“You is about right! Giants is all cannybully and murderful! And they does gobble up human beans! We is in Giant Country now! Giants is everywhere around! Out there us has the famous Bonecrunching Giant! Bonecrunching Giant crunches up two wopsey whiffling human beans for supper every night! Noise is earbursting! Noise of crunching bones goes crackety-crack for miles around!” (5.6)
Wow, the BFG seems really excited about all this people-eating. Or matter-of-fact, at the very least. No wonder Sophie is terrified. At least, before he tells her he’s a vegetarian.
“The first thing you would be doing, you would be scuddling around yodeling the news that you were actually seeing a giant, and then a great giant-hunt, a mighty giant look-see, would be starting up all over the world, with the human beans all rummaging for the great giant you saw and getting wildly excited. People would be coming rushing and bushing after me with goodness knows what and they would be catching me and locking me into a cage to be stared at.” (6.6)
The BFG’s colorful description of a giant hunt is, sadly, on point. If people did believe there were giants, they’d probably be obsessed with catching him. The only thing the BFG might be getting wrong is by thinking that people will believe Sophie.
“How many giants are there out there?” Sophie asked.
“Nine altogether,” answered the BFG.
“That means,” said Sophie, “that somewhere in the world, every single night, nine wretched people get carried away and eaten alive.”
“More,” said the BFG. (6.40-43)
It’s almost hard for Sophie to comprehend that these arbitrary, pointless deaths happen regularly. Deaths of people who are powerless to prevent themselves from being eaten. To describe that situation as unfair would be an understatement.
“I hated it,” Sophie said. “The woman who ran it was called Mrs. Clonkers and if she caught you breaking any of the rules, like getting out of bed at night or not folding up your clothes, you got punished.”
“How is you getting punished?”
“She locked us in the dark cellar for a day and a night without anything to eat or drink.”
“The rotten old rotrasper!” cried the BFG.
“It was horrid,” Sophie said. “We used to dread it. There were rats down there. We could hear them creeping about.” (7.14-18)
This horrific punishment—for children—is beyond unfair. It’s downright Dickensian. It’s also in line with how children in other Roald Dahl books are treated by adults. Thank goodness for being kidnapped by giants.
“Keep away from him,” Sophie pleaded.
“Not possible,” the BFG answered. “He is galloping easily two times as quicksy as me.”
“Shall we turn back?” Sophie said.
“Turning back is worse,” the BFG said. “If they is seeing me running away, they is all giving chase and throwing rocks.” (11.20-23)
Like a kid in a playground full of bullies, the BFG is trapped. Now that the giants see him, there’s no getting away. Sounds like a trogglehumper come true.
“But human beans is squishing each other all the time,” the BFG said. “They is shootling guns and going up in aerioplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.” (11.77)
Notice how the BFG uses the word “squishing” to describe shooting and bombing. To him, there’s no difference between what the humans and the giants do. Plus, the word “squishing” makes it sound not so horrible as what really happens. What do you think—is there a difference between giants eating humans and humans going to war with each other?
“For years and years I is sitting here on this very rock every night after night when they is galloping away, and I is feeling so sad for all the human beans they is going to gobble up. But I has had to get used to it. There is nothing I can do. If I wasn’t a titchy little runty giant only twenty-four feet high then I would be stopping them. But that is absolutely out of the window.” (15.8)
Being only twenty-four feet tall, the BFG is pretty limited. But think of the parallel: how many injustices are accepted by humans who think there’s nothing they can do about them?
“I is never showing myself to human beans.”
“Why ever not?”
“If I do, they will be putting me in the zoo with all the jiggyraffes and the cattypillars.”
“Nonsense,” Sophie said.
“And they will be sending you straight back to a norphanage, the BFG went on. “Grown-up human beans is not famous for their kindnesses.” (15.15-19)
The BFG seems to think Sophie’s orphanage is about the same as a zoo—which he’s sure is where he’d end up if the human beans found out about him. He’s right, in a way. They are both forms of captivity. Even if in zoo, he’d be looked at all the time, and Sophie is pretty hidden from the world in her orphanage.
