Guinea Pigs and the Tribble Family Tree
Many of us who own guinea pigs can tell you there are vastly more similarities between a guinea pig and a Tribble. That set me on a search of a lifetime. Could I actually confirm, beyond a doubt, what the inspiration for Tribbles actually was? For that, I would have to go back to the basics. I needed to find the writers of the original Star Trek series and specifically the first episode containing the Tribbles.
Tribbes were fictional creatures from Star Trek: The Original Series featured in one of the most memorable episodes “The Trouble With Tribbles” originally aired on December 29, 1967. The small, featureless creatures were covered in fur and made soothing purring sounds. The Tribbles are said to only have two purposes in life – to eat and reproduce. The Tribbles reproduce so well they’re soon found in piles all over the ship.
The original Tribble episode was written by science fiction author David Gerrold but this was not the first episode he wrote for Star Trek. “The Fuzzies” was the fifth story submitted as a potential episode but it was initially rejected by Star Trek producer Gene L. Coon. Coon later contacted Gerrold and asked him to expand the story and the title was changed to “A Fuzzy Thing Happened To Me…” At the time, another author had written stories about aliens named Fuzzy and there was concern about copyright issues. After a brainstorming session, Gerrold came up with the funny sounding name, Tribble.
After the initial shaping of the story, it was brought to the studio’s attention that the Tribbles closely resembled Robert A. Heinlein’s Flat Cats from his novel, The Rolling Stones. In the novel, he describes them as “a pie-shaped mass of sleek red fur” and it “began to purr like a high-pitched buzzer.” He also describes them as being very affectionate and kept as pets.
In “The Trouble With Tribbles: the birth, Sale, and Final Production of One Episode” written in 1973 by Gerrold, I would find a hint to the information I was searching for. While he admitted to reading the works of Heinlein, he did not intend on any resemblance of his characters. He explains, “In all honesty, I must admit that if I was, it was a subconscious influence. Had I realized what I was doing, I either would not have done the story or would have worked to minimize the similarities.” The studio’s legal department contacted Heinlein and after reading the script, he let it move ahead with his blessings. Heinlein also commented, “Let me add that I felt that the analogy to my flat cats was mild enough to be of no importance—and we both owe something to Ellis Parker Butler …and possibly to Noah.”
Ellis Parker Butler wrote the story “Pigs Is Pigs” in 1905 which was later turned into a Disney animated short in 1954. The story revolved around a shipping inspector who can’t decide if guinea pigs should be charged as pigs or pets. The inspector holds the guinea pig pair until the taxes are properly reviewed and paid. Meanwhile, the two guinea pigs, a male and female, reproduce creating endless piles of guinea pig babies.
The similarities to guinea pigs was drawn, but not by the author himself. Certainly the storyline could have been an influence since “Pigs Is Pigs” pre-dates the show, but there was no confirmation. There was also no similarity drawn to gerbils or any other rodent for that matter. It seemed the only basis of inspiration, however unintentional, was another generic fuzzy alien creature. Go figure.
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