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Unmasking the totalitarian tale of Pigling Bland

Beatrix Potter is a favourite author of mine and of my daughter - the videos are also well made.

The stories are of real animals in that they hunt each other and eat other animals ( The horror on a baby sitter's face when she learnt that Jemima Puddle-Duck is saved from the Fox by a couple of hounds was a joy!), and there is a certain darkness in some of the stories, which is both good for and enjoyed by children.

One story The Tale of Pigling Bland was never one of my favourites and seemed a surprising choice to be made into a video. But my three year old loves it and so I know it well know.

Times Online - Newspaper Edition has a great article on the tale:

"THE closing days of George Orwell’s centenary year provide an opportune moment to consider the totalitarian — or Stalinist — dimensions of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Pigling Bland." which reveals new dimensions to it, and maybe makes it an educational choice for our children.

Unmasking the totalitarian tale of Pigling Bland
By Guy Liardet

THE closing days of George Orwell’s centenary year provide an opportune moment to consider the totalitarian — or Stalinist — dimensions of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Pigling Bland. Orwell wrote in Animal Farm: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Conversely, at Potter’s Pettitoes Farm, the anthropomorphised piglets control nothing; the farm is not generating the agricultural surplus even to feed its own — “four little boy pigs and four little girl pigs are too many altogether”. “Yus, yus, yus,” said Aunt Pettitoes, “there will be more to eat without them.” So there has to be a transport, a cull of the disenfranchised.

Pigling Bland and his brother Alexander are sent off to market with various minatory strictures about their behaviour and the all-important “pig papers” — their licences to go to market — which have been obtained from the police after “no end of trouble”.

“And remember,” they are gratuitously told, “if you once cross the county boundary you cannot come back.” An atmosphere of political tension has been created. What happens after “market” is not discussed.

On the way the brothers eat their picnics and indulge in horseplay. The pig papers get mixed up. They sing the famous ditty, “Tom, Tom the piper’s son, stole a pig and away he run.”

“What’s that, young sirs? Stole a pig? Where are your licences?.” This is a heavily policed society; the brothers have run into the uniformed police foot patrol inevitably to be found on this quiet country lane between town and farm. Alexander cannot find his papers and is escorted away in police custody.

Pigling Bland proceeds on alone, finds he has Alexander’s papers in his pocket, panics, gets lost and has to spend the night in a henhouse. The owner, significantly named Mr Peter Thomas Piperson, is an ill-favoured prole, operating on the margins of economic viability and the law. He arrives to select some hens for market and finds Pigling Bland. He makes a singular remark, “Hallo, here’s another”, and seizes Pigling by the scruff of the neck.

Piperson’s plans for Pigling are conditioned by the fact that “the hens had seen this pig” and might betray him to the authorities. To cut a long story short, he returns from market slightly drunk and fails to lock up properly. Pigling Bland thus meets “the other”, a perfectly lovely little black female Berkshire pig called Pig-wig. “Stolen,” she replies to Pigling’s inquiry.

They escape, starting before dawn as the hens might shout to Mr Piperson. The sun rises while they were crossing the moor and revealed a beautiful landscape. “That’s Westmoreland,” said Pig-wig. Pigling no longer wants go to market, he wants to grow potatoes.

They must get to the bridge and the county boundary “before folks are stirring”. They keep under a wall, having seen a man ploughing.

Disaster! Here unfolds a scene akin to countless nerve-racking tales of borders and escapes from oppression. Between the two fleeing pigs and the boundary, a tradesman’s cart comes up the road. Pigling feigns a bad limp. The horse shies and the pair are noticed. “Hullo! Where are you going to?” It is, of course, a given that everyone has a Stasi-like interest in everyone else. “Are you deaf? Are you going to market?” Pigling nodded slowly. “I thought so. It was yesterday. Papers? Pig licence?”

The grocer’s jurisdiction apparently allows him to demand and read these examples of statist bureaucracy, but he is dissatisfied. “This here pig is a young lady; is her name Alexander?” He decides to drive on and speak to the ploughman — automatically assuming that the ploughman will have a similar interest in the proper management of oppression.

Of course, as in all police states, the grocer would be fully au fait with the status of the boundary, but such a lame pig could not possibly make a run for it.

But they do. They come to the river, they come to the bridge — they cross it, hand in hand — then over the hills and far away Pig-wig dances with Pigling Bland!

That the boundary was not marked by barbed wire, watch towers and tethered dogs expresses the vocabulary of 1913 rather than that of 1984. Let’s hope that Pigling and Pig-wig passed unscathed through the Westmoreland asylum-seekers’ sieve, testing negative for swine-fever, and were able to find a plot in which to plant their potatoes.


I just watched this video with my children. It was one of the most intriguing I have seen. Beatrix was really almost like a science fiction writer. I really found myself wondering about the world of the pigs and pig licences.

I bet that she took from storys of how slaves were treated here in the South in the USA. It was not that long before when she wrote about pig papers.

Her mind was much more complex than she let on. She had a real vision.


Interesting comment, the pig licencing was I believe accurate, certainly when I kept pigs it was similar. But I can see the slave escape tale in there now.

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