On Tuesday, December 13th last year (as in just over five weeks ago), I read something in the news that once I’d finished reading it, and I do not mean this over-dramatically, I felt as though part of my childhood had died. This was the day that one of my most beloved authors from my childhood, Russell Hoban, had very sadly passed away.
Two other authors from my childhood I cherish to this day: Richard Scarry and Roald Dahl (and by extension Quentin Blake) are authors whose books, stories and illustrations I still go back to time and time again regardless of the fact I am well in adulthood. As a child I adored Scarry’s drawings, his big nursery rhyme book I still have though more sellotape now on the spine than actual spine. I remember a wonderful tale he wrote and illustrated called the Great Steamboat Mystery, which would be aimed at the readership of today’s Gruffalo fans. Dahl, well, he doesn’t need any introduction. Though I will say Matilda is my favourite of his tales and one which I will take with me to my grave.
And so I will too of the Marzipan Pig. Tenner to the man who says he has even heard of it, let alone read it. The Marzipan Pig was a short story that hasn’t received as much fame as Hoban’s more well-known works such as the Mouse and His Child or Riddley Walker. But then it doesn’t need to. I truly believe this story will find you, not the other way around. Those whom have loved it such as I will hopefully still ache at the burning romanticism within the tragic strains of loneliness that haunt this simple children’s book.
A short tale of very few pages, it was illustrated by Quentin Blake and told the story of a marzipan pig who is dropped down the back of a sofa during a party. He sadly begins to go stale as no-one notices he has gone. For weeks his just sits lonely, but never giving up hope that one day someone will find him and fantasises that there will be a party celebrating his rescue and return. One night a mouse comes along behind the sofa and upon discovering the now-hard pig devours him completely and says that she could still taste some of his sweetness as she ate him. Like some kind of spirit the mouse absorbs part of the pig’s soul, and thusly the story of how she made friends with a slowly breaking-down grandfather clock, fashions a dress from the dead petals of a hibiscus flower and is even made a meal of herself by a merciless owl, unfolds into a wonderful tale of night time dancing in the glow of taxi meter lights and bees falling in love with windowsill flowers. Those who fail to fall in love with this tragic but beautiful story must try harder. Wonderfully illustrated by Quentin Blake throughout too, I remember reading it over and over and over again when I as a child and not much has changed. When I heard the news that Hoban had passed away I was very upset; if you’ve ever read a book that has meant so much to you that you still go back to it over thirty years later, you’ll be on the same page as me.
I’m forever grateful this story found me.
RIP Russell Hoban, 1925-2011.