In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two small girls and a baby boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dahl: wonderful but nasty

Dear Annie,

Happy Maternity Leave!  And may your leave and increase of family be Restorative of Your Health!

I thought a lot about the Roald Dahl question before sending The BFG to Eleanor.  With the exception of The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me -- which one could almost call sweet -- I find The BFG the least problematic of Dahl's wonderful-but-nasty books. 

We read it with Lizzie when she was about Eleanor's age -- and I remember her being entranced with it.  I was worried about the opening scene when a giant hand comes through Sophie's window and kidnaps her -- but it was my worry, not Lizzie's.  At dinner tonight, she got a sort of far-away smile on her face and said she remembers really loving it, and loving the BFG.  She remembers snozzcumbers and his fractured language.

I opened Mona's copy tonight looking for a good example of the BFG's speech and came upon this, from early in the book:
"Would you teach me how to make an elefunt?" the BFG asked.
"What do you mean?" Sophie said.
"I would dearly love to have an elefunt to ride on," the BFG said dreamily.  "I would so much love to have a jumbly big elefunt and go riding through green forests picking peachy fruits off the trees all day long.  This is a sizzling-hot muckfrumping country we is living in.  Nothing grows in it except snozzcumbers.  I would love to go somewhere else and pick peachy fruits in the early morning from the back of an elefunt."
Sophie was quite moved by this curious statement. 
And there's always his signature, "Am I right? or left?" There is, of course, a Goodreads page out there with nothing but BFG quotes.

Dahl is part of a British tradition of children's literature which is not gentle.  But his protagonists are always good, and triumph over the bad guys in the end.  Harry Potter's Dursleys are very Dahl-esque: caricatured cruel relatives.  And revenge is savored.  I'm more uncomfortable with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with its repeated humiliation of the obnoxious kids than with the BFG -- but no question that they're both books some reasonable parents will choose to skip.

I hope you're glad you didn't, though. 

Sweet dreams to you all.

Love,

Deborah

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