Take one serving of cleverness, add two cups of magic, and a dash of grown-ups who won’t believe you. Mix, preferably with a ridiculous giant eggbeater. That’s the recipe for a Roald Dahl story.
If you’ve read Roald Dahl before, you might recognize the types of characters in The BFG. If you’re an adult, you’re basically going to be one of two things: wonderfully good or almost unspeakably evil. Often, the evil characters have the power, and it’s up to the child protagonist to find a way to overcome them. Preferably with ridiculous giant eggbeaters.
So why either good or evil? Why no characters with any morally complicated personalities? Weirdly enough, Dahl’s over-the-top, one-way-or-the-other adult characters reflect his own childhood. See, Little Roaldie went to a few different British boarding schools where teachers and administrators dealt out harsh punishments for minor disobedience. Think caning for a thing like putting a whoopee cushion on someone’s chair. Not what you’d call lenient.
Pretty obvious how those grown-ups might’ve seemed like mustache-twirling villains to a young boy.
But Dahl was lucky enough to have a caring mother (named Sophie, just like our main character. Coincidence?) and he wrote to her every week. She was a wonderful storyteller and liked to tell Roald and his siblings folktales from her native Norway about Norse gods and, ahem, giants.
In The BFG, Dahl makes his good and evil characters giants, instead of humans. There are most of the giants, who literally eat children. How’s that for bad? And then there’s the BFG, who is kind and has all these amazing supernatural skills, including the power to give children good dreams. Think Monsters Inc., but the opposite, and with giants.
Fast forward to when Roald himself became a dad. He would tell his own children stories about a giant who blew good dreams into children’s windows at night. Then he’d turn out the lights, go outside, and stick a bamboo shoot through the windows, pretending to send his children dreams. Cute, huh?
The BFG became a favorite in the English-speaking world. Our favorite friendly giant got an animated made-for-TV movie in 1989, various plays, and has stomped his ginormous feet to the silver screen, too. Oh, and Stephen Spielberg’s the director. So this story has got sticking power, to say the least.
Okay, let’s imagine for a sec that you’re a giant. Just humor us.
So you’re a giant, but you’re also a pacifist. You live with a bunch of other giants who pick on you and eat people like candy every night. You watch the human world without being a part of it. You learn about humans from the dreams you collect, but also from a single book, Nicholas Nickleby, about how poverty causes some humans to be treated very badly. It’s not too uplifting.
So, with that for background knowledge, how do humans look to you? How might you think of them in comparison to your fellow giants?
They might not seem that great, TBH.
That’s why this story isn’t just a good fantasy story: it also makes you sit down and think. See, the BFG is an outsider, looking at our world from the perspective of someone who has no reason to love or hate it. He sees it for what it is. There are parts of human life he wants to join, like reading and fancy dining. But he’s also good at pointing out the contradictory things humans believe, and the messed-up things they sometimes do. His observations help us step outside ourselves and see our world differently, too.
Don’t get us wrong—this is no dry teaching book. The BFG is an adventure story, with funny, unique, “wondercrump” (8.51) dialogue. But it also sneaks in some lines that really make you think. You could even say that at times, it gets downright philosophical.
You may be reading it for the language and wordplay, the danger, the thrilling deeds, the big vs. small story, and all the other fun stuff. But just pay some attention to the thoughtfulness, too.
If You’re Ever in the UK
Here’s a place to visit! The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre lives in Buckinghamshire village, but there are plenty of Dahl fun facts and goodies you can find on its site, no plane ticket needed.
Friend the Friendly Giant
The BFG book has a fan page, and posts quizzes, facts, and art for you to share with your kidlit-loving friends. Which is everyone, right?
Big Friendly Franchise
A live action movie adaptation whippety-plunks to theaters in 2016. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg, so you know it’s a BFDeal.
On Christmas Day 1989, an animated movie premiered on TV in the UK, featuring the voices of David Jason and Amanda Root. Animation is probably the best way to pull off a whizzpopper.
Dahl’s Inner Child
Here’s a kid-friendly interview with Roald Dahl, where he talked about what he found funny. (Hint: the same things that kids find funny.)
A Dangerous Illness
Olivia, the daughter that Dahl dedicated this book to, died at the age of seven. After her death, here’s some writing Roald did encouraging parents to vaccinate their children. Sound familiar? The vaccination debate is still going on today. The awesome writing that goes along with it is just a bonus.
A Daughter’s Story
Imagine having Roald Dahl for a dad. One of his daughters, Lucy Dahl, talks about the adventures their father created for them. We’re a little jealous.
That’s probably how the BFG would say “cinematic,” right? Here’s where to watch the teaser trailer for the Steven Spielberg movie. Is this how you pictured the beginning?
Stick Figure Fun
The Minute Book Report only gets the basics of The BFG, but the drawings are pretty cool.
“A Whizzpoppy Bang”
This “Whizzpopping Song” from the animated film version may be the best old thing on the internet. What if you sang this every time you farted?
The “Beyond Science” channel explores the idea and traces of evidence that there may have been real giants in ancient history. Convinced? If not, you’re not alone. It’s more of a theory exploration than hard facts.
Wonder what Roald Dahl sounded like? Listen to this clip of him reading his own story to get a taste—we mean, a listen.
You can’t hear the whole book, but you can listen to a sample by audio book narrator David William. How different does this sound from Dahl’s own reading?
A Lucky Break
How Roald Dahl became an author is a pretty good coincidence story. Listen to him tell it in this 1990 radio interview.
A Poster of Scale
This movie poster of the upcoming Spielberg film definitely leaves us guessing. Not about the sandals though—that giant is definitely stylin’.
How Terrifying is This?
On a scale of one to terrifying, how would you rate this puppet Fleshlumpeater almost eating young Sophie? The image is from a play adaptation of The BFG on the Imagination Stage in Washington, D.C.
Quentin Blake Fabulousness
Here’s a BFG-themed print from Roald Dahl’s best-known illustrator.
Black and White and Roald all over
These old photos from Roald Dahl’s life give us a sense of what his childhood was like—especially the motorbike he snuck rides on in disguise.