The BFG made a rush at the Fleshlumpeater, but the colossal fifty-four-foot-high giant simply knocked him over with a flick of his free arm. At the same time, Sophie fell off the BFG’s palm on to the ground. Her mind was racing. She must do something! She must! She must!” (21.115)
This is how Sophie feels about injustice. When something bad is about to happen, she feels an obligation to try and stop it. Don’t forget: not everyone feels the same way as Sophie. There are people whose reaction to seeing an angry giant would be to run.
“Why is they putting us down here in this grobsludging hole?” they shouted at the BFG. “Because you is guzzling human beans,” the BFG answered. “I is always warning you not to do it and you is never taking the titchiest bit of notice.” (22.7-8)
Justice is served! In this scene, we readers have the satisfaction of seeing the people-eating giants getting what’s coming to them. And it’s about grobsludging time.
The BFG raised his great head proudly in the air. “I is a very honorable giant,” he said. “I would rather be chewing up rotsome snozzcumbers than snitching things from other people.” (8.53)
You’ve got to admire a giant with principles. The BFG not only doesn’t believe in eating humans; he doesn’t even believe in stealing from them. We have to admit, were we in his shoes, we might snatch a few less disgusting vegetables from time to time.
“Human beans is killing each other much quicker than giants is doing it.”
“But they don’t eat each other,” Sophie said.
“Giants isn’t eating each other either,” the BFG said. “Nor is giants killing each other. Giants is not very lovely, but they is not killing each other. Nor is crockadowndillies killing other crockadowndillies. Nor is pussy-cats killing pussy-cats.”
“They kill mice,” Sophie said.
“Ah, but they is not killing their own kind,” the BFG said. “Human beans is the only animals that is killing their own kind.” (11.67-71)
This conversation kinda sneaks up on you, doesn’t it? One minute, the BFG and Sophie are having a farting contest and the next, they’re talking about the ethics of war. By working these ethics questions so casually into the story, Dahl really gets his readers thinking. He doesn’t tell them what to believe, exactly. He just points out some facts, and doesn’t let you get away with taking those facts for granted.
“That is what the little piggy-wig is saying every day,” the BFG answered. “He is saying, “I has never done any harm to the human bean so why should he be eating me?” “Oh dear,” Sophie said. “The human beans is making rules to suit themselves,” the BFG went on. “But the rules they is making do not suit the little piggie-wiggies. Am I right or left?” “Right,” Sophie said. “Giants is also making rules. Their rules is not suiting the human beans. Everybody is making his own rules to suit himself.” (11.79-83)
What the BFG is telling Sophie (in his own, oh-so-special words) is that the rules of society are relative. The other giants don’t think it’s strange to eat humans, just like humans consider it normal to eat animals. (This is easy for the BFG to say, because he only eats a single vegetable. He’s never even tasted bacon, for crying out loud.)
“But you don’t like it that those beastly giants are eating humans every night, do you?” Sophie said. “I do not,” the BFG answered firmly. “One right is not making two lefts.” (11.84-85)
Pay attention, because what the BFG means (when you get through all the left turns) is a moral idea that will come back later in the book. None of the main characters in The BFG believe in an “eye for an eye.” In other words, even though humans do bad things, they don’t deserve to be eaten by giants.
“He’s still asleep,” the BFG whispered. “The terrible trogglehumping nightmare is beginning to hit him.” “Serves him right,” Sophie said. She could feel no sympathy for this great brute who ate children as though they were sugar-lumps. (13.31-32)
Okay, so it may not be an eye for an eye, but Sophie is okay with a nightmare for some bullying. In other words, she does believe that some kind of punishment can be valuable. Specifically, she thinks a giant who eats people every night deserves to get a few nightmares. Fair enough.
“One night,” he said, “I is blowing a dream through a window and I sees this book lying on the little boy’s bedroom table. I is wanting so very badly, you understand. But I is refusing to steal it. I would never do that.” “So how did you get it?” Sophie asked. “I borrowed it,” said the BFG, smiling a little. “Just for a short time I borrowed it.” (14.96-98)
The BFG is a good giant, but he’s not a saint. Clearly, he’s okay with bending his rules from time to time. Books aren’t vegetables, after all.
