Stories about toys that come to life are as old as the Nutcracker, and can be as smart as Toy Story. Just over two hundred years after Hoffman’s iconic Christmas tale comes JK Rowling’s book about a boy who must venture into a magical world on Christmas Eve to save his lost toy pig DP. Smelly, tatty and ugly, DP is Jack’s silent, sympathetic friend.
The child of a single mother in a blended family, Jack has plenty of problems. Not least of these is Holly, his angry new teenaged step-sister. When Holly throws DP out of the family car onto the motorway, Jack is devastated. Yet on Christmas Eve, toys come to life, and so our hero can follow his unwanted replacement toy, the Christmas Pig, into the sinister Land of the Lost to try and rescue DP before the Loser destroys him forever.
“He hates the living and he hates their Things, which he tortures and eats”, Jack is told. Once again, a small boy is pitted against absolute evil in “a strange and terrible place, governed by its own peculiar laws.” Only, we’re not in Hogwarts and Jack has no magic powers.
Both Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen discovered the imaginative possibilities of animating the inanimate. Rowling’s take on this is, as you might expect, both traditional and unique. Many great children’s books from AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh to Lissa Evans’s Wed Wabbit and Kate Saunders’s The Land of Neverendings have used living toys to convey the passionate imagination of childhood. Just as she did in the Harry Potter novels, Rowling pushes a traditional concept much further. The Christmas Pig is about both a shy little boy’s complicated feelings towards his bullying step-sister, and the horrors currently experienced by millions, living under dictatorship and slaving in factories to make cheap tat.
Hunted by some, helped by others, one boy and his rejected toy grow closer and closer in an adventure that is Rowling’s best book since The Prisoner of Azkaban. Each chapter, being two or three pages long, is easy for a reader of 6 +, but once the magic starts in Chapter 13, the story becomes more sophisticated and compelling.