“Miracles and Lost Causes”: A Review of J.K. Rowling’s The Christmas Pig
J.K. Rowling is a name known to all. Till 2020 she was the darling of all readers, young and old. In early 2020 Rowling tweeted a few comments which shocked her readers. After all, how could the author of our favorite and very inclusive series (Harry Potter) be hateful towards one of the most vulnerable communities: the transgenders? How could Rowling, who championed the misfits and the downtrodden in Harry Potter, be transphobic? Rowling, overnight, became one of the most hated authors. Like everybody else, I was shocked and hurt. Then in 2021, Rowling published an essay clarifying her tweets. But the transgender community, the ones most affected by her tweets, refused to relent; many of them have called out the essay; for many readers, the essay just confirms Rowling’s transphobia. I would, at the beginning of my review, like to state very firmly that I do not support any of Rowling’s tweets and that my review is for Rowling’s art, which does not reflect any kind of prejudice towards any race or community, and certainly not towards transgenders. The hurt that Rowling has caused the transgender community is unforgivable as are her tweets. But art has to be separated from the artist; Kipling had deeply racist views but we cannot stop reading his stories. Indian readers have long since filtered or separated Kipling’s art from him and scholars have critiqued his racism. Rowling too has to be read in the same way, though as an informed reader and scholar, I can safely say Rowling’s works do not reflect any prejudice or phobia, whatever her own personal views may be.
With this disclaimer, let me begin my review. Rowling, in her interviews, has said that she always wanted to write a Christmas story. But she wanted the story to be really good. Thus was born The Christmas Pig. The book revolves around a young boy, Jack, and his beloved toy, Dur Pig or as he is called popularly, DP. Jack’s seven year old life suddenly turns topsy turvy when his parents are divorced and he has to move to a new town where his mother decides to move to when she gets a new job. During all of these upheavals, DP has been Jack’s closest companion. Then, one Christmas eve, Jacks’ new moody teenage step-sister (Jack’s mother has remarried) throws DP out of the car and DP is lost. Jack feels emotionally wrecked and screams and shouts, refusing to accept DP is lost and insisting on looking for him. Holly. Jack’s sister, feels terrible remorse for her petty deed and buys Jack a replacement, a new Christmas Pig. Jacks is baffled and angry that any one can imagine that his beloved toy can be replaced and throws away the new pig. Dejected, sad, depressed Jack goes to bed, deciding to sneak out of the house after midnight in search of DP. But the midnight of Christmas Eve is magical and miraculous; Jack’s clothes, toys, things all come to life and his new unwanted Christmas Pig offers to accompany Jack to the Land of Lost Things to bring DP back.
From hereon begins this tale of magic and adventure and one boy’s determination to rescue his oldest friend. Beyond the adventure and magic is glimpsed an introvert child’s transformation into a brave and loyal friend; Jack, in the book, metamorphoses from a bullied, quiet child to an immensely persevering soldier who refuses to surrender or be frightened of the very cruel Loser, the king of the Lost Land. The book is beautifully illustrated by Jim Field but all of the illustrations fade before Rowling’s magical storytelling; we remain engrossed in Jack’s adventures throughout and the book is difficult to put down. The writing is beautiful and poignant; every struggle is felt, every tear is shared by the reader with Jack. Critics have written about Rowling’s influences for this book; how it reflects Dante’s Purgatory and the Christian spirit of sacrifice. Obviously, the book can be read this way. Any thesis writer or scholar can analyze The Christmas Pig and write about its literary angles. But my attempt is a review and I would like to point out the immensely relatable characters and the brilliantly created fantasy world.
Jack is perhaps one of Rowling’s most adorable characters; we cheer for Jack throughout. We are rooting for Jack as he struggles to find his toy and we applaud his matured decision at the end as he emerges stronger and happier from the Land of the Lost. The Land of the Lost is a fantastic world, evil and, at the same time, fascinating. Rowling’s animations of Hope and Happiness is beautiful as is her attempt to be eco-critical in the depiction of discarded plastic straws and plastic toys floating down the tunnel. Young readers and older ones would be wondering what is likely to happen when Jack and the Christmas Pig are chased by a giant creature called the Loser who likes to eat things and whose minions like to smash things to smithereens. These moments of tension are depicted with the utmost vibrancy and the urge to keep reading to discover what happens is all consuming. The allegorical characters of the Land of the Lost are interesting for older readers while young readers are just propelled on by the love of a good story, the joy of which no smartphone or technology can match.
Rowling has always been famous for her depiction of protagonists from broken families and Jack’s character is a testament to that. What is perhaps most significant, in Rowling’s recent children’s stories, is her moral message. She does not preach anywhere in her books but when Jack realizes, at the end, that lost things stay lost and new things take their place, it makes children understand that grief and loss is inevitable and that life is a series of new adventures. The eponymous Christmas Pig is a delight; he is humorous, sarcastic, kind, friendly, all at once. In the end, Jack is very happy with his CP though he loves his lost DP just as much. Rowling, whatever her views, which we can and should condemn, is a brilliant storyteller; she, in her books, at least, champions civil rights and individual freedom and represents the underdog, the misfit who gradually learns to succeed and carve out his niche in society. The climax of the book makes us all teary eyed; when Jack has to choose between the right thing to do and what he wants to do, it is heartrending. Jack’s choice is all the more poignant. We applaud Jack and are happy in his new found wisdom. The Christmas Pig is magical; so magical that children will discover the life long joy of reading. In Rowling’s own words: “. . . something very magical can happen when you read a good book”.