Babe Critical Context - Essay

Dick King-Smith

Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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.