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The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood

Written by Sy MontgomeryAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Sy Montgomery


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: May 30, 2006
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-49381-1
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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“Christopher Hogwood came home on my lap in a shoebox. He was a creature who would prove in many ways to be more human than I am.”
–from The Good Good Pig

A naturalist who spent months at a time living on her own among wild creatures in remote jungles, Sy Montgomery had always felt more comfortable with animals than with people. So she gladly opened her heart to a sick piglet who had been crowded away from nourishing meals by his stronger siblings. Yet Sy had no inkling that this piglet, later named Christopher Hogwood, would not only survive but flourish–and she soon found herself engaged with her small-town community in ways she had never dreamed possible. Unexpectedly, Christopher provided this peripatetic traveler with something she had sought all her life: an anchor (eventually weighing 750 pounds) to family and home.

The Good Good Pig celebrates Christopher Hogwood in all his glory, from his inauspicious infancy to hog heaven in rural New Hampshire, where his boundless zest for life and his large, loving heart made him absolute monarch over a (mostly) peaceable kingdom. At first, his domain included only Sy’s cosseted hens and her beautiful border collie, Tess. Then the neighbors began fetching Christopher home from his unauthorized jaunts, the little girls next door started giving him warm, soapy baths, and the villagers brought him delicious leftovers. His intelligence and fame increased along with his girth. He was featured in USA Today and on several National Public Radio environmental programs. On election day, some voters even wrote in Christopher’s name on their ballots.

But as this enchanting book describes, Christopher Hogwood’s influence extended far beyond celebrity; for he was, as a friend said, a great big Buddha master. Sy reveals what she and others learned from this generous soul who just so happened to be a pig–lessons about self-acceptance, the meaning of family, the value of community, and the pleasures of the sweet green Earth. The Good Good Pig provides proof that with love, almost anything is possible.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter 1


Christopher Hogwood came home on my lap in a shoe box.

On a rain-drenched April evening, so cold the frogs were silent, so gray we could hardly see our barn, my husband drove our rusting Subaru over mud roads sodden with melted snow. Pig manure caked on our boots. The smell of a sick animal hung heavy in our clothes.

It did not seem an auspicious time to make the life- changing choice of adopting a pig.

That whole spring, in fact, had been terrible. My father, an Army general, a hero I so adored that I had confessed in Sunday school that I loved him more than Jesus, was dying painfully, gruesomely of lung cancer. He had survived the Bataan Death March. He had survived three years of Japanese prison camps. In the last months of my father’s life, my glamorous, slender mother—still as crazy about him as the day they’d met forty years before—resisted getting a chairlift, a wheelchair, a hospice nurse. She believed he could survive anything. But he could not survive this.

The only child, I had flown back and forth from New Hampshire to Virginia to be with my parents whenever I could. I would return to New Hampshire from these wrenching trips to try to finish my first book, a tribute to my heroines, primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas. The research had been challenging: I had been charged by an angry silverback gorilla in Zaire, stood up by Jane Goodall in Tanzania, undressed by an orangutan in Borneo, and accosted for money by a gun-toting guard ten thousand feet up the side of a volcano in Rwanda. Now I was on a tight deadline, and the words wouldn’t come.

My husband, who writes on American history and preservation, was in the heat of writing his second book. In the Memory House is about time and change in New England, set largely in our corner of the world. But it looked like it might not stay ours for long. For the past three years, ever since our marriage, we had lived, first as renters and then as caretakers, in an idyllic, 110-year-old white clapboard farmhouse on eight acres in southern New Hampshire, near mountains that Thoreau had climbed. Ours was the newest house in our small neighborhood. Though our neighbors owned the two- hundred-year-old “antiques” that real estate agents praised, this place had everything I’d ever wanted: a fenced pasture, a wooded brook, a three-level barn, and forty-year-old lilacs framing the front door. But it was about to be sold out from under us. Our landlords, writer-artist friends our age whose parents had bankrolled the house, had moved to Paris and didn’t plan to come back. We were desperate to buy the place. But because we were both freelance writers, our income was deemed too erratic to merit the mortgage.

