Whence Holly’s Hatred in Christmas Pig? The Symbolism of the ‘Broken Angel’

I’m trying to get the next piece in my traditional reading of Christmas Pig done but am taking a break from the Four Chariots or ‘Garden’ interpretation to share another piece of head-canon or fan-fiction I’ve written. The first was about how the Christmas tree fell over the first time; my guess was that Holly pulled it down to cover her tracks when Toby the Dog ate the Toilet Roll Angel she’d replaced with her own ornament.

Today I want to take a shot at explaining the mysterious rage Holly feels about little boy Jack and her disproportionate response to being called a Loser by her younger step-brother. Why does she lose all her self-control and poise, the signatures of an accomplished gymnast, when a whiny kid gives her the ‘L’ sign?

I’m guessing based on things we’ve learned in Cormoran Strike and what we know of Rowling’s biography that it comes down to Holly thinking Judy Jones caused the break-up of Natalia and Holly’s dad’s marriage. And that her condition is exteriorized in the story not only as Bully Boss the Fist but as Broken Angel. Join me after the jump for how I got there.

Remember Dave Polworth and his adoption of Strike on his first day of school? Strike to this day cannot understand what moved his oldest mate to be so kind to him in all his vulnerability as a newcomer. I think, as explained elsewhere (in a post that argues among other things that Dave killed Strike’s mum!), that Dave did this because he was told to do so by Ted or Joan Nancarrow, Polworth’s adopted family.

We have another ‘first day of school’ adoption in Christmas Pig of a vulnerable boy by a popular and gregarious student, seemingly out of the blue. What seems a great mystery, as with Polworth the xenophobe welcoming a stranger and potential rival, may have a common-sense explanation. Holly did what she did because her father asked her to.

That must seem a stretch but how unlikely is it really that Holly was told by her father, who works at the same hospital as Judy Jones, that there will be a new boy at her school who is going through all the changes of his parents’ divorce and his mother’s relocation? That it would be a very kind thing indeed if, popular as she is, she reached out to him somehow and let him know he has a friend? This seems as likely or even more likely than her just by coincidence meeting her future step-brother the way she seems to do, by happenstance.

Holly’s father is able to suggest it because he has connected the dots between Jack’s grade and the class his daughter’s grade will be visiting regularly, information he would have from Judy on the one hand and from his daughter’s school. If this is the case, Holly’s searching Jack’s classroom for the new boy to be his reading partner and sitting with him later and calling him “my mate Jack” becomes much more credible.  She’s on assignment and naturally enjoys the part of angelic guardian from a higher realm, the Up There of school grades.

It also explains why Holly confides in Jack so openly, painfully, and generously about her agony in the midst of her parents’ separation, the mirror image of Jack’s experience. She unloads on the small boy because she knows he of all her friends will be able to understand and sympathize with her distress having recently gone through the experience himself. Having been DP to Jack on his first day, he is the natural DP for her. The Broken Angel was certain her Blue Bunny buddy would not turn her away.

To the first point of this post, though, why does heroic, generous Holly hate Judy and Jack when they are both so welcoming and kind? This mystery, too, opens up if we know that Holly’s dad knew Judy at work before the break-up with Natalia, her mother, and liked Judy enough to ask for Holly’s help with the Jones boy’s first day at school. The scandal of Peter Rowling’s second marriage was a combination of his new wife’s having left her husband and sons to move in with Peter and, more to the point, the rumors that the couple, who worked together as manager and secretary at a Rolls-Royce factory, had been intimate while Joanne’s mum was dying of MS.

Think of Matt Cunliffe’s “It was a hard time for me, too” explanation to Robin for his infidelity as a college student. Remember all the notes sounded in Troubled Blood about the nanny positioning herself to supplant the wife and mother. This is visceral pain that Rowling’s Lake seems to serve up in generous quantities in her story-stuff inspiration to be reworked in the Shed.

Holly, from this story angle, hates Judy (and Jack by extension), because she believes her step-mother is the reason her parents broke up and she is left in her own Land of the Lost, caught between the competing rather than complementary interests and demands of her biological parents. It doesn’t come up in the surface narrative except by the most oblique suggestion because we are captive to Jack’s perspective throughout the tale.  There’s no way for him to grasp this.

But sub or supra-consciously he does. It is Holly’s remorse for what she has done that leads to the purchase of the Christmas Pig, the “replacement” toy that guides Jack through his Land of the Lost. Her repentance is the emotion that “alivens” or animates, from the Latin anima or ‘soul,’ CP. She buys the toy “out of her own pocket money,” which is to say sacrificially and this is the idea of sacrificial love that the Christmas Pig accepts as his telos and logos.

That’s the way it happened to me, today, in the toy shop. Holly and your grandpa were discussing which pig to take home to you, and when they chose me, I was Alivened. That’s when I began to mean something. The Alivening is when we truly understand what we were made to do.” (96)

We see the exteriorization of Holly’s bad habit in Bully Boss on the Wastes but there is a representation, too, of her feeling like the ornament that isn’t appreciated by her new “owners” or family, who feels ugly and disabled in her current condition, confused as she is with ideas of betrayal, replacement, and being caught “between two worlds.” It is Holly’s grief that saves Jack in the end, something that his story acknowledges in the figure of the Broken Angel, pathetic Thing that she is, becoming the boy’s means of being “found” and escaping the grasp of the Loser. That Judy Jones repairs the Broken Angel and she is put at the top of the tree, the place Holly wanted to put her own home-made ornament, speaks to her returning to her original role in joining her to Jack on his first day of school.

With Louise Freeman, I wonder if the step-grandparents, who seem remarkably sensitive and thoughtful people, weren’t able to share with Holly the folly of her beliefs — and that Jack, of all people, should not be used as a whipping boy-toy for her to act out her issues. Regardless, she gets ‘there,’ her sincere repentance exorcizes Bully Boss and sends him to the Wastes of the Unlamented and his death in the mouth of the Loser, and as important begins this Broken Angel’s healing and integration into her new family.

Credible extrapolation or gross over-reach? Let me know what you think. Tomorrow, the Quadrigal reading of The Christmas Pig!


  1. Louise Freeman says

    I only have the audiobook, so I can’t look up the page right now, but wasn’t the move (100 miles away from the original home and workplace) prompted both by Judy’s new job at a different hospital, where Brendan worked, and the need to be closer to the grandparents for childcare? If so, Holly’s dad wouldn’t have had long to get to know Judy before Jack started at the new school.

    In that case, if Brendan did ask Holly to extend a hand to his new co-worker’s son, it would have to have been prompted by him knowing Holly before she changed jobs. Which, would have only supported Holly’s suspicions.

  2. All told, narrating from a child’s perspective still requires the story-mapping of the events from omniscient perspective, and we would be remiss to put that past JKR. We may never hear her answers to these questions, but they’re in the story’s DNA. It’s the amount of research and planning she puts even into her shortest novel to create such depth of subcontext that brings us back and again to her stories. Just thought I’d comment as an aside to simply marvel at her exemplary storytelling.

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