Monday, November 05, 2007

Babe, the Gallant Pig

A pig saved from slaughter and an inter species friendship? Talking animals? Haven't we seen this before?

Yes, you have, and yes, this is the reason why I've resisted Babe, the Gallant Pig for many years. Sure, I knew that it received fine reviews upon publication and was made into an Academy Award nominated film. But honestly! Who does Dick King-Smith think he's kidding?

Well, Wilbur and Charlotte aside, this is a hysterically funny, adorable, and moving (short) novel. It's a short distance from the pigpen to the breakfast table for any healthy farm pig, and Babe is no exception. Luckily, he meets Fly, the motherly (yet vain) border collie/sheep dog. Fly is no dumb dog and knows the fate of this motherless pig for whom she feels empathy. Babe wants to be a sheep pig, so Fly agrees to take him under her wing.

It becomes apparent that Fly and Babe have different theories on leadership. While Fly believes the only way to get the message across to the sheep is through nipping and insults, Babe believes that common courtesy and a gentle touch is all that is needed to keep the sheep in line.

Let me tell you...the scenes between Fly and the sheep and Babe and the sheep are priceless. Absolutely hysterical. The sheep are quite tired of Fly's (and all the other collies they've had the misfortune of being herded by) attitude and are thrilled with the new boss in town.

Farmer Hogget can't believe his eyes. Knowing border collies the way he does, he thought Fly thrived on work and only wanted to herd sheep for the rest of her working life. However, Fly appears to have settled into retirement, so Babe is it if he wants to get the sheep herded. He is astounded that Babe takes to herding the sheep in such a short time, and amazed that the sheep put up no fuss. Babe is so talented, in fact, that Farmer Hoggot decides to enter him in the sheepdog trials.

I'm sure you can see the outcome tap dancing on your doorstep, but that's okay. It would be a crime if King-Smith had ended it any other way. If you're looking for an immensely satisfying read, this is the real deal. There is some tragedy with a minor but significant character, but it is not dwelt upon or magnified. As a former farmer, Dick King-Smith is all too aware of the realities of farm life.

Fortunately, Dick King-Smith has written a multitude of short chapter novels, so readers can enjoy a cornucopia of his talents. Along with Babe, I also recommend his autobiography, Chewing the Cud, which is a great read for those interested in rural farmlife/animals but aren't ready for the nitty gritty of James Herriot's books.

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