It seemed I was about to lose my father, my book, and my home.

But for Christopher Hogwood, the spring had been more terrible yet.

He had been born in mid-February, on a farm owned by George and Mary Iselin, about a thirty-five-minute drive from our house. We knew George and Mary by way of my best friend, Gretchen Vogel. Gretchen knew we had a lot in common. “You’ll love them,” Gretchen had assured me. “They have pigs!”

In fact, George had been raising pigs longer than Mary had known him. “If you’re a farmer or a hippie,” George had reasoned, “you can make money raising pigs.” George and Mary were quintessential hippie farmers: born, as we were, in the 1950s, they lived the ideals of the late ’60s and early ’70s—peace, joy, and love—and, both blessed with radiant blue eyes, blond hair, and good looks, always looked like they had just woken up refreshed from sleeping in a pile of leaves somewhere, perhaps with elves in attendance. They were dedicated back-to-the-landers who lived out of their garden and made their own mayonnaise out of eggs from their free-range hens. They were idealistic, but resourceful, too: it did not escape them that there are vast quantities of free pig food out there, from bakeries, school cafeterias, grocery stores, and factory outlets. George and Mary would get a call to come pick up forty pounds of potato chips or a truckload of Twinkies. To their dismay, they discovered their kids, raised on homemade, organic meals, would sometimes sneak down to the barn at 4 a.m. and eat the junk food they got for the pigs. (“We found out because in the morning we’d find these chocolate rings around their mouths,” Mary told me.)

On their shaggy, overgrown 165 acres, they cut their own firewood, hayed the fields, and raised not only pigs but draft horses, rabbits, ducks, chickens, goats, sheep, and children. But the pigs, I suspect, were George’s favorites. And they were mine, too.

We visited them every spring. We didn’t get to see George and Mary often—our schedules and lives were so different—but the baby pigs ensured we never lost touch. The last time we’d visited was the previous March, at the close of sugaring season, when George was out boiling sap from their sugar maples. March in New Hampshire is the dawn of mud season, and the place looked particularly disheveled. Rusting farm machinery sat stalled, in various states of repair and disrepair, among the mud and wire fencing and melting snow. Colorful, fraying laundry was strung across the front porch like Tibetan prayer flags. Inside the house, an old cottage in desperate need of paint, the floors were coming up and the ceilings were coming down. Late that morning, in a kitchen steamy from the kettle boiling on the woodstove, we found a seemingly uncountable number of small children in flannel pajamas—their three kids plus a number of cousins and visiting friends—sprawled across plates of unfinished pancakes or crawling stickily across the floor. The sink was piled with dirty dishes. As Mary reached for a mug from the pile, she mentioned everyone was just getting over the flu. Would we like a cup of tea?

No thanks, Howard and I answered hastily—but we would like to see the pigs again.

The barn was not Norman Rockwell. It was more like Norman Rockwell meets Edward Hopper. The siding was ancient, the sills rotting, the interior cavernous and furry with cobwebs. We loved it. We would peer over the tall stall doors, our eyes adjusting to the gloom, and find the stalls with piglets in residence. Once we had located a family, we would climb in and play with them.

On some farms, this would be a dangerous proposition. Sows can weigh over five hundred pounds and can snap if they feel their piglets are threatened. The massive jaws can effortlessly crush a peach pit—or a kneecap. The razor-sharp canines strop each other. And for good reason: In the wild, pigs need to be strong and brave. In his hunting days in Brazil, President Theodore Roosevelt once saw a jaguar dismembered by South American native pigs. Although pigs are generally good-natured, more people are killed each year by pigs than by sharks. (Which should be no surprise—how often do you get to see a shark?) Pigs raised on crowded factory farms, tortured into insanity, have been known to eat anything that falls into the pigpen, including the occasional child whose parents are foolish enough to let their kid wander into such a place unsupervised. Feral pigs (of which there are more than four million running around in the United States alone) can kill adult humans if they are threatened. That pigs occasionally eat people has always struck me as only fair, considering the far vaster number of pigs eaten by humans.