“I don’t want to give the Queen a nightmare,” Sophie said. “I is thinking,” the BFG said, “that your Queen will be happy to have a nightmare if having a nightmare is going to save a lot of human beans from being gobbled up by filthsome giants. Is I right or is I left?” “I suppose you’re right,” Sophie said. “It’s got to be done.” (16.27-29)
Nightmares are taken very seriously in this book, and poor Sophie doesn’t want to put the Queen through any pain, even if the pain is only until she wakes up. So the BFG pulls out another right-and-left (er, wrong) lesson: that their end goal (saving people’s lives) trumps leaving the Queen to sleep in peace.
“I do not approve of murder,” the Queen said. “But they are murderers themselves!” cried the Head of the Army. “That is no reason why we should follow their example,” said the Queen. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” (21.11-13)
No wonder the Queen and BFG get along. They both have the same sense of right and left. Not to mention right and wrong. These two tell you a lot about the book’s moral compass, because they don’t believe in sinking to the giants’ level, no matter how much better off the human world would be without them.
“That’s all very well,” said the Head of the Army. “But how do we get the brutes back here? We can’t load fifty-foot giants on to trucks! Shoot ‘em on the spot, that’s what I say!” (21.26)
Yikes. The Head of the Army is actually making the argument here that they should shoot the giants because it would be easier. So much for the Queen’s (and the BFG’s) moral values.
The Heads of the Army and the Air Force drove forward once again in their jeep. “Her Majesty will be very pleased with me,” the Head of the Army said. “I shall probably get a medal. What’s the next move?”
“Now you is all driving over to my cave to load up my bottles of dreams,” the BFG said.
“We can’t waste time with that rubbish,” the Army General said. (21.136-138)
If the Head of the Army were a giant, he’d probably be the Bloodbottler. Harsh, maybe, but really, the guy only thinks of himself. First, he takes credit for the work the BFG and Sophie did, and then, he can’t even be bothered to give the one who actually trapped the giants time to load up his collection. (Luckily, Sophie makes him.) Someone’s in line for a trogglehumper, that’s for sure.
Sophie saw that under the cloak he was wearing a sort of collarless shirt and a dirty old leather waistcoat that didn’t seem to have any buttons. His trousers were faded green and were far too short in the legs. On his bare feet he was wearing a pair of ridiculous sandals that for some reason had holes cut along each side, with a large hole at the end where his toes stuck out. Sophie, crouching on the floor of the cave in her nightie, gazed back at him through thick steel-rimmed glasses. She was trembling like a leaf in the wind, and a finger of ice was running up and down the length of her spine. (4.17)
This description of the BFG makes him sound sort of…goofy, doesn’t it? Of course, Sophie’s still terrified, because he is a giant, but it feels like we readers are getting a clue from the description that the BFG isn’t so much dangerous as trying to find a way to fit in. Ain’t that cute?
“I is hungry!” the Giant boomed. He grinned, showing massive square teeth. The teeth were very white and very square and they sat in his mouth like huge slices of white bread.” (5.4)
See what Roald Dahl is doing here? By comparing the BFG’s teeth to bread, he’s reminding us how close Sophie feels she is to becoming food herself. Fingers crossed the giant confuses his teeth for a snack instead.
“Such wonderful and terrible sounds I is hearing!” he said. “Some of them you would never wish to be hearing yourself! But some is like glorious music!” He seemed almost to be transfigured by the excitement of his thoughts. His face was beautiful in its blaze of emotions. (7.109-110)
This is the first time we’re told that the BFG is beautiful. Before, he seemed sort of bumbling and silly. Maybe his beauty is the otherworldly type, like he’s catching a bit of the natural wonder that he is describing to Sophie.
The BFG flung open a massive cupboard and took out the weirdest-looking thing Sophie had ever seen. It was about half as long again as an ordinary man but was much thicker. It was as thick around its girth as a perambulator. It was black with white stripes along its length. And it was covered all over with coarse knobbles. (8.15)
Ew. In this book, the BFG’s horrible vegetable snack looks as bad as it tastes. We’ll go to bed without dinner, thanks.
“You stole me,” Sophie said. “I did not steal you very much,” said the BFG, smiling gently. “After all, you is only a tiny little girl.” (8.54-55)
Here’s a glimpse of how Sophie looks to the BFG—like the tiniest thing. Sophie’s small size is as important to the story as the BFG’s largeness. And for some reason, being small means not being steal-able.
