Babe weaves its themes of tolerance and individuality so seamlessly throughout the narrative that the young reader will almost effortlessly absorb the novel’s lessons of tolerance and individuality. Dick King-Smith manages to convey several layers of meaning without resorting to preaching or didacticism, making this novel valuable for teaching to and discussing with young readers.
Babe deftly dramatizes the dangers of stereotyping to both its victims and its perpetrators, illustrating how readily prejudice can be born of ignorance when its characters make unwarranted assumptions about one another. Fly’s puppies ask their mother if pigs are stupid: “Fly hesitated. On the one hand, having been born and brought up in sheep country, she had in fact never been personally acquainted with a pig. On the other, like most mothers, she did not wish to appear ignorant before her children. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They’re stupid.’” After only brief acquaintance with Babe, however, she realizes that he does not conform to her preconceived ideas of pigs.
Fly also believes that sheep are stupid, that their bleating is meaningless, and that she can only control them through coercion. The sheep, in turn, are culpable of thoughtless prejudice by making no distinction between sheep dogs and wolves, lumping herders with predators. Through Babe’s efforts to know and understand both the sheep and the sheep dog, stereotypes are broken...
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Dick King-Smith’s background as a farmer is evident in his books, which often feature rural settings and animals who possess magical or extraordinary attributes and who have the power to transform the lives of those around them. Babe fits squarely into this body of work, which includes another novel about an extraordinary pig, Ace: The Very Important Pig (1990). Ace, who claims to be a distant relation of the famous sheep-pig Babe, has the amazing ability to understand human language and makes a name for himself as the pig who watches television and enjoys a bowl of beer at the local pub on occasion. King-Smith’s works about extraordinary animals also include Pretty Polly (1993), featuring a chicken whose ability to speak English propels her to worldwide fame; The Invisible Dog (1993), about Henry, an imaginary dog who comes to life; and Harriet’s Hare (1995), revolving around a space alien disguised as a hare who finds a new wife for Harriet’s widowed father.
Ironically, while the pig in literature often symbolizes humanity’s worst traits, it is also used, particularly in children’s literature, to illustrate what is best in people. The pig as a figure of innocence, dignity, and innate wisdom appears frequently in juvenile literature, calling to mind the purity of childhood before it becomes tainted by contact with society. Babe clearly falls within this tradition, along with other great literary pigs, including Piglet in A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and Wilbur in E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952). Particularly since the 1995 release of the motion picture Babe, based on the novel, Babe: The Gallant Pig should be assured of a place in the pantheon of worthy literary pigs.