But George’s sows were all sweethearts. When we entered a stall, the sow, lying on her side to facilitate nursing, would usually raise her giant, 150-pound head, cast us a benign glance from one intelligent, lash-fringed eye, flex her wondrous and wet nose disk to capture our scent, and utter a grunt of greeting. The piglets were adorable miniatures of their behemoth parents—some pink, some black, some red, some spotted, and some with handsome racing stripes, like baby wild boars, looking like very large chipmunks. At first the piglets seemed unsure whether they should try to eat us or run away. They would rush at us in a herd, squealing, then race back on tiny, high-heeled hooves to their giant, supine mother for another tug on her milky teats. And then they would charge forth again, growing bold enough to chew on shoes or untie laces. Many of the folks who bought a pig from George would later make a point of telling him what a great pig it was. Even though the babies were almost all destined for the freezer, the folks who bought them seldom mentioned what these pigs tasted like as hams or chops or sausage. No, the people would always comment that George’s were particularly nice pigs.

The year Chris was born was a record one for piglets. Because we were beset and frantic, we didn’t visit the barn that February or March. But that year, unknown to us, George and Mary had twenty sows—more than ever before—and almost all of them had record litters.

“Usually a sow doesn’t want to raise more than ten piglets,” Mary explained to me. “Usually a sow has ten good working teats.” (They actually have twelve, but only ten are usually in working order.) When a sow has more than ten piglets, somebody is going to lose out—and that somebody is the runt.

A runt is distinguished not only by its small size and helpless predicament. Unless pulled from the litter and nursed by people, a runt is usually doomed, for it is a threat to the entire pig family. “A runt will make this awful sound—Nynh! Nynh! Nynh!” Mary told me. “It’s just awful. It would attract predators. So the sow’s response is often to bite the runt in half, to stop the noise. But sometimes she can’t tell who’s doing it. She might bite a healthy one, or trample some of the others trying to get to the runt. It isn’t her fault, and you can’t blame her. It screws up the whole litter.”

Every year on the farm, there was a runt or two. George would usually remove the little fellow and bottle-feed it goat milk in the house. With such personalized care, the runt will usually survive. But the class of 1990, with more than two hundred piglets, had no fewer than eighteen runts—so many that George and Mary had to establish a “runt stall” in the barn.

Christopher Hogwood was a runt among runts. He was the smallest of them all—half the size of the other runts. He is a particularly endearing piglet, Mary told us, with enormous ears and black and white spots, and a black patch over one eye like Spuds McKenzie, the bull terrier in the beer commercial. But Mary was convinced he would never survive. It would be more humane to kill him, she urged, than to let him suffer. But George said—as he often does—“Where there’s life, there’s hope.” The little piglet hung on.

But he didn’t grow.

From the Hardcover edition.
Sy Montgomery|Author Q&A

About Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery - The Good Good Pig

Photo © Rosemary G. Conroy

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, author, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator who writes for children as well as adults. Among her award-winning books are Journey of the Pink Dolphins, Spell of the Tiger, and Search for the Golden Moon Bear. She has made four trips to Peru and Brazil to study the pink dolphins of the Amazon; and on other expeditions, she was chased by an angry silverback gorilla in Zaire; bitten by a vampire bat in Costa Rica; undressed by an orangutan in Borneo; and hunted by a tiger in India. She also worked in a pit crawling with eighteen thousand snakes in Manitoba; handled a wild tarantula in French Guiana; and swam with piranhas, electric eels, and dolphins in the Amazon. She lives in New Hampshire.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Sy Montgomery, author of THE GOOD GOOD PIG

