Top 100 Children’s Novels #88: The BFG by Roald Dahl
A return by an old friend. Previously appearing on this list at #54, Dahl’s later classic sinks to a not terrible #88. Does that mean that other Dahls that have not been on this list before will make an appearance? Only time will tell . . .
The plot from the RoaldDahlFans website reads, “When orphan Sophie is snatched from her bed by a Giant, she fears that he’s going to eat her. But although he carries her far away to Giant Country, the Giant has no intention of harming her. As he explains, in his unique way of talking, ‘I is the only nice and jumbly Giant in Giant Country! I is THE BIG FRIENDLY GIANT! I is the BFG.’ The BFG tells Sophie how he mixes up dreams to blow through a trumpet into the rooms of sleeping children. But soon, all the BFG’s powers are put to the test as he and Sophie battle to stop the other Giants from tucking into the children of the world. The RAF and even the Queen become involved in the mission.”
I was unaware that Roald Dahl liked to put references from one of his books into another. But according to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, “In the second chapter of Danny, the Champion of the World, Danny’s father tells his son a series of bedtime stories ‘about an enormous fellow called The Big Friendly Giant, or the BFG for short.’ Huh! Who knew?
For this book, editor Stephen Roxburgh apparently (according to Silvey) “spent days drafting his editorial suggestions to Dahl, ten typed, single-spaced pages that commented on inconsistencies, cliches, and matters of taste.” Whew! Prior to the publication of this book Roald Dahl tried his hand at the story George’s Marvelous Medicine. Adults were rarely entirely pleased with Dahl’s stories as they came out, but they definitely disliked this one in particular. So BFG was a welcome relief and a much more popular book when it as released.
Actually, there’s a rather fun essay called White Blossoms and Snozzcumbers: Alternative Sentimentalities in the Giants of Oscar Wilde and Roald Dahl in which author Hope Howell Hodgkins seeks to show that, “The space between the nineteenth and the twentieth fin-de-siècles in children’s literature may be measured by the distance from Oscar Wilde’s ‘Selfish Giant’ (1888) to Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant [BFG] (1982).” It’s a fun read. Example: “Wilde’s fairy tales suggest on the surface a decadent weariness, but seem to rely upon moralistic cures and utopian endings: the selfish giant’s everblooming garden or an ineffable Paradise. Dahl, however, writes in and of a ‘fleshguzzling’ postmodern interpretive community, which is hilariously entertaining though alarming in its unspoken implications. Dahl offers no final answers for the century of the gigaton.”
The article “Spell-Binding Dahl: Considering Roald Dahl’s Fantasy” by Eileen Donaldson (found in the book Change and Renewal in Children’s Literature) also had a lot of fun with considering the author’s use of dreams. “Dahl uses dreams as magic in this novel . . .Thus, dreams in this novel become the means through which Sophie and the BFG transform their worlds; they literally recombine the elements of different dreams in order to create a new entity and, through it, a new way of living together as a family.”
This last one kind of amused me too. In British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960, the section on Roald Dahl gives this immensely silly book the fully academic once over. Say they, “Dahl uses several devices effectively in this book. Foremost among these is his extensive use of made-up language. He uses invented words in all his books, but not nearly to the extent that they are used in this story, and they are the kind of words that will make his young readers giggle, often because of their naughty or nasty implications . . . But the term that undoubtedly breaks up new readers the most, year after year, is whizzpopper; that is to say, flatus. Whether one approves of such material in children’s books or not, it must be admitted that Dahl handles it with relative decorum.” The use of “flatus” in that paragraph just cracks me up. Particularly when it is follow by a sentence that uses the term “relative decorum” with a straight face.
- Chris Riddell tried his own hand at a version of the BFG.
As for the official covers, it’s pretty much Quentin Blake from here on out.
And here’s a trailer for a live staged version of the book:
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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