HUGH PINE by Janwillem van der Wetering

HUGH PINE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Hugh Pine is a porcupine who, finding a big red hat in the woods, teaches himself to walk upright (so he can keep it on); and then, looking like a little old man, begins to behave like one: he walks on the left side of the road, so he can see cars coming, and waves to the passengers; he even picks up some human language from loggers in the woods, and acquires the name Hugh Pine (""Pork, he had learned, is something people eat""; and Kyu, his first coice, is changed into Hugh by the first man he talks to). But the other porcupines--lacking red hats, not smart enough to learn the rules of the road--are constantly being run over; and they come to Hugh for a remedy. This then is the situation, laboriously arrived at, on which the story turns; and though it has a few very nice moments--when Hugh is conferring with his lookalike, postmaster Mr. McTosh--it also has big problems. A couple are the fault of the pictures: when we first see Hugh, he's wearing a coat--which is never explained and, moreover, is inexplicable if 1) he was like the other porcupines and 2) couldn't stand up on his hind feet; when we see him at the close, several of the other porcupines are--inexplicably and inconsistently--standing up too. And all this matters more than it should because so much of the story--too much for a fantasy--is explanation. We have Hugh and Mr. McTosh deciding that the porcupines should be protected from the cars by being fenced in (why not fenced off from the road?); we have porcupines selecting too large a plot, having to settle for a much smaller one, and then feeling imprisoned; and we have Hugh again consulting Mr. McTosh and coming up with a clever solution--a special, sign-posted PORCUPINE CROSSING. And all of this is really hung on the extrinsic idea of a porcupine who looks like an old man and an old man who looks like a porcupine. Whatever the charm of the idea, the plot-mechanics over-strain it.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1980
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin