The magic is missing from this high-powered festive quest
On the inside flap of the cover of The Christmas Pig, a large and sumptuous hardback book, is written: “From one of the greatest storytellers in the world”. The post is often a matter of hype, but this time it’s hard to argue; this is by JK Rowling.
Jack and his beloved toy Hard Pig have been together during his parents’ divorce, a new home, and a new school. When Dur Pig is lost, Jack will do anything to get him home.
On Christmas Eve, a night of miracles, Jack wakes up to find that things – inanimate objects – can talk. There is a pleasant sense of childhood fever dream to it all, the wardrobe whose wood knots become eyes, the soft, woolly arms extending from a newly delicate rug.
Hard Pig, revealing, has been sent to the Land of the Lost, and he must be brought home before a terrifying, human-hating entity called the Loser can eat him.
But Jack is not alone. He’s got Dur Pig’s replacement, the earthy Christmas Pig, who is understandably irritated by Jack’s obsession with his predecessor.
Rowling is having a great time populating the Land of the Lost. Fastidious diamond earrings stand behind a moldy old tennis ball, while thrown umbrellas quietly despair of returning home.
One of the most moving scenes comes when a long-abandoned Blue Bunny is found by a little girl and rises ecstatically in a beam of golden light as we hear a mother and daughter arguing distantly over whether ‘it may or may not go in the washing machine.
The story is becoming more and more abstract, and what was until now gently allegorical strikes the reader in the face. The assault on a teenage girl is described as a gigantic bouncing fist called Bullyboss, and when Jack meets the more ideological inhabitants of the Land of the Lost, Happiness, Beauty and Ambition, the story feels like a mixture of the The pilgrim’s progression and Inside Out of Pixar.
Despite Jim Field’s short chapters and illustrations that are both fun and at times bright, the last part of The Christmas Pig sags.
The conceptual nature of the world Rowling has created doesn’t favor the story, especially when combined with a huge cast. A talking punch, a weeping comb; these are hard to imagine, and Rowling, of course, offers little visual description.
But above all, despite a genuinely heart-wrenching quest (what could be more urgent for a child than losing their favorite toy?) And an interesting pair of central characters, the magic is somewhat lacking.
Rowling’s writing is a lot of stuff, but it’s rarely lyrical, and The Christmas Pig never quite captivating as it should be.
There are other children’s writers whose recently published books better capture the spirit of Christmas in all its mystical, bittersweet wonder: Piers’ Torday’s There may be a castle and that of Katherine Rundell Christmas wish are just a couple.
Let’s hope that The Christmas PigYoung s readers are inspired to explore the shelves of their local bookstore or library, where the marketing may be less hyperbolic, but the stories are a little more enchanting.
The Christmas Pig by JK Rowling and illustrated by Jim Field is published by Little, Brown on October 12 (£ 20)