The Bloodbottler was a gruesome sight. His skin was reddish-brown. There was black hair sprouting on his chest and arms and on his stomach. The hair on his head was long and dark and tangled. His foul face was round and squashy-looking. The eyes were tiny black holes. The nose was small and flat. But the mouth was huge. It spread right across the face almost ear to ear, and it had lips that were like two gigantic purple frankenfurters lying one on top of the other. Craggy yellow teeth stuck out between the two purple frankenfurter lips, and rivers of spit ran down over the chin.
It was not in the least bit difficult to believe that this ghastly brute ate men, women, and children every night. (9.11)
Yeesh. We’re not sure if it would have been possible for Dahl to have made the Bloodbottler more disgusting. It’s the rivers of spit that seals the deal. RIVERS of it.
Every minute, the mist became thicker. The air became colder still and everything became paler and paler until soon there was nothing but grey and white all around them. They were in a country of swirling mists and ghostly vapours. There was some sort of grass underfoot but it was not green. It was ashy grey. There was no sign of a living creature and no sound at all except for the soft thud of the BFG’s footsteps as he hurtled on through the fog. (11.90)
Dream Country is just as we might have imagined it: misty, foggy, otherworldy. Hey, kind of like dreams! Not a coincidence. Basically, Dahl illustrates the mystery and intangibility of how it feels to have a dream by describing the world they live in the same way.
The BFG took his time. He was very dignified in his approach. When he was close to the window where the three of them were standing, he stopped and made a slow graceful bow. His head, after he had straightened up again, was almost exactly level with the watchers at the window. “Your Majester,” he said. “I is your humbug servant.” He bowed again. (19.126-127)
Except for the words “majester” and “humbug,” the BFG’s presentation to the Queen is very dignified. He’s gone from goofy-looking giant to extremely tall, dapper gentleman. No humbug to be had here.
Mr. Tibbs skimmed into the ballroom (butlers don’t walk, they skim over the ground) followed by a whole army of footmen. The footmen all wore knee-breeches and every one of them displayed beautifully rounded calves and ankles. There is no way you can become a royal footman unless you have a well-turned ankle. It is the first thing they look for when you are interviewed. (20.5)
Can’t you just picture this scene—a clone army of footman, moving in unison? Well-turned-ankled unison? Also, just picture the interview for that kind of job. Any career that focused on ankles is not for us.
A pretty blue dress that had once belonged to one of the Princesses had been found for Sophie, and to make her look prettier still, the Queen had picked up a superb sapphire brooch from her dressing-table and had pinned it on the left side of Sophie’s chest. (20.27)
This is the first time Sophie gets to change out of her nightie in the whole book. Her outfit shows how she’s moved up in the world. She’s gone from a girl no one would miss to someone the Queen believes, and she’s got a gorgeous brooch to show for it.
“You is trying to change the subject,” the Giant said sternly. “We is having interesting babblement about the taste of the human bean. The human bean is not a vegetable.” “Oh, but the bean is a vegetable,” Sophie said. “Not the human bean,” the Giant said. “The human bean has two legs and a vegetable has no legs at all.” (5.21-23)
Sophie’s still trying to understand the way the BFG speaks, which is why she gets confused about bean vs. being. Especially since a “bean” is something humans eat, and humans are basically bean-sized somethings that giants eat.
“They say the English is tasting ever so wonderfully of crodscollop.” “I’m not sure I quite know what that means,” Sophie said. “Meanings is not important,” said the BFG. “I cannot be right all the time. Quite often I is left instead of right.” (6.27-29)
You may not know what “crodscollop” is (it sounds like a kind of fish?), but according to the BFG, there’s something wonderful about the taste. So if you like fish, you’re in for a treat. Also, this is the first time he uses “left” to mean wrong. That’s a word that’s going to pop up a lot more, so keep an eye out for it.
“Your brain is full of rotten-wool.” “You mean cotton-wool,” Sophie said. “What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announced rather grandly. (8.12-14)
Here’s another example of the author’s clever wordplay. By replacing “cotton” with the word “rotten,” he makes the BFG’s insult sound like even more of a burn.
Once again that sad and winsome look came into the BFG’s eyes. “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.” (8.43)
In the BFG’s mind, he is speaking perfect English. It just comes out wrong. We’d feel bad for him if we didn’t enjoy getting a bit squiff-squiddled from time to time.
