Toys that come alive, lands that lie beyond our present realm—these are not new tropes in storytelling for children. In the past, Enid Blyton’s Folk of the Faraway Tree and the Noddy series employed these with great success. And yet they remain popular devices with authors of fantasy fiction even today. In J.K. Rowling’s latest book The Christmas Pig, ‘things’ come alive, and embark on adventures on the magical night of Christmas eve. However, Rowling's narrative style distinguishes itself from the cheekiness of Blyton’s. There is something very heartwarming about this new story about Jack and his constant childhood companion, Dur Pig, or DP.
DP is not just a toy for the little boy, it is a repository of all the feelings and memories that Jack has shared over the years—the excitement of show-and-tell at school, the time the family went to the beach, and more. The toy is Jack's only comfort when his parents get divorced, and soon after his mom remarries and a new set of members are added to his family. There is something familiar for Jack about even the way DP smells, especially when everything around him seems to be changing. And then one day, something terrible happens and DP gets lost. A new substitute, the Christmas Pig, or CP, just doesn’t feel the same . It’s Christmas Eve, and Jack can’t seem to partake in the joy that the rest of the world is experiencing. But then, at night—a time of magic and miracles—the toys, including CP, come alive, or rather awaken with feelings. This begins a whirlwind adventure.
Together, Jack and CP venture through the Land of the Lost, where everything misplaced and discarded ends up, in the hope that they will be able to bring DP back. It’s a fascinating land, governed by laws of the rather frightening Loser, which prevent lost things from leaving the place. Jack and CP move through the various divisions—Disposable, Bother-It’s Gone, The Wastes of the Unlamented, The City of the Missed, The Island of the Beloved and finally the Loser’s Lair. During this journey, they find kind souls in the form of the Lunchbox, the brave Compass, and the forlorn Poem.
As Jack meets all that has been lost, one realises it is not just things that are down there. There is hope, ambition, power, happiness, which might have ebbed out of a person at some point of time. The book makes the reader reflect on the various things they too might have lost over time, and the void those might have created. By personifying ‘things’ and bringing forth their sense of despair on being carelessly discarded at times by their owners, Rowling presents a metaphor for the friends and acquaintances we often casually leave behind in life, or of the emotions and feelings we hide, eventually losing sight of them.
Children will love the roller-coaster adventure, and also the lovely moments between Jack and CP. Maybe by the end of the book, they might find it easier to accept that letting go of old symbols of comfort, and learning to embrace change is just part of the process of growing up. And that what is lost is not always necessarily forgotten — it lives on in one’s memories.
The Christmas Pig is also a lovely medium to learn about the different kind of families that exist in today's world, ones that are not necessarily prescribed by convention. This is a children’s book, but one that will resonate with adults as well. I, for one, loved the chapter on the City of the Missed, the place for clever little tricks and talents that humans can do, but which, through age or injury, poor memory or lack of practice, they lose. How I wish I could reach out into this land and retrieve my lost dancing skills somehow. Maybe someday...