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Probably the most all-encompassing Dahl book
on 22 November 2015
Of all of Dahl's books, I've thought that The BFG is the most encompassing of Dahl's different sides as a storyteller.
I love the way it distils all his different facets as a storyteller into one book. It has humour and heart in equal measure. I also love the craftsmanship and the structure that binds the whole story together.
The book is anchored by the friendship between Sophie and the eponymous giant. Although the friendship starts off shakily when the BFG snatches Sophie from her orphanage, the friendship literally hits the ground running the moment that the BFG hears that Sophie is an orphan. Sophie views the world around the BFG and the giants. Halfway through the book, she is roused to act to stop the giants from guzzling more humans, especially "chiddlers". All the experiences in the first half come together in the second half when the two friends mix the dream, meet Queen Elizabeth II and execute their plan to capture the cannibalistic giants.
I love the charm that exudes from this book. The BFG is a winsome character in every way. His jumbled-up language and made-up words endear him to the reader. The made-up words might be enough to make Dr Seuss blush. In addition, the Quentin Blake drawings make him look charming to the readers, including the large elephant ears. Dahl reveals him to be a kind character from the moment he becomes friends with Sophie. He wrote this paramount virtue into the book and his character and he embodies the Bertrand Russell quote about founding the good life on love and knowledge. The kindness extends to the way the two friends deal with the nine man-eating giants at the end after they capture them. Dahl makes the readers feel satisfied that the punishment fits the crime. The BFG and Sophie are not punitive like the Allied leaders who impose the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War. Rather, I like the way that they make us all believe that we can move mountains and overcome our insignificant stations in life to make a difference. There is something so endearing about the BFG that even when Dahl describes the (inherently naughty) act of whizzpopping, he does not descend into coarseness or vulgarity.
I know that Dahl's stories are a product of the psychedelic, swinging Sixties even though he his books appeared between 1961 and 1990, the year of his death. Yet I still spot a timeless quality in all of them, especially in this story. Dahl makes the story feel like a dream that wishes to linger in the air forever. Also, as in many Dahl stories, I spot allusions to the folklore and stories of the past. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reminds me of Cinderella, while Fantastic Mr Fox reminds me of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, with moral and ecological concerns deftly mixed in. In the case of The BFG, I am reminded of all slow-witted giants that have figured in fairy tales and myths, ranging from the Cyclops to the Norse giants and the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk (which merits an allusion here). it's interesting that Dahl alludes to this fairytale when the BFG blows the nightmare into the Fleshlumpeater's face. I see The BFG as a kind of David and Goliath story, in which the BFG and Sophie are like David battling the Goliaths of the cannibalistic giants. Dahl returns to the David and Goliath theme in the story of Matilda, complete with its head-on confrontations with Miss Trunchbull. Also, in the meeting with Her Majesty, Dahl alludes to the nursery rhyme about the pussy-cat who went up to London to look at the Queen. As such, this combination of old and new traits allow the Dahl stories to feel timeless and not date.
I love the way that Dahl structures the story and the book. Despite the tension, I note that it is very well-structured and well-ordered. The motif of the cannibalistic giants threads its way through the book. Also, the two friends put together their plan of getting rid of the cannibalistic giants in the second half of the book after Sophie experiences everything about the BFG's existence. This is an apt demonstration of the problem solving process in real life. Solutions can't come fully-formed at one go, on the spur of the moment. The various elements of a solution float around before they can be discovered and put together. I see a parallel in The Witches when the boy-mouse absorbs all he observes around him to destroy the witches with the mouse-maker after they turn him into a mouse half way through the book.
Although nearly every Dahl book is an absolute winner, I think this will endear to more people than any of his other books. It is so charming and does not come across as shrill and strident like The Twits or George's Marvellous Medicine. The friendship between the two main protagonists makes readers wish that the BFG were real and could be their friend. In addition, the take-home points are an added bonus. As such, I like to think of this book as an excellent starting point for readers just coming into Roald Dahl.