Monday, January 23, 2012

Literary Death Match: Brave New World vs. Nineteen Eighty-Four

Welcome to Literary Death Match where two books engage in a fight to the death for the title of Best Book in a category arbitrarily decided by us. Up for grabs today is the title of “Best Book set in a Dystopian Future London.” And our contestants are Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Google will tell you this isn’t the first time these two have squared off together, but it’s certainly bound to be the bloodiest. Without further ado, let’s send it over to Mike Thackery and Tom Galbraith, who will be calling the match from Shelf Actualization Stadium.

[Mike] Thanks, Mac.  Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyou’re looking live from Shelf Actualization Stadium, where thousands of literature lovers are gathered to witness the grisly demise of a beloved literary classic. Two great books, two inspiring authors, but only one ticket home. <Turns to Tom> Tom Galbraith, literary blood sports are all about match-ups, and we’ve got two novels today that are very evenly matched.

[Tom] So true, Mike. You know, it’s interesting. Let’s not forget: Huxley’s book came first, published in 1932; Orwell’s book followed 17 years later. One of them ranks 5th on the Modern Library’s Top 100 list, the other sits in spot 13. One of them ranks 16th on the ALA’s list of Banned and Challenged Classics, the other an impressive 9th. But any time you put these two titles in the ring together, you need to throw out the record books.

[Mike] Right you are. Now two factors that could make a difference today: Nineteen Eighty-Four comes in with a 38 page advantage…

[Tom] Right.

[Mike] The question is, will the extra weight slow him down, or give him the stamina to outlast Brave New World?

[Tom] It’s a great question, Mike, and my only answer is that we’ll find out soon enough. <jocular sportscaster guffaws>

[Mike] Tom Galbraith, always the diplomat. But factor number two is this: Huxley set his novel 608 years in the future, in the year 2540 AD. Orwell was looking out only 35 years, to the year 1984. There’s a good chance that this comes into play today.

[Tom] I wouldn't doubt it.

[Mike, shuffling some papers] Time, as they say, will tell. It looks like they’re ready to go down there, so let’s join the action in the ring.

[Tom] This crowd is on their feet, Mike, but I’d expect these guys to start slow. They’re gonna feel each other out a little bit before the crowd has anything to cheer about.

[Mike] So far, you appear to be right. Nineteen Eighty-Four has the better first line, by far, but the readers are still lured into Huxley’s work just the same. Brave New World  makes the first aggressive lunge. He comes out with a square-peg-in-a-round-hole protagonist, and Nineteen Eighty-Four counters with one of his own. Huxley’s book raises the stakes with a love story, and Orwell’s answers it.

[Tom] Mike, both books taking some good shots, but Brave New World seems to have the early energy right now.

[Mike] I think you’re right, Tom. He parries the countryside trysts of Winston and Julia, and sends Bernard and Lenina on a trip half way around the world. And we remind our viewers that there are no rules here. So, an interlude in New Mexico in no way disqualifies Brave New World from the title of best book set in dystopian future London.

[Tom] But it’s amazing how alike their strategies have been so far. Both books landing blows with mysterious power figures, O’Brien on the one hand, and Mustafa Mond on the other. Both have made use of mind-numbing barbiturates, Soma and Victory Gin. I just don’t see how one or the other pulls away at this point.

[Mike] Ooooh! And no sooner did you finish that sentence than we see the first real blood spilled in this match. A vicious forearm shiver delivered there by Brave New World.

[Tom] This was a nice move. Nineteen Eighty-Four  tried to use perpetual war as a backdrop, where Brave New World   had used perpetual peace, but the constantly shifting alliances and the inability of people to remember who was fighting who at any one time fell flat for a lot of the spectators. They’re letting him know it, too.

[Mike] More fans of the World State, then, than for the tripartite warring factions of Nineteen Eighty-Four?

[Tom] I think so, but...

[Mike] -Oh, mmmman! Brave New World is taken down hard right there. I think his genetic engineering and sleep-teaching are coming across as a little far-fetched. There definitely seems to be a preference for the natural procreation, albeit regrettable and discouraged, that Nineteen Eighty-Four seems to predict.

[Tom] Yes. But look for Brave New World to come back on this score. He’s got more…

[Mike] And there it is! A nasty clothesline, pulled off beautifully. And Orwell’s tome is still on his back.

[Tom] That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Phrases like “Orgy Porgy”, and “everybody belongs to everybody” are going to resonate with this crowd. Orwell’s “Junior Anti-Sex League” just doesn’t have the same effect, Mike.

[Mike] And Brave New World  is taking advantage of the momentum, dialing it up a notch here with the introduction of John, the Savage. He’s setting the stage for a huge culture clash that Nineteen Eighty-Four  just can’t match.

[Tom] He is doing that, but I think he’s missing some opportunities here that are gonna come back to haunt him. Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the almost repulsive imperfections of the main character, with the torture in Room 101, with that haunting cry of “No! Do it to Julia”- I think the whole thing is getting too deep for Brave New World to answer in the long run.

[Mike] You may be right. We see them grappling here, each hoping he has what it takes in the end.

[Tom] Mmm-Hmm.

[Mike] And this may be what we’ve waited for. Nineteen Eighty-Four comes out with a wonderful last line- the kind that just brings the message home, and Brave New World is reeling. He’s on all fours, and he is not getting up.

[Tom] Well, I think there’s a little play-acting going on here, Mike. He may be trying to lure Nineteen Eighty-Four into complacency here.

[Mike] Well, Orwell’s book is facing the crowd, doing a little gloating. Brave New World slowly getting to his feet. You may be right, Tom…

[Tom] Here it comes…

[Mike] And wow! Right between the shoulder blades! Brave New World absolutely levels Nineteen Eighty-Four with its closing passage, a powerful image of the Savage, twisting back and forth as he hangs from a noose in the lighthouse.