Question: For previous books you traveled to India to research man-eating tigers, bonded with the great apes of Africa, swam with the pink dolphins of the Amazon, and tracked the golden moon bear through Cambodia. For your latest book, THE GOOD GOOD PIG, you stayed a lot closer to home. Tell us about

Sy Montgomery: For most of my books, I travel to jungles and cloud forests and deserts and swamps, and I get a lot of credit for not being killed in the process. I’m best known for writing about rare animals and foreign cultures in remote places. This book, though, is about the pig in our barnyard (though sometimes beyond—in his youth, Christopher Hogwood, like me, had the travel bug, only he didn’t get quite as far). The setting isn’t glamorous. Pigs aren’t endangered or exotic. Yet Christopher Hogwood’s adventures and personal charisma provided as much drama and delight as any expedition I have ever undertaken. It was he—and the interspecies family who gathered around him—who sustained me on all my voyages, and anchored me, for the first time in my life, to family and to home.

Q: Some people will look at this book and think it's about a pet pig. But Christopher Hogwood wasn’t a pet, was he?

SM: Not really—not in the sense that “pet” implies ownership. If anything, he owned me! In any case, I was certainly his valet, chef, butler, and maid. As well as his masseuse, public relations representative, and confidante.

Q: Christopher Hogwood became quite famous. What was the reaction of the real Christopher Hogwood to having a pig named after him?

SM: We wondered about that, actually. Not everyone would be thrilled to have a pig named after him—especially an elegant and handsome conductor who is quite famous in his own right (even more famous than our Hogwood was). But after Christopher’s death made headline news, we discovered that the musician actually had a link to Chris’ obit on his webpage. So he must have taken our naming a pig after him as the heartfelt compliment it was.

Q: Where do you think your affinity for animals and the natural world comes from? Why do some people seem to lack this feeling? Is it a cultural thing? Genetic?

SM: I think most humans are born with a fascination with animals—which is what you would expect from evolution. For all but the very latest moments of our existence as a species, humans who didn’t have sense enough to pay attention to the natural world either couldn’t find food or got eaten by something else. Unfortunately, now that so many of us have turned from hunter-gatherers into shopper-gatherers, this natural affinity is often overlooked or actively discouraged—a casualty of the rush to fill our lives with unnecessary plastic and electronic items.

Q: What led you to become, in the words of the Boston Globe, "part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson"? Who were some of your influences, both literary and scientific?

SM: My biggest hero was my father, a war hero, POW, army general, world-traveler, polyglot—and absolutely fearless. And before I could even read, I discovered a lifelong heroine in the pages of National Geographic: Jane Goodall, pictured humbly in the magazine, squatting and holding her hand out to a chimpanzee in Tanzania.

From the moment I could read, I favored books about animals. I adored Charlotte’s Web of course—never suspecting that I would have a pig of my own one day! I devoured everything I could find by Farley Mowat and Gerald Durrell and Hope Ryden. In college, my most profound literary influence was the man who I would later marry: Howard Mansfield, who was then and is now simply a breathtaking writer. Working with him side by side on the college paper—and since then, on our different books—has affected my own writing deeply.

Henry Beston’s classic The Outermost House, which I discovered shortly after graduating college, was a great beacon. In particular, his moving and perceptive understanding of animals provided a sort of blueprint for all my work: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals . . . For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

Q: Christopher Hogwood is certainly at the heart of THE GOOD GOOD PIG, but the book is about so much more than his amazing life. Were you surprised as you were writing that so much personal material, especially about your mother and father, found its way in?

SM: Surprised and somewhat mortified! Why bother writing about a person if you could write about a pig? My wonderful literary agent, however—and later my excellent editor—convinced me to include my personal life as well as Christopher’s in the book. My own life could provide a backdrop against which his soul could shine.