“I think you speak beautifully,” Sophie said.
“You do?” cried the BFG, suddenly brightening. “You really do?”
“Simply beautifully,” Sophie repeated.
“Well, that is the nicest present anybody is ever giving me in my whole life!” cried the BFG. “Are you sure you is not twiddling my leg?”
“Of course not,” Sophie said. “I just love the way you talk.”
“How wondercrump!” cried the BFG, still beaming. “How whoopsey-splunkers! How absolutely squiffling! I is all of a stutter.” (8.46-51)
If you weren’t sure how important speech is to the BFG, this should clue you in. One of his greatest desires is to speak well, and he’s got the whoopsey-splunkers to prove it.
The Bloodbottler pointed a finger as large as a tree-trunk at the BFG. “Runty little scumscrewer!” he shouted. “Piffling little swishfiggler! Squimpy little bottle-wart! Prunty little pogswizzler! I is now going to search the primroses.” (9.10)
Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words just make us burst into uncontrollable giggles. At least the way the giants toss insults at each other. On top of giving you some great new names to call your little brother (you know, in a nice way), the Bloodbottler’s insults show us that the BFG is not alone in his funny speech. All the giants speak this way.
The BFG stopped writing and raised his head slowly. His eyes rested on Sophie’s face. “I is telling you once before,” he said quietly, “that I is never having a chance to go to school. I is full of mistakes. They is not my fault. I do my best. You is a lovely little girl, but please remember that you is not exactly Miss Knoweverything yourself.” “I’m sorry,” Sophie said. “I really am. It is very rude of me to keep correcting you.” (14.31-32)
Even though Sophie is better at language, there is plenty the BFG can teach her about the world. This very serious talk from the BFG finally gets her to focus on what he’s saying instead of his odd word choices. And it’s a good lesson in politeness, too.
“I is reading it hundreds of time,” the BFG said. “And I is still reading it and teaching new words to myself and how to write them. It is the most scrumdiddlyumptious story.” (14.102)
It’s pretty impressive that the BFG taught himself to write using only one book. Even if the book is a long one like Nicholas Nickleby. How he turned Dickens’ 19th-century English into the giant-y garble he speaks remains a mystery.
“Every afternoon,” the BFG said, “all these giants is in the Land of Noddy.” “I can’t understand a word this feller says,” the Head of the Army snapped. “Why doesn’t he speak clearly?” “He means the Land of Nod,” Sophie said. “It’s pretty obvious.” (21.19-21)
Sophie’s questioned the BFG’s language herself, but she won’t let someone else do it. She’s the BFG’s friend, and friends stick up for each other’s funny talking habits. Also, this is the only time she’s fresh with anyone.
The BFG expressed a wish to learn how to speak properly, and Sophie herself, who loved him as she would a father, volunteered to give him lessons every day. She even taught him how to spell and to write sentences, and he turned out to be a splendid intelligent pupil. (23.13)
Someone who already has taught himself to write, and who has expressed so much care for the importance of language throughout the book, would definitely be a good pupil. It’s nice that the BFG gets his wish, even if it means he doesn’t say any more wonderful made-up words.
“I is the titchy one. I is the runt. Twenty-four feet is puddlenuts in Giant Country.”
“You mustn’t feel bad about it,” Sophie said. “I think you are just great. Why even your toes must be as big as sausages.”
“Bigger,” said the BFG, looking pleased. (6.37-39)
It’s only the sixth chapter, and already Sophie knows how to make her new friend feel good—by reminding him how large he is. Talk about sausages and it’s enough to make anyone’s day.
He galloped off fast to his cave with Sophie hanging on tight to the rim of the pocket. He rolled back the stone. He entered the cave. He was very excited. He was moving quickly. “You stay where you is in my pocket, huggybee,” he said. “We is doing this lovely bit of buckswashling together.” (13.17)
It’s Sophie and the BFG’s first prank! A milestone in any friendship. Note the BFG’s perfect pet name for Sophie: a combination of “hug” and “honeybee.” Adorbs.
“That,” the BFG said, “is because one day I is catching so many dreams I is not having the time or energy to write out long labels. But there is enough to remind me.” “Can I look?” Sophie said. The long-suffering BFG carried her across to the jars he was pointing to. (14.83-85)
Friendship is holding your friend up to read labels on shelves five times her height, even when your arm is tired.
