The BFG by Roald Dahl
Book of the Month
Before seeing the new film adaptation I decided it was time to revisit one of Roald Dahl's classics. The BFG, which is worryingly now exactly as old as I am, was probably my favourite of the Dahl books as a child, as well as paradoxically being the one that scared me most.
There is something intrinsically frightening about giants, especially the thought of giants snatching children (or indeed anyone), out of bed at night with a hand through the window, and this is exactly how The BFG begins, with the orphan Sophie, (named for Dahl's grand daughter), seeing a tall thin giant on the street of her village and promptly being kidnapped by him and taken off to his cave in Giant country.
Fortunately for Sophie, the giant who snatched her is The BFG, the big friendly giant who does not eat human beans, but blows good dreams into the windows of sleeping children instead. Less happily, there are also nine other gruesome man-eating giants who like nothing better than crunching up to or three wopsy wiffling human beans for supper each night, whether beans from Chilly (where the giants go for something cold to eat in hot weather), Wellington (where the human beans have the flavour of boots), or Sweden, for the Sweden sour taste.
As you will gather, one of the most major themes in the BFG is Dahl's wonderful use of language and humour, especially regarding the giants dining habits. All of the giants, but in particular The BFG himself speak in a decidedly unusual fashion, using a plethora of invented words, spoonerisms and puns, indeed as a child I regularly used terms like "Gloryumptious" or "Boot bogglers" as a matter of course.
It actually amazes me rereading the novel now just how much of the action involves simply an on running dialogue between Sophie and The BFG, ranging on subjects from the constitution of dreams, to the number of amazing noises The BFG can hear with his giant ears, to a rather stark discussion of the ethics of the other giants eating of humans when contrasted against the way we treat our own species. It is surprising just how much terror and wonder, and how much of a boundless, colourful world Dahl can create simply by having a 24 foot tall giant and a little girl talking to each other. While Dahl's skills as a wordsmith and indeed word mangler are evident in all of his works for children, the BFG is arguably where he indulged in this most. Everything from small exclamations such as "by gum frog!" to alterations in usual phrases like "Let’s wait for the gun and flames to begin!" make the BFG, both the titular character and the work he comes from a truly delightful and unique reading experience.
This brings me onto a second aspect of the book, its character. Wikipedia's article on Roald Dahl lists The BFG as an example of presenting good, vs. bad adults, and indeed the metaphor for giants as parents is one Dahl himself touched on in his children's guide to railway safety.
To blandly categorize Sophie and the BFG's relationship however as just that of a father and daughter is doing an extreme disservice to both characters and indeed to Dahl.
Even from his initial appearance when, far from reassuring Sophie that he won't eat her The BFG begins a discussion on the eating preferences of the other giants, The BFG is a complex, three dimensional character, (and not just because as a giant he has rather more third dimension than most).
Proud, mercurial, at times insensitive and even cynical, yet at the same time kindly, playful and wise, The BFG is a truly realistic character despite his fantastic origin and his fairy tale practice of good dream blowing.
He is matched equally by Sophie who is (with the possible exception of Matilda), Dahl's most complex child protagonist, prim, bossy, brave and curious, Sophie is every bit as three dimensional, not to mention being (like several other of Dahl's characters), a child who has lived in less than pleasant circumstances which are briefly but sharply detailed in the book. Another surprising aspect of this relationship which is central to the plot is the fact (rather unusual in a book aimed for younger children), that while both the orphaned little girl and the runtish, kindly giant are lonely characters who need each other, the book is never saccharin or too effusively emotional, indeed rarely are we told what characters feel about each other directly, rather we are shown by their actions and interactions and how they feel about the world around them. Though his writing is aimed at a child audience, it is clear that Dahl took as much care with his characters as when writing for adults, indeed on one occasion I do recall Dahl describing children as "the most critical of readers" and noting that the best way of alienating children from a work is to over simplify.
Quite aside from character, Dahl's style deserves praise over all. One gift Dahl had as a writer was a beautiful linguistic economy, able to highlight atmospherically features of the environment or conjure grand sights like bottled dreams or fifty foot tall brutish giants with only a few well chosen sentences. Whether wistful, horrific or mysterious, Dahl's command of mood, ambience and action is deeply admirable and something many writers would envy. This is particularly true when Dahl gets to the villains of the piece.
The nine man eating giants, from their gruesome names such as Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher and Fleshlumpeater to their typically Dahl grotesque descriptions, they are some of the nastiest villains Dahl created, both in the nightmarish sense of being giants that eat people, and in a far more down to earth, and realistically unpleasant fashion. One section, in which the much smaller BFG is bullied, kicked and taunted by the other giants while being powerless to stop them has a disturbing and familiar ring of realism to it, recognizable to anyone who's ever been on the receiving end from much more human bullies. The lurking presence of the other giants and the constant threat they present gives The BFG a wonderful hint of danger that insures some of the sections just featuring Sophie and The BFG himself discussing dreams or other matters don't feel too safe, especially after one particularly horrific and quite genuinely scary close shave with the Bloodbottler.
