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J.Okay. Rowling on the Magic of ‘Things’

The magic of “things” often goes unnoticed until they break or are lost. We have favorite mugs and tea towels, comforting in their familiarity and utility; we treasure the lopsided objects our children made for us in nursery school, and we may still own those toys that soothed us when we were tiny. “The Christmas Pig” was inspired in part by one of those achingly necessary toys without whom sleep is impossible: a cheap cuddly pig around eight inches tall, with a belly full of plastic beans, that belonged to my son, David.

David was so attached to that pig, but so prone to losing it, that I became scared it would one day be lost and never found again. I therefore bought an identical replacement and hid it. David was 3 when he went rummaging in the cupboard where I’d stowed his pig’s twin and took it out, slightly confused. He declared it to be his pig’s brother and kept both of them. They’re both still with us, though their names are different from the pigs’ names in the story. Only David’s habit of hiding his beloved pig, then forgetting where he put it, is taken from real life.

Every writer is asked where ideas come from. It’s a relief to have an answer for once, because more often than not I don’t know — the ideas simply arrive. “The Christmas Pig” sprang from my musings on what it means to be a replacement toy. I’d always wanted to write a Christmas story, and once I’d dreamed the Land of the Lost into being I realized I’d found one at last. Christmas was the perfect backdrop to a tale of loss and love, sacrifice and hope.

Of course, it isn’t necessary to actually celebrate Christmas to grasp that element of the story. Every culture has its sacred, celebratory days when feasts are made and consumed, when the grown-ups are making a special effort, when the whole family assembles, when gifts are exchanged.

“The Christmas Pig” explores a deep attachment to an old object, with all its half-understood associations and meanings, at a time when we’re supposed to be in thrall to acquiring the new. It’s about the journey of a boy, Jack, who has a complicated family life, and is consequently a little lost himself, but who discovers his bravery and deep capacity for love in a strange new world. Of all the books I’ve written, this is the one that made me cry the most, because I was dealing with emotions that run deep in all of us. Loss and change are hard for children, but acceptance of these inevitable parts of life isn’t much easier for adults. There was a particular poignancy in finishing the book (which I began to think about in 2012) during a pandemic that has plunged us all into a frightening new world. “The Christmas Pig” shows how human beings — even small, lost ones — are capable of wonderful, heroic, transformative acts. It’s a story in which hope triumphs over despair and individual acts of kindness bring about huge, positive change.

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