If Wilber (from Charlotte’s Web) or Babe the Pig were targeted toward a slightly more academic audience and wore refined waistcoats, they would be awfully close to Toby of Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby the Learned Pig. This charming tale of Toby, a pig who goes from humble farm beginnings to the life of an Oxford scholar, is fun for all.
The story begins with Toby as a baby pig; he is quickly selected as favorite by Sam, the nephew of the farm owner, and the two build a rudimentary means of communication. When Toby is taken to the fair and wins a ribbon as the best pig, he doesn’t realize that he is well on his way to being sold to market. Through determination, Sam is able to rescue Toby and the two set off on their own. On the brink of collapse, they are welcomed in by Mr. Bisset, a landowner who has a menagerie of animals that he has trained for a show. While Mr. Bisset exhibits kindness toward the animals, he is a determined man, and after training Toby to recognize letters and respond to basic clicks, he takes all of his “pets” on the road to perform multiple shows with Toby heading the bill as the “Sapient Pig”. Unbeknownst to Mr. Bisset, Sam has furthered Toby’s education, teaching him to read and spell. When this becomes evident at a stage show, Mr. Bisset threatens Toby and leaves Sam behind so that he cannot interfere further with Toby’s show (or Bisset’s profit). After Bisset’s sudden death, Toby fears that he will be sold to market, only to find saving grace at the last minute. After much hard work, Toby arrives at Oxford where his academic side takes root, and readers see his talents grow (even to the point of inspiring imposters to take to the stage), and eventually see him “retire” to compose his autobiography.
This story is delightful and has historical elements woven throughout to make it a reflection of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Pyg is a unique tale that is absolutely enjoyable, and Toby is an endearing character, but with traditional British voice and somewhat antiquated language it might not appeal to young children who would appreciate Charlotte’s Web a bit more. Overall, it is a fun and engaging read.