Sophie lives in an orphanage that isn’t exactly the best place as Mrs Clonkers, who runs it, isn’t exactly a good person. But then one night Sophie watches as a huge person in a cloak runs through the city of London, blowing something into people’s bedrooms with a weird trumpet. And then that person sees her watching and simply grabs her. Soon, Sophie finds herself in the country of giants, the mysterious cloakwearer turning out to be a giant himself. Fortunately for Sophie, he’s the smallest and only friendly giant which is why he calls himself the Big Friendly Giant. But when Sophie hears what the other giants are up to every night, she knows that she has to do something.
I’ve loved Roald Dahl ever since I read Matilda as a child, but somehow, The BFG had passed me by so far. It’s a wonderful book and one of Dahl’s more linguistically inventive ones as well – and that is saying something.
Dahl has an instantly recognizable style in storytelling. His stories are full of gruesome adults and children, and are surprisingly graphic in their violence. He captures that the world isn’t really a place for children and that many awful things happen. But the awesome part about this is that, for him, this isn’t a reason to despair. The world is often shitty, so what? If you are the best person you can be regardless, good things can and will happen anyway. And maybe you’ll even improve the world that way.
That’s also the case in the BFG. It’s already apparent in the nine other giants that bully the BFG. Their names are deliciously evil – Fleshlumpeater, Meatdripper, Bloodbottler, Childchewer, Manhugger, Gizzardgulper, Bonecruncher, Maidmasher, and Butcher Boy – and Dahl doesn’t shy around their violence, but if you make the monsters worse, when you beat them, it’s even better, isn’t it?!
There are some things that seem a little outdated about the book. For one, when Sophie inspects the dreams the BFG collects and they are clearly separated in boy dreams and girl dreams and Sophie has a hard time understanding boy dreams, the book really isn’t up to snuff regarding gender roles. And, interestingly enough, I found myself smiling at the belief in the Queen and the military to save the day that Sophie and the BFG show. In today’s children’s books, Sophie would have probably managed to incapacitate all of the giants herself, after having run into disbelief at all official places she could have applied to with her concerns and maybe discovering that the military is secretly feeding the giants or something. I’m not saying that the modern take on the story is necessarily better or more realistic, but it was at this point most of all that it was most apparent that the book is quite a few years old.
The BFG has a very idiosyncratic way of talking and it is here that the novel really won my heart. His speech is full of puns and invented words and experimental grammar and it just works beautifully.
“Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.”
How could you not love this? Especially when it’s illustrated by Quentin Blake to make it even better?
Summarizing: Everyone should read Dahl, at best from a very young age onwards.