Sunday, February 1, 2015

The 7 Most Engaging Pig Characters in Literature

Pigs are adorable, intelligent animals that have a gotten a bad rap because they are really quite gluttonous, but given our current foodie culture's extreme gourmandizing, who are we to judge? I've always had a soft spot for pigs, perhaps because of the marvelous pig characters of literature. Here are seven truly delightful porcine literary characters:

Babe (Babe, the Gallant Pig - Dick King Smith)
Dick King Smith's most famous character is a loyal friend, determined aspirant to his chosen vocation, and all-around nice guy, a pig that escapes becoming Christmas supper by becoming Farmer Hoggett's sheep-herding miracle. Babe excels at sheep-herding by politely requesting of the sheep to go where the farmer wishes them to, astonishing the clueless human spectators with his success. Babe, the Gallant Pig (known in the U.K. as The Sheep-Pig) is a lovely little tale with a wicked, almost Dahlian, sense of humor. The film is great too.

Freddy (Freddy Goes to Florida, et. al. - Walter R. Brooks)
The hero of Freddy Goes to Florida and its sequels, which are about the talking animal denizens of the Bean Farm, moonlights as a detective, a magician, a newspaper editor, and many other professions. Freddy is the "smallest and cleverest" pig and he usually leads the charge in every adventure, often relying on knowledge he has gleaned from a voracious reading habit, and in particular from his idol Sherlock Holmes. The Freddy series was enormously popular in the '40s and '50s; many of the books are finally in print again after decades in obscurity.

Hen Wen (The Chronicles of Prydain - Lloyd Alexander)
Hen Wen is a rare oracular pig, able to foresee the future and reveal hidden or lost knowledge. In this superb fantasy series based on Welsh mythology, she plays a crucial role, both by furnishing the heroes with much needed information and because she is coveted by those, like Arawn Death-Lord and the sorceress Achren, who would use her magic to accrue power. Her care-taker is the hero, Taran, of The Chronicles, and his involvement in the epic battle to save Prydain ensues as a result of his attempt to rescue Hen Wen. Her character is loosely based on a legendary sow from Welsh mythology, who was implicated in a prophecy concerning the welfare of Britain.

Lester (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic - Betty MacDonald)
MacDonald's charming series is about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, child behavior expert and widow to a pirate, who knows a solution to every mother's worst nightmares and every brat's most obstinate habits. Lester is one of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's many animal friends, who live with her in her upside-down house. What makes Lester so very delightful is that he is supremely polite and well-mannered, so much so that he is introduced to a nasty little boy to teach it some much needed table manners. Few human beings could aspire to the delicacy and refinement of Lester's eating habits, though he may be a pig.

Piglet (Winnie-the-Pooh - A. A. Milne)
Timid and easily spooked, Piglet is Pooh's dearest companion and he is capable of extraordinary sacrifices for the happiness of his friends, to the point of giving his beloved home to Owl. Piglet has a terror of such large animals as heffalumps and woozles, but when not terrified, he's really a very pleasant sort, always ready a to share a "haycorn" and a leisurely stroll through the Hundred-Acre Wood. He is also the subject of a "Respectful Pooh Song," composed by Pooh in honor of his friend.

Snowball (Animal Farm - George Orwell)
George Orwell's disturbing allegory has a number of prominent pig characters, but I favor Snowball, Trotsky's (and to a lesser extent Lenin's) stand-in, who opposes Napoleon (Stalin's counterpart) in a bid to control the newly human-free farm. Snowball is the idealist among the pigs, writing the original commandments meant to ensure equality among the animals and using his intelligence and enthusiasm to inspire them to revolution. He is brought down by Napoleon's dogs and his reputation smeared beyond recognition, tragically living to see his idealistic utopia become a dictatorship.

Wilbur (Charlotte's Web - E. B. White)
Wilbur is the very best porcine character in literature. As his beloved friend Charlotte writes in her web, he is indeed "some pig," "terrific," "radiant," and "humble," and his gentle nature makes him a friend to all, even the rat Templeton, who is inevitably ruled by his greedy stomach. Wilbur is very much a pig, enamored of his four-times-daily slops and rolling about in the manure, but he's not at all lazy or selfish. Charlotte's Web is E. B. White's masterpiece and one of the greatest American novels of all time.

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