“What’s the matter?” Sophie whispered in her under-the-breath voice. “I is in a bit of a puddle,” he said. “You’re doing marvelously,” Sophie whispered. (17.26-28)
Sophie’s first instinct when the BFG gets nervous is to encourage him. She wants to keep going, yes, but she also wants him to feel good about himself.
“I is going off to wait in the garden,” the BFG whispered. “When you is wanting me, just call out my name and I is coming very quick.”
“Will you hear me?” Sophie whispered.
“You is forgetting these,” the BFG whispered, smiling and pointing to his great ears.
“Goodbye,” Sophie whispered.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, the BFG leaned forward and kissed her gently on the cheek. (18.48-52)
The BFG hasn’t called Sophie a friend yet, or shown much affection. He’s been kind, but this is the moment where we see how much she means to him.
“He is a good giant, Your Majesty,” Sophie said. “You need not be frightened of him.” “I’m delighted to hear it,” said the Queen, still smiling. “He is my best friend, Your Majesty.” (19.92-94)
Here’s another milestone. Sophie not only refers to the BFG as her friend: he’s her BFF BFG.
A shower of glass fell upon the poor BFG. “Gunghummers and bogswinkles!” he cried. “What was that?” “It was Louis the Fifteenth,” the Queen said, looking slightly put out. “He’s never been to a house before,” Sophie said. (20.28-30)
See how Sophie rushes to defend the BFG? She doesn’t want the Queen to think that he’s careless, so she tries to explain his behavior. He can’t be blamed if he just plain doesn’t know household etiquette, right?
The BFG looked down from his lofty perch and said, this time to the Head of the Air Force, “You is having bellypoppers, is you not?”
“Is he being rude?” the Head of the Air Force said.
“He means helicopters,” Sophie told him. (21.27-19)
What’s better than a friend? A translator. Without Sophie’s help interpreting, the Heads of the Army and Air Force would never understand the plan for capturing the other giants.
“Well done you!” Sophie cried. “Well done you!” said the BFG, smiling down at the little girl. “You is saving all of our lives!” (21.131-132)
The BFG and Sophie have worked together to take down the Fleshlumpeater, and neither one is trying to take all the credit. They’re simply proud of each other. Not to mention relieved not to be a snack right about now.
The Queen herself gave orders that a special house with tremendous high ceilings and enormous doors should immediately be built in Windsor Great Park, next to her own castle, for the BFG to live in. And a pretty little cottage was put up next door for Sophie. (23.10)
Imagine how funny it must look: a ginormous mansion next to what looks like a dollhouse. And the Queen doesn’t even need to ask to know that the best place for Sophie and the BFG is with each other. They belong together—even if together means different houses. Hey, you can’t blame her for not wanting to get stepped on.
“You is talking rommytot,” the BFG said, growing braver by the second. He was thinking that if only he could get the Bloodbottler to take one bite of the repulsive vegetable, the sheer foulness of its flavour would send him bellowing out of the cave. “I is happy to let you sample it,” the BFG went on. “But please, when you see how truly glumptious it is, do not be guzzling the whole thing. Leave me a little snitchet for my supper.” (9.21)
The BFG has probably never heard the term “reverse psychology,” but he’s definitely good at it. By begging the Bloodbottler not to eat too much of the snozzcumber, he gets the giant to play right into his hands (and right into his really gross vegetable).
“I should like to find a way of disappearing them, every single one.” “I’d be glad to help you,” Sophie said. “Let me see if I can’t think up a way of doing it.” (9.57-58)
Sophie’s eager to stop the giants, but what’s so impressive is how she speaks. She’s totally confident in her ability to come up with a plan, even though the BFG has lived with this situation basically as long as he’s been alive and has never thought of anything. Not every eight-year-old has got that kind of confidence.
He crept on his toes toward the ugly brutes. They were still snoring loudly. They looked repulsive, filthy, diabolical. The BFG tip-toed around them. He went past the Gizzardgulper, the Bloodbottler, the Meatdripper, the Childchewer. Then he stopped. He had reached the Fleshlumpeater. He pointed at him, then he looked down at Sophie and gave her a big wink.
