Turns Out We Can Add “Magician” to George Orwell’s List of Talents

An unsettling tale from the writer's youth

George Orwell
George Orwell was a man of many talents.
ullstein bild via Getty Images

When George Orwell’s name is spoken today, it’s largely due to his prescient explorations of the effects of totalitarianism, like Animal Farm and 1984. Go more deeply into his body of work and you’ll find insightful writings like “Politics and the English Language” and Down and Out in Paris and London, which offers a still-incisive look at living hand to mouth. There’s a reason plenty of contemporary thinkers remain inspired by the breadth of his work.

Also, it turns out the guy could do magic.

No, seriously. A new article at Literary Hub chronicles the youthful forays into the supernatural of the man also known as Eric Blair. Citing Gordon Bowker’s book on Orwell, the article chronicles a time when Orwell was a student at Eton and faced an onslaught of unwanted bullying from another student.

Orwell and a friend took inspiration from a ghost story that they’d read and made a wax figure of the bully, then pondered what to do to it. Eventually, they settled on breaking the figure’s leg — and were unsettled when they learned that the bully broke his leg a few days later.

As the article points out, Orwell never spoke about this event; the student who had assisted him in his magical endeavors spoke to Bowker about that period in their lives. Magic isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when Orwell’s name is mentioned, and for good reason — but it’s definitely in the mix.

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