Too, this book is, at heart, a book about family. Therefore I had to write about the humans who comprised my biological family as well as the larger inter-species family my husband and I made for ourselves. The contrast is rather striking—and the story defeats the limited and rather uninteresting definition of family as merely two opposite- sexed married humans and their biological offspring.

Q: Was Christopher Hogwood a typical pig or a pearl among swine? He was clearly atypical in not being killed early in his life as most pigs are, but as I read, I couldn't help wondering how many other Christopher Hogwoods never have the chance to touch people's lives simply because they end up on people’s plates.

SM: I never met a pig I didn’t like. All pigs are intelligent, emotional, and sensitive souls. They all love company. They all crave contact and comfort. Pigs have a delightful sense of mischief; most of them seem to enjoy a good joke and appreciate music. And that is something you would certainly never suspect from your relationship with a pork chop.

Q: The term for the care and killing of livestock is animal husbandry, a loaded term if ever there was one. What are your thoughts about the burgeoning animal rights and animal welfare movement as exemplified by organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)? What can people do to make a difference in the way animals, both pets and livestock, are treated in our society?

SM: I have always felt that humans are just one among a plethora sea of wonderful species—all of whom we should treat honorably.

Yet in our everyday lives, many of us end up supporting unthinkable atrocities. I can’t imagine that women who wear fur, for instance, have any idea of the cruelties of this unnecessary industry. My mother had a closet full of fur coats, including one of a leopard! And my father, who loved animals, had bought them for her! The same ignorance supports factory farming of food animals. Most Americans simply don’t know about the conditions these animals face—and sometimes when they do learn, it’s so horrible they can’t believe it.

We need to reach out to those who aren’t aware, in many different ways. Maybe it will be a billboard that changes someone’s mind, or a television show. Or maybe a book—maybe even my book. I read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation in my early 20s, and from the moment I finished its last page, never ate meat again. Now that I am a vegetarian, I consider every meal I make an act of love, not only for the people who’ll be nourished by this healthy, delicious, carefully prepared food, but also for the animals it spares and for the wholeness of the earth.

But there are many other ways to honor the many forms of life on Earth. Not only can we boycott those industries that profit from hurting animals and raping the land—we can also support those that protect the planet and its creatures. We can join a humane organization like The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or a conservation organization like Rainforest Conservation Fund. We can donate land, or a conservation easement, to a land trust. We can adopt animals from a shelter. We can choose to limit our family size so that we use fewer resources.

These are just a few ideas. We have so much power! In our everyday lives, by the purchases we choose or avoid every day, by the food we eat, we powerfully affect the lives of other creatures. As we learn more, and share what we learn, we’ll find more and more ways to help—and in so doing, we will be honoring all of life, and enriching ourselves in the deepest and most profound sense.

Q: I was struck by the quote from St. Francis that your neighbors put up on your barn: “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.” Does this quote have value outside its specific religious context?

SM: Certainly! You don’t have to believe in God to believe in kindness.

Q: Christopher Hogwood touched so many lives in his fourteen years. What was it that made him, in the words of one of your neighbors, “a great big Buddha master”?

SM: That’s a quote from Lilla Cabot, my next door neighbor, whose two little girls grew up feeding and petting and scratching and watching Christopher every day. Let me answer that in part with the rest of her words: “He taught us how to love. How to love what life gives you—to love your slops. What a soul! He was a being of pure love.”

It’s true. He loved company. He loved good food. He loved the warm summer sun, belly rubs from little caressing hands. He loved this life. And to show us how to relish this abundant, fragrant world would have been gift enough. But he showed us something else as well: that a pig did not become bacon but lived 14 years, pampered and adored till the day he died peacefully in his sleep—that’s proof we need not accept the rules that our society or species, family or fate seem to have written for us. We can choose a new way. We can make a more compassionate world.

That is something that great teachers have tried to tell us for eons. It took a pig to get me to listen.

