“For the Straightforward Path Was Lost”: A Few Starting Notes on The Christmas Pig

To get discussion started on The Christmas Pig, I thought I would post some thoughts, aligned with a few of our keys to interpretation, that I was left with after my first read through. Or, rather, first listen through. The audiobook proved really quite wonderful, with excellent cast and sound design. On any of these points below, consequently, much more can be said. These points are also not in any particular order as they are something of a collection of first impressions. The discussion below will not be spoiler free.
I will leave out of these notes my reading of the scene with Power as I am still working on a longer post for which that scene forms a natural part.

Intertextuality: “For the Straightforward Path Was Lost”

Dante. The Christmas Pig is structured, to a surprising degree of detail, after Dante’s Divine Comedy. After the loss of a beloved (Beatrice/DP), Jack/Dante enters the land of perdition sometime around Christmas/Easter, where he is accompanied and guided by CP/Vergil through the various domains of the land of perdition (described in contrast to the Land of the Living). After a few not-so-bad upper sections, they arrive at the city of Dis(posable), which has a foreboding entry message. Continuing through this land, CP/Virgil is far harsher to its inhabitants than Jack/Dante is. The ruler of this land of perdition is the Loser/Satan, who eats some of the inhabitants. Having gone through the worst of it (the run-in with Satan/Loser in the depths of Hell/the Wastes of the Unlamented), they eventually make it out to an upper land surrounded by water, Purgatory/The City of the Missed. It is a region filled with the sound of carol/hymn singing. Ascending from this city, Jack/Dante ascend to the borders of The Isle of the Beloved/Heaven, where Jack/Dante finally sees DP/Beatrice, only to realize somewhat belatedly that CP/Vergil is no longer with him. Led to move beyond DP/Beatrice to a greater Love than retaining him/her would have meant, he is guided further on by Saint Nicholas/Bernard into a mystery of love represented by a vortex of circular motion. Throughout this journey, Jack/Dante has talked along the way with numerous inhabitants who give him knowledge of the Land of the Living Jack/Dante would not have had otherwise. This further explains the division of the book into nine sections.

I suspect I am missing a good many references here. I like some of the subtle reworkings Rowling does to Dante’s work. For example, I have always found it slightly disconcerting that the narratively best developed friendship in Dante’s work (that between Dante and Virgil) is discarded so abruptly. In recasting Virgil into the role of CP, where the final narrative act is centered on his becoming found, this original discarding is recast into the narrative moment where what Jack merely wants is replaced by what he needs.

In these first thoughts I’ll skip a long excursion into Literary Alchemy, as much of the books use of this is borrowed from its source in the Divine Comedy, naturally divided into Inferno (Nigredo), Purgatorio (Albedo), and Paradisio (Rubedo). The reunion of Dante/Beatrice and Jack/DP happens on the borders of Heaven/Isle of the Beloved, a reunion of opposites that fits the Rubedo.

The Dantean intertextual aspect of The Christmas Pig was readily apparent enough that this interpretation got a slightly dismissive nod in the New York Times review (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/12/books/review/jk-rowling-the-christmas-pig.html), though one that I think misunderstands where the commonalities with Dante are to be found.

Two other points of influence. The naming of Dur Pig after a child’s mispronunciation and elaborate understanding of the word “the” echoes the opening of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, in which we find that Christopher Robin attaches significance to the “ther” in the middle of his toy’s name. The structure of the quest to find a beloved that is impossible to be found, and yet, by virtue of the absurd or miraculous, will still be found, echoes the figure of the Knight of Faith in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

Ring Composition

While a more detailed analysis will need to be done with greater precision, I think we have all the signs of a well-crafted ring narrative. On first read, here are the parallels that stood out to me. We have parts 1+9 centered on the real world, echoed in the middle in part 5 where Jack finds out from Bullyboss what pain had led to Holly’s throwing DP out the car window. Other echoes across the center include Recycling in parts 1 and 8, the Earrings in Mislaid and the City of the Missed, the centrality of the problem of power and politics in parts 4 and 6 on opposite sides of the center. Again, there is much more to do here.


I suspect Rowling has studied her childhood psychology for this text very carefully. In an interview with the Daily Mail, she commented on the significance of childhood stuffed animals this way:

“Psychologists call these treasured toys ‘transitional objects’, which can soothe children and act as a comforting stand-in for a parent when needed.

That’s quite a clinical way of looking at it, though.

I see them as invested with a certain kind of magic. They may come to us formed, but we remake them in our own image, investing them with characteristics of our own and idealised personalities.”


The psychological concept of “transitional objects” comes from the psychiatric studies of D.W. Winnicott, particularly his book Playing and Reality. There they are understood in a far wider sense than merely a “comforting stand-in for a parent when needed.” In infancy, the child is provided every need by his mother, such that the infant receives a strong subjective sense of near omnipotence and a strong identification with his mother. As the mother necessarily withdraws this absolute support (Winnicott’s idea of the “good enough mother”), the child turns to transitional objects, typically stuffed toys or a “security blanket”, as a means of understanding a world that is suddenly and terrifyingly exterior to them. The transitional object is an external object that remains under the control of the child. It is real though still subjective. By the presence of this esemplastic space between the subject and object, the space provided by the transitional object, the child comes to understand the external world. Winnicott expands this theory to any aspect of culture or play even in adulthood, by which we come to understand the objective external world through those things that, while they may be “just inside your head”, are also real.

I suspect Rowling of having a firm grasp of this concept from fairly recent childhood psychology, but I think she chooses to emphasize the magical side of “transitional objects” in an effort to move the interpretation of Transitional Objects away from their typically reductive neo-Freudian framework into the framework of Coleridgean Logos Epistemology they so naturally fit into. The implied interpretation of Virgil and Beatrice as transitional objects leading Dante from despair into the external world of God and his salvation is a beautiful one.



The finding of Blue Bunny seemed to me vaguely reminiscent of the conclusion of Goethe’s Faust part 2, where Faust is redeemed through an act of distraction.

A thematic resonance with Rowling’s earlier work comes in the description of the Isle of the Beloved. Here, despite being absent from the Land of the Living, they are not lost (the Loser can not get them) these things have been made immortal by the love of their humans. I think I hear definite echoes of the William Penn epigraph from Deathly Hallows:

This is the comfort of friends,
that though they may be said to die,
yet their friendship and society are,
in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.


  1. Nick Jeffery says

    What a wonderful post! Thank you so much Evan. I had seen lots of reviews commenting of the Bunyan – Pilgrim’s Progress feel to the narrative, but as your post makes clear the Dante parallels are remarkable.

  2. Kelly Loomis says

    My first time through, I found it to be a delightful listen – for, of course, I purchased all three versions! Although I am no scholar, it did follow along with Rowling’s typical patterns and I loved the symbolism at the end with CP willing to sacrifice himself because of his love for Jack. This adult definitely had tears falling. Being a Christmas story I found it poignant.

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