This is the tale of a pig who lived in three worlds. It can sit on the shelf beside "Penguin Island," "Animal Farm," and "Watership Down." Scion of a wilde boar, the pig named Plantagenet is adopted by a farmer, and ranges, thereafter, "through three spheres of living, from the center point of his clean straw bed to the mundane bustle of the farmyard and on to the humming outer space of the boundless forest beyond."
The time is the 13th century. The place is France.The farmyard is replete with dogs, donkeys, and cattle, and comes with milkmaid, stone wall, and moat. The milkmaid loves the little wild pig and protects him. It is she who names him Plantagenet, after the flowering wild broom, or plante genet,m that she hangs over his cradle. Pig Plantagenet is thus no relative or fief of the more illustrious Plantagenets of England, but, like his namesake Henry V, pig is a warrior hero.
And "Pig Plantagenet" is a beast epic. Adapted from "Le Roman de Fulbert," by Michel Heloin, "The Pib P." tells of a time when the menfolk decided to drive the animals from the forest and make the roads safe for passage. In the 13th century most of the country was forest, but the men, like Faulkner's men in "The Bear," are pitilessly hacking away at the wilderness.
In this case, the men fail. Pig Plantagenet sees to that, aided by his wild friends: Grondin the Boar, Hurlaud the Wolf, Bafrin the Falcon, and a cast of thousands.
How pig and his friends outsmart mere men is a tale too long to tell. But suffice it to say here that pig comes of age, discovers his Plantagenet courage, and puts men and dogs to rout, higgledy-piggledy.
It would be pigheaded of us, the readers, not to heed author Allen Andrew's ecological intentions. Though the animals win the battle, they are losing the war. Andrews deplores, as do his animal creatures, the customs of men in regard to forests, and man's "intolerable itch to subdue." Andrew's animals are brave, cooperative, self-sacrificing for the greater good of their kind, and given to "somber reflections on the Mystery of Life."
In short, animals embody much of what is highest in man himself, and in striving to conquer the wilderness, man defeats a part of his own best nature.
Andrews makes this ecological point with wit and grace. His mixture of "camp romantic diction and . . . thieves' argot" lends philosophical spicery to the warriors' fire-eating speeches. Though laid in the medieval past, his tale makes plenty of jazzy references to "jet-lag," the Gourmet Club, vegetarianism, and pantheism, and he works in here and there a line from Yeats, Shakespeare, and Boswell's Johnson.
Andrews's adaptation makes a charming addition to the realm of the beast fable. Piglet and Eeyore might read it, or it might while away a firelit evening for Toad of Toad Hall.