Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig

Written by Russell Potter
Review by Beth Turza

In the late 18th century theatrics and amusements abounded, and one famous act was Toby the learned pig, who was able to read his masters’ signals and spell out answers to questions from his audience by selecting lettered cards. Russell Potter’s book is a fictionalized story written as if told by Toby himself. Toby begins touring with a showman and his animal acts in England, Ireland, and Scotland but finds friendship and respect with the assistant, Sam. They form a good working and training relationship that fine-tunes their performances and catapults them both to fame. After “studying” at Oxford and Edinburgh, the pair performs in front of audiences that include such notables as Robert Burns and William Blake. Toby achieves a bachelor of arts cum laude at the University of Edinburgh, and his master, Sam, goes on to receive his master’s degree.

The illustrations, typeface and language help Pyg to read like a period book, and the reader is drawn into the charming idea that Toby can be trained to paw at lettered cards and read as well as spell. Although the existence of Toby is well-documented and he created quite a stir in his day, it would be a stretch to believe that this book could have been written by the famous learned pig.