Q: Your writing has a spiritual dimension to it, as others have observed, and you write in THE GOOD GOOD PIG about your membership in your local church. As the controversy over the teaching of evolution draws battle lines ever more starkly between proponents of science and religion, how do you keep a balance in your own work and life?

SM: When I was in the Amazon, researching Journey of the Pink Dolphins, I met many people who told me about the dolphins’ powers: they could transform themselves into humans, the stories said. In his handmade house built on stilts over the river, a very respected village elder, Don Jorge, told me quite honestly how he had met a dolphin who came to a festa—wearing a hat to cover the blowhole—and how this shape-shifter seduced all the women at the dance, who fell irresistibly in love with him.

On the same trip I also met a scientist, Gary Galbreath, who told an equally incredible story about dolphins. He told me that the ancestors of the dolphins were whales who walked! Only recently, he said, scientists had found not only the legs of these early whales—but also their HOOVES! (They were quite like pigs’ hooves, actually.)

What an incredible tale! Surely, though, Don Jorge would have thought Gary Galbreath’s story as impossible as Gary Galbreath considered Don Jorge’s. But both, you see, are true. They are in fact mirror images: in Don Jorge’s story, the dolphins come out of the water and dance on land; in the scientists’ tale, the dolphins start out on land and then shape-shift into water-dwellers.

Both stories speak mirroring truths, both tell us about the possibilities of transformation. The fossils tell this story as a factual, physical, historical account. The villagers tell us the same thing, but in the same way that Jesus chose to phrase His parables: these stories are metaphors, speaking a larger (“meta”) truth.

Metaphor does not need to masquerade as science. Science does not seek to replace religion. Both science and story can both be true in their own realms, both of them very real. We need only to listen for truth—and this is one thing my journeys among animals and people, from our barnyard to jungles and mountains, has helped me to learn.

Q: Is a wider balance or rapprochement possible? The biologist E. O. Wilson, writing in a recent issue of New Scientist, thinks not: “There is something deep in religious belief that divides people and amplifies societal conflict. The toxic mix of religion and tribalism has become so dangerous as to justify taking seriously the alternative view, that humanism based on science is the effective antidote, the light and the way at last placed before us.” Do you agree?

SM: I am a huge fan of E. O. Wilson. He showed me his ants once—10,000 of them lived in his old office at Harvard. He said if you looked at them under a microscope you could see individual differences. His awe and delight in his ants seemed to me a holy thing. If there is a Heaven, I can’t imagine the gatekeepers wouldn’t let E. O. Wilson in.

Today there can be no doubt that religion can be horribly twisted and used as an incitement to violence. But there are also many people of all religious stripes who are working very hard for peace on Earth—peace for all of us, human and otherwise.

Q: When it comes to pigs in literature, E. B. White’s Wilbur is at the top of everyone's list. Like Wilbur, Christopher Hogwood was a runt not expected to survive. Did the two pigs have anything else in common?

SM: Both had the benefit of spider companions. Chris’ barn always attracted many species of spiders, including talented orb-weavers like Charlotte. And both pigs were able to show their human families, as well as the wider community, the power of love to reveal and perhaps even to create radiance.

Q: You mentioned your partner, Howard Mansfield, who is also a writer. Do the two of you help each other as you work, read over each other’s drafts, and so on, or do you both pretty much go your separate ways?

SM: We help one another very much. He is my most trusted editor, and I his. This book, more than any other, bears his imprint. The book is full of his recollections, gathered from his own writing and his memories, always recalled with his sharp eye and told with his marvelous sense of humor. Possibly, at least in theory, I might have struggled my way to write some of my other books, in some palsied form, if Howard were not in my life—but I certainly could never have written this one without him.

Q: As the prognosis for the health of the planet grows increasingly dire, the Bush administration displays little urgency in protecting the environment and endangered species; indeed, it seems to regard such organizations as Greenpeace as close kin to terrorists. Is there enough time to turn things around, or is it too late? Again, what can individuals do that will have any effect on the larger scale?

