Thursday, May 29

Book Hogs: Hedgehogs in Literature

Hedgehogs have grunted their way through the pages of literature for centuries, but they have often gone unnoticed. I thus made it my mission to seek out the presence of hedgehogs in fiction and folklore.

I began with a quintessential English author, William Shakespeare. While hedgehogs weren't scuffling around Will's plays and sonnets, he did make mention of them.
"Dost grant me, hedgehog? then, God grant me too
Thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed!"
Lady Anne refers to Gloucester as a hedgehog in Act I Scene II of 'Richard III.' She doesn't seem pleased with him, so I presume this is not an affectionate nickname.
"You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen."
The fairies from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' are protective of their precious queen. They shun all creatures they deem to be unworthy, troublesome or vile. I am quite put out! Roses are thorny but I wager that the fairies have no qualms with them. How fickle.
"And after bite me, then like hedgehogs which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount
Their pricks at my footfall."
Caliban in Act II Scene II of 'The Tempest.' He's using the simile of treading on a hedgehog as some form of attack against him. Gross arrogance.

To find a real hedgepiggy presence, I turned to an author well-known for writing about all sorts of critters. In 'The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle' by Beatrix Potter, a little girl named Lucie has lost her handkerchiefs and pinafore, only to discover that they are in the hands of a capable washerwoman.

The character of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is handy and hospitable, though a rather obvious depiction of a humble female servant. She picks up after all the animals in the area and cleans their garments.
"Oh, yes, if you pleas'm."
There is some debate as to whether Lucie dreams the events of the story. Someone should have informed Potter that the unreliable narrator/it was all a dream approach is a narrative no-no.

Lucie describes Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle as "nothing but a hedgehog" which is nothing short of rude.
The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo: she succeeded in getting its body tucked away, comfortably enough, under her arm, with its legs hanging down, but generally, just as she had got its neck nicely straightened out, and was going to give the hedgehog a blow with its head, it would twist itself round and look up in her face, with such a puzzled expression that she could not help bursting out laughing: and when she had got its head down, and was going to begin again, it was very provoking to find that the hedgehog had unrolled itself, and was in the act of crawling away: besides all this, there was generally a ridge or furrow in the way wherever she wanted to send the hedgehog to, and, as the doubled-up soldiers were always getting up and walking off to other parts of the ground, Alice soon came to the conclusion that it was a very difficult game indeed.
In the above excerpt from 'Alice in Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll, Alice and the Queen of Hearts are playing croquet, using flamingos for mallets and hedgehogs for balls. The Queen's ill-treatment of hedgehogs and Alice's hilarity at the flamingo are crude enough, but the fact that Carroll trapped these creatures in one sentence for so long is inhumane.

Save the hedgehogs - write shorter sentences.

I'd say that my next discovery of hedgehogs in literature was cheeky but that would be a terrible and inappropriate pun.

In the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, there is 'The Hedgehog Song' - a drinking song of which lives the lyric "The hedgehog can never be buggered at all."

Should I be proud of such a statement or affronted? Drunken antics provoke random things I suppose.

Turning to fables, I found 'The Hare and the Hedgehog' as told by The Brothers Grimm. It tells of a snobbish hare who wagers a hedgehog that he cannot defeat him in a race. Sounds familiar, hmm? Except, unlike the tortoise...the hedgehog cheats.

I wouldn't mind his cunning so much if it wasn't for the fact that he treats his mate like rubbish. I know that in those times human women were perceived as property to be bossed around...but really, how crude!

Aesop's fable 'The Fox and the Hedgehog' tells of a wounded fox, besieged by flies, who rejects a hedgehog's assistance to be rid of them because he fears more flies will swarm him, whereas the ones at hand are already gorged on blood.

Excuse me, but last time I checked foxes killed hedgehogs. There is a time and a place to be philosophical and pretentious, and an unlikely stranger offering you a hand when you're injured is not one of them. How rude!

The easiest place to find a hedgehog presence in prose is children's literature, although there is a Finnish comic strip called 'The Cursing Hedgehog' by Milla Paloniemi where hedgehogs swear and smoke non-stop. I don't think that's aimed at the kiddies.

One hogtastic book worth mentioning is 'The Hodgeheg' by Dick King-Smith. The protagonist is a persistent hoglet named Max, who dreams of crossing the road. He is an endearing character, whose determination is inspirational. However, Max sustains numerous head traumas in the novel, and I was disturbed by the fact that, upon inspection, a presumptuous blighter deducted that Max was no more and left him for dead. If you see an injured animal on the road, for hog's sake, take him to a veterinarian!

Along with a book called 'Hedgie Blasts Off!' - where a hardworking janitorial hedgehog makes the transition to astronaut - Jan Brett wrote and illustrated a book called 'The Mitten,' which stars a hedgehog in an ensemble of many different animals. In the book, the animals are all trying to keep warm from the cold in a white mitten that has been lost by a little boy in the snow.

I know what you're thinking, 'Aww, how sweet!' Which it is. Except, I learnt that Jan Brett adapted the story from a Ukranian tale where it was a hunter who lost his mitten. So, there is a hedgehog canoodling in a mitten with all these other animals - including an owl and a fox - and then the hunter finds his mitten and shoots them all.

Excuse me, what? An entire forest of animals just inexplicably crammed themselves into a mitten (talent!) and shared breathing space with predators (hedgepiggies do not normally fraternise with foxes and owls) in a show of unlikely tolerance and kinship, and then a hunter comes along and kills them all? That is just uncouth! I'd much rather read Brett's spin on the yarn.

I have since discovered a number more picture books starring hedgepigs, although they are not always readily available in stores. The best place to seek them out is second-hand online book retailers. Some of my finds have been: 'The Happy Hedgehog' by Marcus Pfiester, 'Hodge the Hedgehog' by Amy Sparkes, 'Harriet Dancing' by Ruth Symes, 'Porcupining' by Lisa Wheeler, 'Hedgehog Howdedo' by Lynley Dodd, and 'One Winter's Day' by M. Christina Butler.

Picture books aren't the only place in children's literature where hedgehogs are present. Not that I'm complaining. Who wouldn't want to illustrate a hoglet to the accompaniment of words? I know that the 'Redwall' series by Brian Jacques features many critters, including hedgehogs. I haven't read any of Jacques' books as of yet, but I am curious to see how hedgehogs are represented.

Have you read any books in which hedgehogs were referenced or featured?

Credit where credit is due! Thank you to Hedgehog World, for the illumination of Shakespeare's blasphemy in 'Richard III' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' along with the wonders of Jan Brett. Also, to hedgehog-a-licious Petty Witter, whose post revealed the rudeness in 'The Tempest,' and gave me a grand list of books to scout out.

5 comments:

Pogopaws said...

In my youth, lo half a century ago, I wrote a story about a hedgehog. Don't remember much of it now, but have always thought they got rather short shrift - I mean, being used as croquet balls! That's just rude. Have graduated to softer protagonists now (chinchillas), but hedgies will always have a special place in my heart.

Emma Michaels said...

I love Redwall. Such a wonderful series. I haven't seen many hedgehog books other than those that Keri has featured. I never started noticing them until Quill Café but now I find myself looking for them whenever I am in a book store!

Keri Payton said...

I started Redwall, but I kept getting tripped up by all the adverbs. I should probably give it another go.

Keri Payton said...

I can't say I know much about chinchillas, although they do look really soft. I'm tempted to write a story about Quillbert, actually. I've had plans brewing for a while now.

Pogopaws said...

Chins and hedgies are polar opposites on the soft scale. Hope you write you Quillbert story. So many possibilities! :)