Philippa Pearce or How I Became A Talking Pig

Revenge of The Spotted Gypsy King

I’ve always thought Victorians had the best names for their novels, don’t you?  Why have only one name for a story, when you can have two or three or however many you like.  A reader might think, hmm, Philippa Pearce, probably about a poor but noble nurse who has to go to the North to care  for a rich mine owner with gout and she marries him at the end and gets rich as pigs.  Not my cuppa tea…WAIT, Or How I Became A Talking Pig. Now, that’s more like it!  I’ll have a go.

So our reader opens to the first page.

"I have not always been as I am today. (the author begins) Once I was a man like any other.  Well, not just like any other.  Actually, just like any other chubby fellow with long floppy ears.”

Well, this sounds promising, thinks our prospective reader, but where’s the part about Nurse Pearce and her noble mission to help shell-shocked soldiers recover their sexual appetites?"

So that’s where the Spotted Gypsy King, comes in, see? He’s been in the War and he’s come out all in spots.

Oh, maybe I’d just better start over.

I really did start out as a normal, although strange, kid.  There was nothing piggish bout me.  I flew my balsa wood glider into the telephone lines just like any other all-American boy.  But, when I was seven, I got rheumatic fever and it messed my aortic heart valve so bad that, by the time I was in my thirties, I needed heart surgery to replace my leaky valve with a…proper pig valve! This was not merely a name.  This was the valve from the heart of a living, breathing, dreaming, pondering pig.  Soon I began to have thoughts of becoming a detective.  I found myself craving Freddy The Pig stories. Worse yet, I discovered The Adventures of Pigling Bland and realized if I could only get to England I would find a world with talking pigs like me wearing proper coats and no pants.  I could rescue a pretty pig girl from an evil farmer like Pigling Bland did and then I’d be happy forever like they were.

Oh, you’ll never believe this.  Maybe I should start over.

Pigling Bland

Scratch the part about turning into a pig.  I was still an ordinary guy; I just had a pig valve where you have a human heart valve. I wasn’t turning bionic, but something else.

OK, the years roll by. My power trio, The Three Pigs, has made it to the top.  Then, one night it happens, my regular, not-bionic pig valve starts to leak.  I go into heart failure.  We’re putting the final touches on our debut album, The Revenge of The Spotty Gypsy King and I can’t finish the mix.  I’m in the hospital fighting for my life while the hard-hearted record executives gnash their teeth and throw out the master.  The surgeons replace my leaky valve with a new improved pig valve they found at the Saturday market, but this one, unbeknownst to them, is not a regular pig valve, it’s a magical pig valve.  It lets me see things that aren’t really there.

OK? Got it so far?  Now listen up.  This is where Philippa Pearce comes in.  One night after I get out of intensive care, I’m lying in my hospital bed and looking out the plate glass window at the owl flitting across the moon like you see sometimes when you’re loaded up on Percodan.  I’m wondering when that pretty night nurse will come in for my back rub when suddenly I see a vision!

Laugh if you want to.  Mock me. But I must tell what I have seen no matter how late you’ll be for the wedding.

I saw a late afternoon in midwinter.  The canal before my eyes was frozen solid.  Trees and withered sedge stood petrified by the frost. A grey leaden sky spread its headache light.  Then a young woman and a boy skated into view, down the canal right past me and skated on until they disappeared in the distance.  They had said no word.  They knew not I was there.  The boy was wearing pajamas.

Aficionados of English children’s books will recognize this as a scene from Philippa Pearce’s 1958 novel, Tom’s Midnight Garden.  But, at that time I had never read or even heard of Tom’s Midnight Garden.  When the book first came out, I was sixteen.  I was planning on becoming Elvis Presley or James Dean, not reading children’s books.

Tom's Midnight Garden XXIII

So, one night two or three years later, I pick up my daughter’s copy of Tom’s Midnight Garden and I’m leafing through it.  I think, hmm, time travel.  I love time travel.  I think I’ll just glance through this.  So I’m sitting in the living room by the fire reading and loving this book when I come across the scene.  The pajamas, the skates, the ice, Tom’s little girl friend who has grown into a young woman while he has remained a little boy.  The leaden wintry sky.  The sense of endings and forlorn emptiness inside.  The whole deal.

All joking aside, folks, this is the strangest damn thing that has ever happened to me.  No author has, or could ever, affect me like Philippa Pearce did.  I must have a connection with her that goes far beyond books, that’s all I can think.  I found out today she died three years ago.  Which is why I wrote this post.


6 thoughts on “Philippa Pearce or How I Became A Talking Pig

  1. You know, I had heard bits and pieces of this story but never the whole thing put together. I just knew you really liked Philippa Pearce and Tom’s midnight garden. But this… is totally mind-boggling.

    Didn’t Elizabeth Taylor also hold a cocktail party in your hospital room?


  2. Pearce, Pig? Yes, pleasant Victorian children’s tales, pleasantly illustrated–but whaa happened to Percy, as in Walker, or Pynchon’s Cali-dystopias? ‘Tis the season for solipsism

    (not to be mistaken for Dickens-ish pop-cynicism. Dickens–while not lacking certain talents, and even approaching Ahht, and misunderstood by most Mericans– hisself worked for Dame Victoria).


    • You got me all wrong, Hotatiox. I am neither a cynic nor a dystopian, but rather a wildeyed talking pig of the Romantic strain. With a big dose of God-given skepticism to keep me straight. And I regularly get pissed off at the evil humans work on this poor planet and each other. I appreciate Percy greatly, don’t like Pynchon because no matter how hard I try with him, I get bored. I like Wilkie Collins, Carl Barks, John Irving and the great modernist children’s author, Philippa Pearce.


      • I respect Dr. Percy’s writing, though not always in agreement with his catholic message, though at least it’s not Victoriana. Xmas is still a great victorian-like affair, as the lastest Scrooge flick shows

        Tinseltown doesn’t quite get Dickens–tho’ I haven’t seen “Carol” as of yet–{and probably won’t].

        Chas. was not merely a sentimental liberal asking the rich folks to give to charity, help the poor, etc. He demanded it. Maybe not quite a marxist but …only a few steps away, in mud-covered workman’s boots, too meager to protect him from the cold, foggy London night…).

        Scuzi rant


      • And I regularly get pissed off at the evil humans work on this poor planet and each other.

        Yes. I think Dr. Percy would consider the humans who run the Silicon Valley techie-biz–Jobs, Ellison, Google-pigs, Wozniak– among the Evilest, like capital E on this po’ planet, even lower than say east bay gangstas.


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