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Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Puffin Books, 208 pages

Art: Quentin Blake
Roald Dahl
While he was working for the Shell Oil Company in East Africa, World War II broke out and Roald Dahl joined Britain's Royal Air Force as a pilot. Later, one of his duties for the British diplomatic corps was spying on the US government in Washington. There, he met C.S. Forester, who encouraged him to draft a story about his most exciting adventure as a pilot, later published in the Saturday Evening Post. In 1960, he began writing bedtime stories for children, the first of which was James and the Giant Peach.

ISFDB Bibliography
Roald Dahl Tribute Site
Roald Dahl Tribute Site
Recommended Children's SF and Fantasy
The Children's Literature Ring

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

This is not the kind of book you want to read at bedtime to lull your children asleep. Not because it's scary (although it has elements of that); not because some of the material will go over their heads (ditto, something for the parents to appreciate); and not because kids won't understand it (they'll love it). No, you may not want to read this to your kids at bedtime because it will keep them up laughing too hard.

I know. I made the mistake of selecting The BFG for bedtime reading with a pair of eight-year-olds during an end-of-summer vacation. They were giggling all night long. And once I started, there was no hope of substituting something more soothing to entice little girls to dreamland. The BFG was better than REM.

While you may know that REM is both a crucial stage of sleep and the name of a rock band, you might be wondering what exactly the BFG is, and, more to the point, what the "F" stands for. Of course, it's not what you think, but this being Roald Dahl, I'd say it's safe guess that the thought crossed his mind that some of you adults might take it the wrong way. And somewhere he's probably still smiling about it.

The BFG is the "Big Friendly Giant," which is fortunate for Sophie. Most giants (there are a total of nine, among them ones with considerably less enchanting names, such as Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, and Fleshlumper), snack on little children. But not the BFG.

"Just because I is a giant, you think I is a man-gobbling cannybull... You is about right... Bonecrunching Giant crunches up two wopsey whiffling human beans for supper every night! Noise is earbusting! Noise of crunching bones crackety-clack for mile around!"

"Ouch!" Sophie said.

"Bonecrunching Giant only gobbles human beans from Turkey," the Giant said. "Every night Bonecruncher is gallopping off to Turkey to gobble Turks."

Sophie's sense of patriotism was suddenly so bruised by the remark that she became quite angry. "Why Turks?" she blurted out. "What's wrong with the English?"

"Bonecrunching Giant says Turks is tasting oh so ever much juicier and scrumdiddlyumptous! Bonecruncher says Turkish human beans has a glamourly flavor. He says Turks from Turkey is tasting of turkey."

"I suppose they would," Sophie said.

"Of course they would!" the Giant shouted. "Every human bean is diddly and different. Some is scrumdiddlyumptous and some is uckyslush. Greeks is all fully of uckyslush. No Giant is eating Greeks, ever... Greeks from Greece is all tasting greasy..."

What sort of human beans do you eat?"

"Me!" shouted the Giant. "Me gobbling up human beans! The others, yes! All the others is gobbling them up every night, but not me! I is a freaky giant. I is a nice and jumbly Giant. I is THE BIG FRIENDLY GIANT. I is the BFG. What is your name?"

"My name is Sophie," Sophie said, hardly daring to believe the good news she had just heard.

Though he doesn't plan to eat Sophie, the BFG is constrained by Giant etiquette to take Sophie back with him to Giant land because the little girl has seen him. Can't be letting word get out about Giants because the next thing you know there might be a big giant-hunt and the BFG would wind up in a zoo. So Sophie will have to stay with him. Which is okay by Sophie, since it beats living in the orphanage, but she simply can't stand by and let the other Giants go about munching on innocent children. So she manages to persuade the BFG -- who is a bit of misfit himself among Giants -- to help her convince no less a personage than the Queen of England on the need to forcibly convert the Giants to a sort of vegetarianism that is actually a punishment, not a healthier life style.

As the quoted passage above should illustrate, what makes The BFG so endearing are the descriptive malapropisms (wait to you get to the "whizpoppers") and bad puns. As usual in Dahl territory, there is a precocious child smarter than the befuddled adults, as well as the underlying fairly tale themes of a lost child whose status as an outcast provides the necessary strength to overcome an ordeal.

I began reading the Dahl canon to my daughter when she was six. Even when a lot of the material was way over her head, she's never failed to be thoroughly enchanted. Neither will you.

Copyright © 1998 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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