In the late 18th Century, the learned pig became a popular circus attraction, with the pig spelling words with cards, they could answer questions, tell the time and even read minds! The first sapient pig was Toby and this is his story. Whilst the pig was a real historical figure, this is a fictionalised account told from Toby’s point of view.
The prose is written in a mock 18th Century style and the font used is even reminiscent of the worn type used at the time. If you can suspend disbelief for the length of this fairly short novel, Toby will bring a smile to your face. Of course, the real pig would never have been quite so learned and he didn’t meet so many important people but history suggests that a lot of them did talk about him. At the back of the book are notes about some of the characters that did actually exist and it’s an interesting historical read in some aspects. Whilst many people have written about the life of prohibition era circuses, this is where they started out, with travelling showmen and their well-trained livestock.
In 1817, a biography of Toby, The Life and Adventures of Toby, the Sapient Pig; with his opinions on men and manners was released as a pamphlet and is commented on in Pyg as fraudulent. The British Library still hold a copy of the original in their collection.
Toby now has his very own blog where you can find out more about learned pigs and the book. Pyg is currently available to buy in an attractive little hardback edition as well as a new fandangled ebook. Thanks go to Canongate for sending me a copy to review.
Whilst I was googling learned pigs, I came across this song which is a collaboration between Edward Gorey and The Tiger LIllies: