Myanmar/Burma situation being the inspiration for 1984 and Animal Farm.
And speaking of Animal Farm, no matter how well you might know it, you’ve got to check out the version that Ralph Steadman illustrated.
Who’s read 1984? Let’s compare notes in the comments.
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