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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tom Baker’s Grotesque Masterpiece

In the English town of Thirsk,
Nestled in the heart of Yorkshire,
My wife and I visited a bank.
While she withdrew cash,
I perused a shelf of books donated to charity.
We left with money,
And a real treasure.

In The Boy Who Kicked Pigs,” Tom Baker introduces us to Robert Caligari, a boy who lives in a village in the county of Kent in southern England.  It seems his sister Nerys was always popping pennies into the tin piggy bank she had named Trevor.  Whenever visitors arrived, she would rattle Trevor loudly, and say things like “Trevor’s a bit hungry.  His tummy sounds empty.”  Her antics and thrifty nature grate on Robert’s nerves, and he takes to kicking Trevor when Nerys isn’t around. 

Inevitably, this habit gets Robert into trouble.  Once, Trevor crashes into the TV.  On another occasion, the tin pig sails through the open window and strikes a policeman driving past Robert’s house.  The police car crashes into a parked fish van, and all manner of fish-related chaos ensues.  Eventually, Robert’s habit of kicking pigs (or, later, anything pork-related) becomes the subject of much hilarity in his village, and he quits to avoid ridicule.  He withdraws into himself, and acts like the model citizen, but remembers being laughed at.  He takes solace in reading news reports about humanity’s cruelty to animals.  He is not the only one other people have mistreated!  Feeling isolated and misunderstood, he eventually decides that it is not animals he hates, but his fellow humans. 

One day, while helping a blind man cross the street, Robert snaps.  For the blind man is a retired slaughterhouse worker.  In hurting him, Robert sees himself as avenging all the animals ever killed by mankind.  But this one act of vengeance doesn’t satisfy him.  Instead, it sends him on a killing spree of mammoth proportions. 

Dalek the Gray settles down to read.
Jelly Babies, anyone?

Initially, it seems strange that Tom Baker would write such a story.  During the years he played the traveling Time Lord in the TV show “Doctor Who,” he loved to meet all the children who watched his show.  He listened to them, and incorporated their likes and dislikes into his portrayal of the character.  Although he knew that children delighted in being frightened, they needed to be in the comforting, familiar environment of home, surrounded by caring family members, when aliens threatened the Doctor.

While the acts of violence in the story could chill one’s soul, Tom Baker keeps the tone light.  His engaging narrative, in which he talks directly to the reader, is easy-going.  He warns you in the first paragraph of Robert’s ultimate fate.  In the first few pages, he discloses that this is a story of “undiluted horror, and anyone who writes a story like this must be really sick.”  Those who have watched his portrayal of the Doctor, seen him in interviews, or heard his commentary on DVDs can hear Tom Baker speaking these words in his delightfully impish manner as they read.  The story’s over-the-top events, while tragic, are diluted by his artful wordplay and zany asides. 

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs also communicates an important message.  We must be careful what habits we perpetuate.  For in many ways, we are what we do.  If we allow little acts of violence, uncaring, or sloth into our lives, who knows what larger defects of character such little “allowances” might eventually grow into.  Thank you, Tom Baker, for writing such a humorous morality tale.  Now please, get to work, and give us another one.  (Pretty please?)

How's this for a sequel?
The Dalek Who Rode A Pig

I would be remiss to end this post without mentioning two items.  First, the book is extensively illustrated by David Roberts, whose style is reminiscent of Charles Addams, or the filmic vision of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”  And second, the book has been adapted into a play, which will be performed at The Lowry in Greater Manchester later this month.  Oh, to be able to attend!

Thanks for reading,
Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries

Related Internet Links
Wikipedia page on The Boy Who Kicked Pigs
Tom Baker’s website on The Boy Who Kicked Pigs

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