He knelt on the ground and very quietly he opened the suitcase. He took out of it the glass jar containing the terrible nightmarish trogglehumper. (13.20-21)
The narrator takes us through every second of this scene as if it were a comic strip. The BFG lets us (and Sophie) know what his idea is before he acts it out, and gives a big wink to prove it. Payback time.
Sophie was silent for a few moments. Then suddenly, in a voice filled with excitement, she cried out, “I’ve got it! By golly, I think I’ve got it!” (15.34)
Classic “eureka” moment going on here. A lightbulb might as well appear above Sophie’s head.
“How is you going to be sitting on the Queen’s windowsill, may I beg?” the BFG said. “You are going to put me there,” Sophie said. “And that’s the lovely part about it. If someone dreams that there is a little girl sitting on her window-sill and then she wakes up and sees that the little girl really is sitting there, that is a dream come true, is it not?” (15.93-94)
The beauty in Sophie’s plan is she uses every tool at her disposal. She knows the BFG can control dreams, so she uses that as a way to spread the news to the Queen. It’s called making use of your resources.
A man does not rise to become the Queen’s butler unless he is gifted with extraordinary ingenuity, adaptability, versatility, dexterity, cunning, sophistication, sagacity, discretion and a host of other talents that neither you nor I possess. Mr. Tibbs had them all. He was in the butler’s pantry sipping an early morning glass of ale when the news reached him. In a split second he had made the following calculations in his head: if a normal six-foot man requires a three-foot-high table to eat off, a twenty-four-foot giant will require a twelve-foot-high table. (20.2)
Here we meet another impressively clever person: Mr. Tibbs. The super-long list of abilities Mr. Tibbs has (that you and I don’t) is a clue that the next section is going to make him put all those special talents to the test. Let the comedy commence.
“So what you soldiers has to do is to creep up to the giants while they still in the Land of Noddy and tie their arms and legs with mighty ropes and whunking chains.” “Brilliant,” the Queen said. (21.24-25)
When the Queen says your plan is brilliant, it’s a good sign. The BFG has come up with a way to capture the giants without a gory confrontation. Assuming, of course, they stay asleep.
“Then we’re jiggered!” cried the Army General. “This is ridiculous!” cried the Air Marshal. “You must not be giving up so easy,” the BFG said calmly. “The first titchy bobstickle you meet and you begin shouting you is biffsquiggled.” (21.43-45)
The BFG’s “titchy bobstickle” speech could also be called “advice for how to be clever.” First step: don’t give up so quick. The BFG, being smaller than all the other giants, is used to coming up with roundabout ways for keeping out of their way. The Heads of the Army and Navy, on the other hand, have big guns, which translates to not being as used to thinking of creative solutions.
The BFG, knowing what a coward the Fleshlumpeater was, saw his chance. “You is bitten by a snake!” he shouted. “I seed it biting you! It was a frightsome poisnowse viper! It was a dreadly dangerous vindscreen viper!” (21.119)
The BFG is able to outsmart the other giants by using what he already knows about them. For him, it’s all about mind games. Luckily, being bitten by a vindscreen viper is less of a problem than getting tied off and carted off to England by all the Queen’s men.
“What a clever fellow you are,” the Queen said. “You are not very well-educated but you are really nobody’s fool, I can see that.” (22.19)
Gotta love the Queen. She can see past the BFG’s speech to how well thought-out his ideas are. If only our fourth-grade math teacher had seen the light in us that way.
“Dreams,” he said, “Is very mysterious things. They is floating around in the air like little wispy-misty bubbles. And all the time they is searching for sleeping people.” (7.56)
The main magical elements in this book are dreams. They way they are described makes them almost like creatures. Imagine a dream sidling over to sleeping people to experience them, just like dogs pant up to you asking to be patted.
She had offended him, she could see that. “I wouldn’t ever be fibbling to you,” he said. “I know you wouldn’t,” Sophie said. “But you must understand that it isn’t easy to believe such amazing things straightaway.” (7.98-100)
Sophie’s an eager student of the BFG’s brand of magic. He’s just throwing too many new ideas at her too fast. She’s trying to explain that it’s not that she thinks he’s a liar—she just needs time for the ideas to sink in. You know how it takes a few days for that new geometry concept to start making sense? It’s like that. But maybe slightly funner.
