Monday, September 13, 2010

A Prickly Affair: The Charm of the Hedgehog – Hugh Warwick

Why do we think of hedgehogs as “cute”? I mean, they are not soft or cuddly and they rather tend to smell (since I have never met one face to face, I have to take the author’s word for it – and I do). But somehow they just evoke the warmth and comfort of a toasty home while it’s cold outside. Maybe it’s the hibernation thing.

In my case I think I can trace it to a 1980s children’s book about a little elf girl named Victoria Plum and a hedgehog (“Victoria and the Prickly Hedgehog”), and according to author children’s books are key to the “cut-ification” of an animal that for centuries was considered little more than a pest. In fact, the one particular book the author believes changed the public image of hedgehogs in Britain (and the world) is Beatrix Potter’s 1905 “The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle”, whose title character is a hedgehog washerwoman.

“A Prickly Affair” follows Warwick’s personal history with hedgehogs which starts with an academic assignment and grows into a long term serious relationship not only with the prickly critters but also with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

We follow the author as he tracks hedgehogs on freezing nights, shares hedgehog lore and history and gets involved with hedgehog protection because, incredibly, there are some people who (wait for it, wait for it…) do not like hedgehogs! And those people who happen to be bird lovers (who really do tend to get a little hysterical and would probably exterminate every cat, ferret, hedgehog etc in the world if they could manage) would rather shoot (yes, shoot!) hedgies than find out if they even have anything to do with the dwindling bird populations.

I also was very curious about reading this book to find out whether the author, who loves the critters, had any as pets and what he thought about keeping them as pets. Now, I was never going to have one, because I will never feed a living thing to a living thing (and hedgies need their bugs) but I keep seeing them in pet sites and was genuinely curious. I knew the pet hedgehogs commonly kept are of the African variety but I didn’t know what that meant (they are smaller and don’t smell as much). I now believe Hugh Warwick is on a mission to keep us all from pet hedgehog ownership and his cunning plan is delineated in the chapter “A Brief Interlude at the International Hedgehog Olympic games”: by exposing the reader to excesses of devoted (to put it euphemistically) hedgie ownership, the author has pretty much insured that his readers will never keep a hedgehog as a pet (can you guess which country is the host of said games?).

This book sort of spoiled my vacation reading list because I read it first and knew I hadn’t brought along anything else I would enjoy as much, so that was a problem. But I forgive it because not only was it the highlight of my summer reading it also has the cutest little hedgehog illustrations.

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