SM: I can’t believe it is ever too late. Otherwise I would eat the cyanide pill and stop sucking down perfectly good oxygen. Of course we need to vote the bad guys out of office. And we need to vote with every purchase, with every meal, with the words we say and the sort of life we lead. We need, at heart, to vanquish our own greed. That’s what’s corrupting us. And worse, greed—for money, for power, for cars and clothes, for stuff—is masking for us the beauty of the real world—the myriad of good souls, animal and otherwise, that enliven and nourish this sweet, green Earth.

Q: Christopher Hogwood came into your life when your father was dying, and his presence helped you endure that painful experience. Similarly, when your mother passed away years later, Christopher lent you support in countless ways. I think a lot of people have had similar experiences with dogs and cats, but it may surprise them to discover that pigs are also capable of providing this kind of comfort and understanding to human beings. Perhaps all animals can do so, in one way or another. What do such moments teach us about our relationship to other animals?

SM: Throughout human history, animals have been our teachers, our healers, our inspiration. North American Indians tell us that the bear was the original medicine woman, who taught humans how to use medicinal herbs. Robert the Bruce took inspiration for his deciding battle from watching a spider. In the Book of Job, the Bible advises, “Ask the animals and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you.”

Christopher certainly did. And really, it’s no wonder that pigs can perceive human suffering and offer us comfort. Pigs are so like us that we borrow their skins to heal our wounds, and steal their hearts to replace our own faulty valves. We are so alike.

In fact, despite the fact that most mammals’ powers of observation are vastly superior to our own, our biological and, I think, basic psychological make-up is very similar among social mammals, from dogs to pigs to whales.

What about those animals who are unlike us? What about, for instance, a wild tarantula—a creature who wears her skeleton on the outside, whose face is covered with legs and fangs and clusters of eyes, who tastes the world with her feet? It is unlikely that among her many talents is an ability to understand a human’s sorrows. No matter—this beautiful creature still has the power to lessen our distress. The simple fact of her wild, vivid, precious, spidery life gives me joy—and that is powerful comfort indeed.

Q: Are there more pigs in your future?

SM: This I don’t know. But, as I write in this book, I do know this: a great soul can come to us at any time, in the form of any creature. I’m keeping my eyes open.

Q: Will your next book project take you further afield?

SM: I’ll always travel, I reckon, or at least till I get too creaky! Soon, I hope to begin research for a new book for adults with a co-author, my friend Brenda Peterson, on multi-species families—which will take me to Kenya and Tanzania again, and who knows where else. Also I’ll be working with photographer Nic Bishop on another children’s book on the highly endangered flightless giant parrot, the kakapo, which lives on a remote and windswept island off New Zealand. And after that, we’ll be working together on another kids’ project in Mongolia, about snow leopards. Meanwhile I hope to start a book I have been dreaming about for five years now, a book for adults about birds—and you can imagine the limitless possibilities that could offer.

From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards


Advance praise for The Good Good Pig

“This is a book not so much about a barnyard animal as about relationships, in all their messy, joyous, and heartbreaking complexity. In loving yet unsentimental prose, Sy Montgomery captures the richness that animals bring to the human experience. Sometimes it takes a too-smart-for-his-own-good pig to open our eyes to what most matters in life. The Good Good Pig is a good, good book, beautifully rendered and filled with wondrous surprises.”
–John Grogan, author of Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Sy Montgomery’s story of Christopher the pig. What I found was a charming, touching, funny, and ultimately very powerful tale of an extraordinary, even complicated pig and his impact on some very loving, perceptive, and extraordinary people. This story is heartwarming but packs a wallop.”
–Jon Katz, author of Katz on Dogs

“I love this book! It takes us into the world of one pig with such delicacy, such gentleness and yet such depth, that you will never be able to look a pig in the eye again without recognizing the unique person living within. You become somebody who sees why Sy Montgomery loved a pig beyond all measure.”
–Jeffrey Masson, Ph.D., author of When Elephants Weep

“Move over, Wilbur, there’s a new pig on the block. Sy Montgomery has conjured a pure classic for the animal lover’s soul. Poetic, insightful, funny, and deeply moving, The Good Good Pig is as hard to define as it is to put down. Who else but Sy Montgomery could introduce you to a hog and give you a such glimpse of heaven?”
–Vicki Croke, author of The Lady and the Panda

From the Hardcover edition.