Eventually, Sophie and The BFG find a way to convince the Queen of England to help them deal with the wicked giants. While I am not myself a fan of the Royal family, I really do applaud Dahl's presentation of The Queen here. As with the American President in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Dahl neither parodies The Queen nor praises her effusively. He does represent her as someone ever courteous and polite who can help with The Giant Problem, but also pokes a little fun at the stiff royal attitude. Some of the scenes taking place around The Queen and her very professional butler, like the wonderfully weird idea of the huge BFG eating breakfast in the palace at a table supported by 12 foot grandfather clocks, using an old royal sword for a knife are themes which might even appeal more to adults than children.
The only minor problem I had reading the BFG was with dialogue. While Dahl's characterisation and use of language in speech is truly exceptional, his integration of dialogue into the flow of the narrative can be somewhat clunky. Far too often, he qualifies his dialogue with "said Sophie" or "cried the Bfg" to the point where the narrative interruptions felt arrhythmic and slightly patronising. Had Dahl not been as experienced a writer as he undoubtedly was when he wrote the book, I'd have assumed this the mistake of an author on their first work, or an adult author on sure of what tone to take when relating narrative to children.
The other section which rings a slightly off note today is not actually the fault of the writing. The BFG introduces Sophie to frobscottle, a magical green drink full of bubbles that fizz downwards rather than upwards, and so when drunk produces explosive "wizpoppers". As well as a grasp of the grotesque, Dahl always possessed a distinctly naughty sense of humour, and it comes into play here in full force, especially with Sophie’s at first blushing, slightly offended reaction followed by her enjoying the wizpopping in spite of herself, and then (just to compound things), for the BFG to demonstrate wizpopping before the queen (who is not amused). Dahl's ability here to suggest rather than parade; the delicacy he uses for a theme which in other hands could degenerate into unsubtle toilet humour to create something that is exceptionally funny is of course masterful, however unfortunately with changing culture and the greater prevalence of more crude humour for children around today, it is likely this would be far less funny to children now, than it was in 1982. This was typified when, a few years ago I heard a child on the train refer to the BFG as "oh that book where the giant’s fart", sad that said child plainly got nothing else out of the book, and doubly sad that the child didn't appreciate Dahl's ability to write an incredibly funny section without mentioning the word "fart" once.
The ending in which the army follows the BFG to Giant country to catch the nine wicked giants while they are sleeping worked well, albeit I did feel the unexpected confrontation with the Fleshlumpeater was over rather too quickly, since the BFG is able to trick him fairly easily into being tied up. I can see why the 1989 animated film (which apparently Dahl did approve of), made this a much more tense moment with the Fleshlumpeater trying to literally kill the BFG before being distracted by Sophie and finally knocked out by the BFG with the strategic use of a nightmare, I wouldn't be surprised if the 2016 film does something similar. Then again having the man-eating giants dumped into a huge pit and forced to spend the rest of their lives eating foul tasting snozcumbers is a very fitting punishment, and the idea of a "it is forbidden to feed the giants" sign next to their prison makes me laugh every time. While I do slightly regret that The BFG learned to speak properly, at the same time having him revealed as the author of the work does mean that children can comfort themselves with the knowledge that the Fleshlumpeater and co are firmly and decidedly stuck in a hole and won't be eating anyone else.
I will freely admit to being a little biased where the BFG is concerned. Terror, wonder, love of language and hints at a wide and fantastic world, The BFG has it all. I can only echo the BFG's words about his own favourite book, Nicholas Nickleby by Darlse Chickens: "I is reading it hundreds of times and I is still reading it and teaching new words to myself and how to write them. It's the most scrumdiddlyumptious story".
This The BFG book review was written by Dark
Have you read The BFG?
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The BFG reader reviews
Suryasagar from India
It is a wonderful children's book, full of fantasy which children like. It fires their imagination. I haven't seen the movie. It must be quite enjoyable.
Mitch from Australia
I love this book, it makes me want to read more and continually watch the movie, whomever says it is boring maybe doesn't read all the time and maybe are boring to talk to either!!!!!!!!!!!
Alicia from South Africa
An awesome book I give a 10 star rating because whoever said it was boring doesn't have an imagination like I do. This book is my type!!!
Mpho Khensane Gift from South Africa
The BFG is a very delighting book but when you also watch the movies of the BFG three different things some parts I liked some made me wanna stop reading or even watching movies I would give it a ten but ... I like it would recommend it heyyy enjoy maybe u might have a different view thanks roald Dahl keep writing on where ever u if u dead u legacy will live with me and and wrote more if I find a publisher.
Debanjana from India
The bfg is a Lovely story.... I loved it..😊
Ankush from India
THIS BOOK IS AWESOME FOR THE NOVEL READING LEARNERS
Mia Lilly from England
This is a boring book that makes u fall asleep but a great story line for a dream.
8.1/10 from 8 reviews
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