What is it about pigs? They occupy a place in popular culture that goats can only dream of. There are many other farmyard animals with winsome expressions and wet noses, but pigs have cornered the market in curly-wurly cuteness – and have then gone ‘wee-wee-wee-wee-wee’ all the way home.
From The Three Little Pigs to Animal Farm, via Babe, Peppa, Porky, Piglet and the Spider-Pig, there’s a gluttony of porcine references out there for the gourmand of swine trivia. In most cases (Napoleon and chums aside) the pig is a well-meaning creature, truffling for treats and prancing perkily. But this is only half the story – because pigs have a dark side.
Last week, there was a nasty little story on the Internet about an Oregon farmer who’d been gobbled by his own hoggish herd. “For all we know, it was a horrific accident, but it’s so doggone weird that we have to look at all possibilities,” said the local District Attorney (nice use of the colloquial there – imagine a Yorkshire equivalent telling the press ‘it were chuffing awful’). But for the casual reader of strange fiction, pigs have a history in this area. Let me reveal to you the dreadful underbelly of Winnie’s best friend.
- The House on the Borderland: There’s a second-hand bookshop in Nottingham called Geoff Blore’s Books, right at the top of Mansfield Road. It’s a cracking little place, crammed high with forgotten novels and dusty hardbacks, and always seems to be staffed by a young man in fingerless gloves sitting by an electric fire. Imagine that HP Lovecraft lived in the modern-day East Midlands and owned a bookshop – there’s that sense of uncanniness and strangely angled shelving that brings to mind Dreams in the Witch House. Anyway, I digress – but it was here that I bought The House on The Borderland, many red moons ago , mainly because the cover was so crappy. A giant pink man-pig looming over a Gothic mansion? Yes please! It’s a great story, although I only appreciated it as such recently when I read it again – and the hogpeople are truly terrifying. Not only do they nearly eat the narrator’s dog, they hide in his basement, scratch at his windows and terrorise his housekeeper. They’re enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for life.
- Razorback: The best film about a rampant, over-sized wild boar terrorising the Australian outback that you will EVER see. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, who would go on to make at least two more movies about grunting hairy beasts (Highlander 1 & 2). This is a masterpiece – no really – of low-budget, high-concept cinema, and by the final scene in the processing factory, you’re really rooting for the tusked anti-hero (mainly because the other characters can’t act as well).
- Pig Island: This Mo Hayder novel reminded me an awful lot of the Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen, but it’s none the worse for it. It’s a ghoulish tale of an isolated community, Gothic goings-on and a femme who may or may not be fatale. There’s also a large number of pig’s heads stuck on poles around the island, because pigs = depravity, and the skin-crawling horror of it all is pretty unrelenting. I enjoyed it enormously!
- The Reapers: John Connolly’s a bit of a hero of mine, and if he wrote a novel about cross-dressing traffic wardens in Middlesborough I’d probably read it and love it. His Charlie Parker books are my ultimate weekend read, and I’ve had many a daydream about running away to the Great Lost Bear and hanging out with Louis and Angel. The Reapers is mainly about Louis’s past, but also features a particularly nasty villain, Arthur Leehagen, who appears to feed his enemy’s daughter to his pigs. This hungry pig plot device previously appeared in Hannibal, but we’ll let John Connolly off as he’s superior to Thomas Harris in every respect.
- Monte Cassino: Badger has asked me to end this section with a note about Sven Hassel, the recently deceased, incredibly prolific, slightly bonkers Dane who wrote about an eccentric Panzer regiment and their assorted adventures. As a matter of fact, Badger wooed me by reading the opening chapter of Monte Cassino, where Porta and chums are roasting starlings and making marrow-balls from dead oxen (it’s funnier than it sounds). In the book, Tiny and Porta dress a pig up as a Nazi, name it Oberleutnant Porker, and feed it beer and schnapps. While this is not technically a horror story, the mental image (and the prose) is so dreadful that I’m going to make an exception.
There must be many more examples of murderous hogs, and I’ll do my best to track them down and make them squeal in order to update this post. In the meantime, may I leave you with these wise words from Winston Churchill: “Always remember, a cat looks down on man, a dog looks up to man, but a pig will look man right in the eye and see his equal.”