The book's title character and protagonist is a young pig who is forced to leave home, along with his brother Alexander, when his mother realizes that she is unable to feed all eight of her piglets. Pigling Bland becomes separated from Alexander and gets hopelessly lost. He finds himself on the farm of a man named Mr. Piperson. Pigling Bland discovers that another pig, a young female black pig named Pig-wig, is being held prisoner in the farmhouse. At the end of the story, Pigling Bland and Pig-wig escape from Mr. Piperson's farm and begin a new life together.
Beatrix Potter owned a farm named Hill Top and kept several pigs. In a 1909 letter to Millie Warne, the sister of Potter's late fiancé Norman Warne, Beatrix Potter describes having to sell two pigs because they ate too much. Potter began work on The Tale of Pigling Bland at around the time the letter was written. The character of Pig-wig is based on a Berkshire pig that Beatrix Potter bought from a farmer named Townley. Potter kept the animal as a pet because John Cannon, who managed Hill Top farm on Beatrix Potter's behalf, did not want a black pig on the farm.
The period during which The Tale of Pigling Bland was written was one in which Beatrix Potter got engaged and prepared to move to Castle Cottage, a larger property near to Hill Top farm. Many critics see this reflected in the book's themes of finding a soulmate and starting a new life. Potter, however, denied that the characters of Pigling Bland and Pig-wig were supposed to represent her fiancé William Heels and herself.
The Tale of Pigling Bland has been adapted for the stage, radio, film and television.
An old pig named Aunt Pettitoes owns a farm. She has four daughters named Cross-patch, Suck-suck, Yock-yock and Spot and four sons named Alexander, Pigling Bland, Chin-Chin and Stumpy. All of Aunt Pettitoes' piglets eat a lot and drink a lot of milk. All of them are also very badly behaved, apart from Spot and Pigling Bland. Aunt Pettitoes decides to keep Spot with her to do the housework and to send her other children away.
Aunt Pettitoes obtains two licenses, one in the name of Pigling Bland and one in the name of Alexander, which permit the two pigs to travel to a market in the neighboring county of Lancashire where they can be hired by farmers. The licenses are pinned inside the two pigs' vest pockets for safekeeping. The pigs are each given a packed lunch and eight peppermints. Alexander soon eats all of his peppermints. He also makes the journey to the market longer than necessary by dancing down the road. A mile from Aunt Pettitoes' farm, Alexander insists on stopping for lunch. He eats his lunch very quickly and then asks Pigling Bland to give him his peppermints. When Pigling Bland refuses, Alexander pricks him with the pin that had fastened his license to his vest pocket. A fight ensues, during which Alexander loses his license and it ends up in Pigling Bland's pocket. The two brothers soon forgive each other, however. They start off down the road again, singing "Tom, Tom the Piper's Son".
A policeman stops the two pigs and asks to see their licenses. Pigling Bland produces his license but Alexander cannot find his. The policeman takes Alexander back to Aunt Pettitoes' farm, leaving Pigling Bland on his own. Shortly afterwards, Pigling Bland finds Alexander's license in his pocket. Pigling Bland tries to run after Alexander and the policeman. Unfortunately, he takes several wrong turns and finds himself hopelessly lost.
As night falls, Pigling Bland finds a hen house and decides to sleep there. Pigling Bland has only been asleep for an hour when the farmer, Mr. Peter Thomas Piperson, comes in. Mr. Piperson seems pleased to find a pig in his hen house. He says, "here's another", and, "This one's come of himself". He puts Pigling Bland in a basket and brings him into the kitchen of the farmhouse. In the kitchen, Pigling Bland twice hears indistinct sounds. Mr. Piperson tells whoever is making those sounds to be quiet. Piperson makes three servings of porridge, including one for himself and one for Pigling Bland. He tells Pigling Bland that he can sleep on a rug.
In the morning, Piperson goes to the market. Pigling Bland does not ask to go with Mr. Piperson because he does not really trust him. Pigling Bland tries to look around the farmhouse but finds that all of the doors are locked. He begins to wash the dishes. As he works, Pigling Bland sings "Tom, Tom the Piper's Son". Another voice joins in the song. Pigling Bland realizes that the voice is coming from behind a locked closet door in the kitchen. He passes one of his peppermints under the closet door. He sees that the peppermint is taken. Over the course of the day, Pigling Bland passes all of his peppermints under the closet door.
In the evening, Piperson returns home in a good mood and apparently drunk. He goes to bed early and tells Pigling Bland not to wake him before noon the next day. Before he goes to bed, Piperson tries to lock the kitchen closet. He does not, however, shut its door properly. After Piperson has gone to bed, a black Berkshire pig emerges from the closet. She says that her name is Pig-wig and that Piperson stole her to make into bacon and ham. Pigling Bland decides that he and Pig-wig should escape as soon as possible.
Pigling Bland wakes up Pig-wig before dawn the following morning. They leave Piperson's farmhouse. In order to avoid people, they make their way across fields in the direction of the market. When Pig-wig asks Pigling Bland why he wants to go to the market, however, he replies that he does not want to. He says that he really wants to have a little garden and grow potatoes.
A grocer, slowly driving a cart and reading a newspaper, approaches Pigling Bland and Pig-wig. The cautious Pigling Bland decides to pretend to be lame. The grocer asks to see the two pigs' licenses. He sees that the licenses are for two male pigs but that one of the pigs in front of him is female. The grocer sees in his newspaper that a reward of ten shillings is being offered for the return of a missing pig. He tells the two pig to wait while he goes off to get help from a nearby plowman. He does not think that the two pigs will run off because he believes that Pigling Bland is lame. When Pigling Bland is certain that the grocer will not look back, he and Pig-wig run away as fast as they can. They start a new life in the neighboring county.
A segment based on The Tale of Pigling Bland is included in the 1971 Royal Ballet film Tales of Beatrix Potter.
An animated adaptation of The Tale of Pigling Bland appears in the seventh episode of the British anthology series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends. The episode was first shown on BBC1 on May 18, 1994. It features the voice of Pam Ferris as Aunt Pettitoes.
A musical based on The Tale of Pigling Bland was first performed at the Toronto Fringe Festival in Canada on July 6, 2006.
A fifteen-minute British radio play based on The Tale of Pigling Bland, starring Johnny Vegas as Pigling Bland and Morwenna Banks as Alexander, first aired on BBC Radio 4 on December 23, 2013 as part of the mini-series The Tales of Beatrix Potter.
- The Tale of Pigling Bland is dedicated to Townley's children Cecily and Charlie.
- Other segments in the 1971 film Tales of Beatrix Potter are based on The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
- Other episodes of the BBC radio mini-series The Tales of Beatrix Potter are based on The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, The Tale of Mr. Tod and The Tale of Ginger and Pickles.