On July 11, 1899, Elwyn Brooks White was born in Mount Vernon, New York. White became the famous writer we know as “E. B. White.”
As a young man, White joined The New Yorker in its early years and helped shape the magazine. In 1959, White reworked William Strunk Jr.’s The Elements of Style, creating one of my favorite handbooks on writing that is now commonly referred to as “Strunk & White.” But most of us first encounter White’s work as children.
White’s classic children’s books include Stuart Little (1945) and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970). His most famous book, though, may be the story of a pig named Wilbur who becomes friends with a spider named Charlotte, Charlotte’s Web (1952).
Several years ago, Publisher’s Weekly listed Charlotte’s Web as the best-selling children’s book of all time. Wilbur is certainly one of the most famous pig characters in popular culture, along with Babe, Arnold (Green Acres), and Porky.
The Beatles and “Piggies”
There are not many famous songs about pigs. The most famous may be “Piggies” by the Beatles, even though the song is not really about four-legged porkers.
“Piggies” was written by George Harrison and appeared on The Beatles album, also known as “The White Album,” in 1968. As recounted in Steve Turner’s book, A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song, Harrison described the song making fun of the middle class as “as social comment.”
The lyrics are not very complex. The song refers to people as “piggies.” And the song also notes that things are “getting worse” for the little piggies while the bigger piggies “[a]lways have clean shirts to play around in.”
Although “Piggies” is not on anybody’s list of top Beatles songs, the effectiveness of the song lies in its simplicity. The song captures the sound of a classical nursery rhyme, as shown in the live version below.
Unfortunately, “Piggies” is another song like “Revolution” that got hijacked by Charles Manson. Reportedly, the crazy man liked the line about the piggies needing “a damn good whacking.” Also, variations on the word “pig” were written on the walls in blood at the site of Manson family murders.
Understandably, Harrison was appalled with Manson’s foolish interpretation of the song. The “damn good whacking” line was only added to the lyrics after Harrison’s mom suggested it as something to rhyme with “backing” and “lacking.”
E.B. White and Death
It was unfortunate that “Piggies,” designed as a short commentary, ended up associated with horrible deaths. But E. B. White, who wrote about the death of a real pig in a 1948 essay and passed away in 1985, understood that death is everywhere.
In White’s book about a pig and a spider, he wrote, “After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” The best we can do is try to live a worthwhile life. That is not a bad lesson coming from a spider and a pig.
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(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)