The Land of the Lost: From “The Christmas Pig” to “Harry Potter”
by Lorrie Kim
SPOILERS FOR THE CHRISTMAS PIG AHEAD: PROCEED WITH CAUTION
The Christmas Pig calls back to many of Harry Potter’s themes. A character with the Christmas-tinged name of Holly feels remorse and gets a second chance, recalling the redemptive nature of Harry’s holly wand. Someone self-sacrifices for a loved one. A Voldemort-like villain feels inconsolable rage that other beings have felt enough love to feel loss. Events may take place in the mind, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
We never do see divorce in the wizarding world.
Clearly, divorce was a formative element in the origin story of the Harry Potter books and how the author came to write them, but divorce and shared custody are never mentioned. We see wizard marriages end through abandonment or death – even death under mysterious circumstances, as with Blaise Zabini’s mother’s history. But if wizards have divorce lawyers and custody arrangements, we don’t know about it.
With The Christmas Pig, we get to see this storyteller acknowledge divorce as a practical reality and explore how children deal with the effects. In this book centered around the loss of a treasured toy, she maps out the terrain of all different kinds of loss.
The story starts when Jack’s stepsister throws his stuffed pig, Dur Pig (DP), out of the car window on a motorway. DP had comforted Jack through his parents’ divorce and his mother’s remarriage. Jack’s grandfather and remorseful stepsister give Jack a replacement, whom they name Christmas Pig. The brand-new toy is such an inadequate replacement that Jack tears apart his room like Harry destroying Dumbledore’s office after the death of Sirius. Jack stomps on the new pig and tries to tear off its head before his grandparents stop him. That night, Jack dreams that the new pig, CP, guides him to the Land of the Lost to find out what happens when people lose the things that they love.
The relatable, domestic scale of the conflict in The Christmas Pig sheds light on some of the undefined conflicts in Harry Potter. Both Jack and Holly, the stepsister, are suffering from divorce-related turmoil. But Holly is too raw to tolerate the younger child’s openly vulnerable dependence on his toy and lashes out. Jack understands later that Holly threw out his pig impulsively out of jealousy to “punish” him for what she felt was his more loving home life (CP 154).
This may shed light on the unnamed damage that Tom Riddle did to his fellow orphans, Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop. We know that whatever he did was invisible, and they were “never quite right afterward” (HBP 268). We know that Voldemort “hardly ever cried” as a baby (HBP 267) and that when baby Harry cried, Voldemort “did not like it crying, he had never been able to stomach the small ones whining in the orphanage” (DH 345). Perhaps Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop had cried from grief, and Tom had felt jealous that they had known love in the first place, unlike himself. My guess is that he Obliviated their memories of love and therefore their ability to grieve the loss of it, so they would be more like him, prevented from feeling loss by the belief that he never had anything to lose.
Holly and Jack had something enviable that Tom Riddle never did: adults who could contain their destructiveness or guide them toward amends. At first, a defiant Holly shows no remorse over throwing out DP: “Holly’s arms were folded, her face was cold and set. She didn’t seem to care at all about what she’d done” (CP 33). But after Jack’s grandfather takes her to buy the replacement toy, Holly is able to cry and give Jack a genuine apology. Jack, still angry, tries to rip off the head of the replacement pig until his grandfather shouts, “That’s enough!” (CP 39). Holly was guided to remorse by an adult: that’s what’s supposed to happen. Jack was limited before he destroyed Christmas Pig, enabling him to feel eventual remorse over how he treated it: that’s what’s supposed to happen. Snape healed Draco’s Sectumsempra wounds before Harry’s unwitting Dark Magic killed Draco, then assigned heavy detentions until Harry worked through his guilt and learned his lesson: that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Child Tom Riddle didn’t have loving adults nearby to stop him or guide him to remorse, so his destructiveness knew no limits, no consequences, and no satisfaction. His unchecked feelings grew monstrous, like the insatiable hunger of Loser, the ruler of the Land of the Lost. His failure to kill baby Harry was the first time he experienced a limit on his destructiveness. By that time, he had committed so many crimes that he had lost the capacity to withstand remorse for them all.
“I didn’t know you could feel.”
Jack feels the uncomfortable beginnings of remorse when he dreams that CP has some bitter things to say about how Jack treated him.
‘I didn’t know Things could . . . talk.’
What he really meant to say was: I didn’t know you could feel.” (CP 43-44)
Of course, dolls cannot talk or feel on their own; humans project personalities into them in order to process their understanding of others. The Christmas Pig tries to explain to Jack that he and DP are “the same,” and Jack retorts that they aren’t the same at all. In a truly painful moment, CP replies, “I forgot: there’s something about me that makes you want to pull off my head” (CP 64).
It’s almost too much to process what CP’s statement says about the way that people internalize ill-treatment directed toward them, even when it isn’t meant to be personal.
But after all, CP without Jack is only a Thing and cannot talk on his own. His statement is proof that Jack has understood that he took out his feelings on a hapless object that did nothing to deserve it, and will understand, eventually, that Holly had bullied him because she was taking out her unhappiness on a younger child.
This is the process that begins in Voldemort for the first time when he tries to kill baby Harry and then is incapacitated for years because he finds himself empathizing with Harry’s “pain and terror” (DH 345). Until then, Voldemort didn’t truly understand what his defenseless victims could feel. They were things rather than beings to him, inferior, deserving of punishment. It can be easier to maintain that there’s “something about” the victim that merits ill-treatment than it is to acknowledge one’s own guilt.
This brings us to Professor Snape’s baseless assertion that modest little first-year Harry is attention-seeking and conceited and needs to be put in his place.
When a Loss Adjuster in the Land of the Lost observes that nobody in the Land of the Living seemed to value Christmas Pig very much, CP explains that he was a Replacement. The Loss Adjuster says with a smirk, “Replacements sometimes work out and sometimes not. In your case, I see it’s ‘not’” (CP74). In their mountaintop encounter, when Dumbledore first charged Snape to protect Harry Potter, this mission was a Replacement for Snape: a burden he didn’t want and barely accepted, in place of working to protect Lily, whom he had just lost. Snape waits until his literal dying breath before letting Harry know that Dumbledore once interrupted Snape’s complaints about Harry with the words, “You see what you expect to see, Severus” (DH 679) – suggesting that Snape realized he’d treated Harry poorly because he was taking out his own feelings on Harry, not because of “something about” Harry that merited ill-treatment.
DP, CP, HP
DP had been Jack’s comfort companion ever since Jack was young enough to fall asleep sucking on DP’s terrycloth ear. After the cruel and abrupt way that Holly snatched DP, Jack could only feel rage at the suggestion that DP could be replaced by CP, a new pig with no history. There might be a parallel here with the bereft feeling of some in Harry Potter fandom, including myself after Rowling’s anti-trans statements did permanent damage to the meaning of those seven books in our lives. For some of us, our dog-eared love for the original series may feel irreplaceable. There may be ambivalence or even some misplaced hostility toward any content suggested to Potter fans as a replacement, including new content from the same author.
The Christmas Pig is a good book, though. She does still know how to tell a story.
Lorrie Kim donated twice the cover price of The Christmas Pig to Lambda Legal, an organization that provides advocacy work toward LGBTQ civil rights.