WINNER 2007 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

Reading Group Activities

1.Sy Montgomery writes about “Pig Spa,” the hours of loving attention she and her neighbors gave to Christopher Hogwood that were as soothing and therapeutic for them as well as for the pig. Try your own version of Pig Spa with your own pets.

2.Bring pictures of your pets to your next book club gathering and discuss how they have changed your lives.

3.Investigate volunteering at, or contributing to, local petting zoos or animal charity operations. Sy Montgomery suggests The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the Rainforest Conservation Fund. What other opportunities can you find?

4.Plan a group fundraising activity such as a bake sale, garage sale, car wash, or bike-a-thon to help local animal shelters. Make sure to involve neighborhood kids!

5.Arrange for a representative of an animal care-facility, charity, or the park service to be a guest speaker at your book club or school.

Discussion Guides

1. Did reading The Good Good Pig make you feel differently about your relationship to animals and the natural world? If you eat meat, for example, did it make you question that? Or question other aspects of your lifestyle?

2. Sy Montgomery writes about the extended interspecies family that coalesces around ‘the good good pig,’ Christopher Hogwood. If you have a pet or pets, do you think of the animal as a central part of your family unit, or as a kind of appendage to it? In what ways does your pet affect the family dynamic?

3. Lavishing as much money and attention on any animal as Sy Montgomery did on Christopher Hogwood is wasteful when there are human beings in need of assistance. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

4. Do you think you would have enjoyed having Christopher Hogwood and Sy Montgomery for neighbors? Why or why not?

5. We humans seem to have a love-hate view of pigs. On the one hand, there are beloved and humorous fictional characters like Miss Piggy, Piglet, Porky, Babe, and Wilbur. Yet at the same time, in many religions pigs are considered to be unclean animals, and in common parlance, calling someone a “pig” is far from a term of endearment. What do you think accounts for this divergence of views?

6. Do you feel a special connection to any particular kind of animal? If you could be an animal for one day, which would you choose and why?

7. At the beginning of the previous century, most Americans still lived and worked on farms and had close relationships with a variety of animals, both wild and domesticated. Now only a minority of people in this country experiences a close relationship with animals other than dogs, cats, and other familiar pets. What affect do you think that has had on our sense of connection to the natural world, both individually and as a society? Is it important to have that kind of a connection? Why?

8. Consider this quote from St. Francis: “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.” What might this service consist of? If St. Francis were alive today, how do you think he would react to the animal testing of drugs and other products, livestock farming practices, and the like?

9. What are your thoughts about the animal rights and animal welfare movements? Are they following the advice of St. Francis or taking matters too far? What can people do to make a difference in the way animals–pets, livestock, and wild–are treated in our society?

10. Do animals possess inherent rights that human beings are morally obligated to respect? If so, what is the source of these rights? Should animals have legal or civil rights beyond what is currently accorded them?

11. Do animals have souls?

12. Is the hunting and killing of wild animals an important part of human heritage that should be preserved?

13. The people of Sundarbans regard the local tiger population as manifestations of the divine, and thus do not hunt the animals even when they prey upon human beings. Montgomery finds much to admire in this attitude. Do you agree with her? Why or why not?

14. There are many anecdotes reflecting the extraordinary, even uncanny, sensitivity of animals toward the natural world and toward people. What examples can you give from your own experience, and how do you explain them?

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