[Tom] Beautiful. But even with that ending he looks spent. Neither book seems to know what to do next. It’s been a remarkable tit-for-tat every step of the way, Mike.

[Mike] No doubt about it. What we’re seeing here today are two literary titans, both beloved classics in their own right, both equally hungry for that coveted top spot in the hearts of their readers. But neither able to land the fatal blow.

[Tom] Uh-oh!

[Mike] Hold the phone! What’s this?

[Tom] Uh-oh!

[Mike] Nineteen Eighty-Four is reaching just inside his back cover. I don’t believe it! He’s smuggled an appendix into the ring!

[Tom] He sure has, Mike. And we knew something like this could happen...

[Mike] Indeed we did, Tom. Let’s go ringside to Kelly Wallace. Kelly, tell us exactly what’s going on down there.

[Kelly, shouting into the mic with a finger in one ear] Well, Mike, written in standard English, in the past tense, it looks like “The Principles of Newspeak” gives us an entirely new way to interpret the ending of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It appears to be a layer of meaning that Brave New World just isn’t ready for, and- Oh!! <Kelly and the camera lens are both splattered with blood> Oh, I…

[Mike] Kelly?

[Kelly] Things are getting ugly down here, Mike.

[Mike] Kelly, can you tell us…

[Kelly] -I’m sorry, Mike. Things are getting a little messy down here. We’re going to have to get out of the way <The camera jolts and shakes as Kelly is shepherded away from the action>

[Mike] Well, we’ll try to get Kelly back just as soon as we can, but from what I can tell, Tom, Nineteen Eighty-Four is taking full advantage of its newly-ambiguous ending. He’s using it to beat Brave New World mercilessly about the head and neck. A little momentum here could be crucial.

[Tom] Yeah, and as tired as they both are, this is really not looking good for Huxley’s masterpiece, Mike.

[Mike] No doubt about it. But the crowd is ab-so-lutely loving it.

[Tom] Oh, they’re eating it up. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get involved right here.

[Mike] It appears we’ve got Kelly Wallace back. Kelly, what are you seeing down there?

[Kelly] Well, we’ve moved up here to the concourse, Mike, and I can tell you this crowd is now solidly behind Nineteen Eighty-Four. We’re hearing lots of “Big Brother,” lots of “Doublethink,” even some shouts of “Thought Police.” They’ve actually adopted the vocabulary of Orwell’s book. Some even coining the term “Orwellian,” Mike. As I look over this rabid mob, there is literally no one yelling “Orgy Porgy,” no one talking about “obstacle golf” or “soma.” No one's using any of Huxley’s futurist terminology.

[Mike] Never a good sign, Kelly Wallace. The tide may indeed be turning. Let’s get back to the action now, because it looks like a ruckus is brewing ring-side, and… do you see what I see, Tom?

[Tom] Yep.

[Mike] It’s just as you predicted, it looks like the crowd is now actively aiding Nineteen Eighty-Four. They’ve passed a folding chair and what looks like a vuvuzela into the ring. Both are being used to put the finishing touches on a very beleaguered Brave New World.

[Tom] Well, you heard it from Kelly. They’ve adopted the Orwellian world-view, and Brave New World just isn’t resonating like he did earlier in the match.

[Mike] Isn’t resonating? I’d be surprised if he was even breathing at this point, as a number of punishing blows rain down on him from a very determined Nineteen Eighty-Four.

[Tom] And all of a sudden, Mike, this is becoming very hard to watch.

[Mike] ...aaand it looks like the referee agrees with you, Tom. It appears that this one is just about over. Yes, the referee is calling it for Nineteen Eighty-Four. The crowd is in a frenzy, and Brave New World is not moving at all down there. A very dramatic finish here at Shelf Actualization Stadium, and plenty to talk about as we throw it back to MacEvoy DeMarest in the studio. Mac?

[MacEvoy] Alright. A big thanks to Mike Thackery, Tom Galbraith, Kelly Wallace and the rest of the Shelf Actualization Production team. I’m joined in studio by Tucker McCann and Orlando Carmichael. Tucker? Orlando? What did we witness out there today?

[Tucker] Well, I think we witnessed the inevitable.

[Orlando] Oh come on!

[Tucker] I’m serious…

[All three] <lots of cross talk>

[Tucker] -Hang on, hang on. Let me finish. I’ve always hated Brave New World and I think a lot of us saw this coming from a mile…

[Orlando] -Give me a break, Tucker. You know, this is ridiculous. Huxley wrote his book before Orwell. He forged the path, he created this “dystopian” vision…

[Tucker] Then why couldn’t he pull off the win out there, Orlando?

[Orlando] Look, I…

[Tucker] Just answer the question. Why couldn’t he win?

[Orlando] I don’t know.

[Tucker] Just tell us why.

<awkward silence>

[MacEvoy] We’re going to have to leave it right there. Thank you, gentlemen. <turns to camera> Why indeed? We close with a quote from social critic Neil Postman:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy… In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.”
On this day, anyway, Orwell’s masterpiece was just too much for Huxley’s Brave New World  to handle. Join us next time, as we crown the best Victorian Adventure Novel Involving a Treasure Map. From all of us here at Shelf Actualization Studios. Have a great day, we’ll see you next time!

<more shuffling papers and silent banter while the closing credits roll>

Agree? Disagree? Tell us why in the comments.


  1. Genius. I love it. Might even read Brave New World now, in spite of the loss. :)

  2. Bravo! Good fight by both sides. MacEvoy, you missed your calling as a high-school English teacher. Q Croft 2.0.

  3. Bravissimo! Tremendous stuff.

  4. Proof that the fruit sometimes does fall far from the tree.