Sometimes, on a very clear night,” the BFG said, “and if I is swiggling my ears in the right direction” – and here he swiveled his great ears upwards so they were facing the ceiling – “if I is swiggling them like this and the night is very clear, I is sometimes hearing faraway music coming from the stars in the sky.” A queer little shiver passed through Sophie’s body. She sat very quiet, waiting for more. (7.81-82)
The type of magic in this book is natural magic, associated with elements of the earth like animals, plants, and the stars. They’re elements we’re already familiar with—even though we’re not familiar with the magic they spit out—and that combination is what makes the fantasy really come alive.
“One of the biggest chatbags is the cattlepiddlers,” the BFG said.
“What do they say?”
“They is argying all the time about who is going to be the prettiest butteryfly. That is all they is ever talking about.” (7.116-118)
This is everything. Caterpillars having reality TV-style catfights—er, caterpillarfights? MTV is on its way with a miniature camera crew.
“You mean you don’t even know how old you are?” “No giant is knowing that,” the BFG said. “All I is knowing about myself is that I is very old, very very old and crumply. Perhaps as old as the earth.” “What happens when a giant dies?” Sophie asked. “Giants is never dying,” the BFG answered. “Sometimes and quite suddenly, a giant is disappearing and nobody is ever knowing where he goes to. But mostly us giants is simply going on and on like whiffsy time-twiddlers.” (8.29-32)
The fact that giants disappear instead of die amps up the mystery element of the story’s magic. The BFG doesn’t know where he came from, or where he’s going. It’s hard to get much kookier than that. Especially when you throw in whiffsy time-twiddlers.
“It’s wiggling all over the place!” Sophie cried. “It’s fighting to get out! It’ll bash itself to bits!” “The nastier the dream, the angrier it is getting when it is in prison,” the BFG said. “It is the same with wild animals. If an animal is very fierce and you is putting it in a cage, it will make a tremendous rumpledumpus. If it is a nice animal like a cockatootloo or a fogglefrump, it will sit quietly.” (12.36)
Here’s another section where the dreams are described as alive, almost like animals. Bet you didn’t know nightmares fight each other before they start causing trouble in your mind. Still, that’s nothing compared to the idea of a fogglefrump. Maybe a mix between a frog and Donald Trump?
“So the music is saying something to them. It is sending a message. I do not think the human beans is knowing what the message is, but they is loving it just the same.”
“That’s about right,” Sophie said.
“But because of these jumpsquiffling ears of mine,” the BFG said, “I is not only able to hear the music that dreams is making but I is understanding it also.”
“What do you mean by understanding it?” Sophie said.
“I can read it,” the BFG said. “It talks to me. It is like a langwitch.” (14.18-22)
It’s almost halfway through the book when we learn this remarkable thing about the BFG. We already know he’s a dream-blower and has supersonic hearing. Now he understands music like a language? Even the conservatory won’t get you that kind of skillz.
“The matter with human beans,” the BFG went on, “is that they absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles. Of course quogwinkles is existing. I is meeting with them oftenly. I is even chittering to them.” He turned away contemptuously from Sophie and resumed his writing. (14.28)
We never learn what quogwinkles are. They’re just a reminder of how there is so much that humans don’t yet know.
“That’s cruel,” Sophie said. “Everything alive needs food of some sort. Even trees and plants.” “The north wind is alive,” the BFG said. “It is moving. It touches you on the cheek and on the hands. But nobody is feeding it.” Sophie was silent. This extraordinary giant was disturbing her ideas. He seemed to be leading her towards mysteries that were beyond her understanding. (14.48-50)
The BFG keeps on challenging Sophie’s way of looking at things. The way he sees the world is more magic than science, but he makes some points, too. Though the wind being a spirit that is alive is a cool idea, even if it isn’t technically true.
“That’s exactly what I am telling you!” cried the Air Force man. “Look for yourself. Here’s the very last map in the whole flaming atlas! We went off that over an hour ago!” He turned the page. As in all atlases, there were two completely blank pages at the very end. “So now we must be somewhere here,” he said, putting a finger on one of the blank pages.
“Where’s here?” cried the Head of the Army.
The young pilot was still grinning broadly. He said to them, “That’s why they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They’re for new countries. You’re meant to fill them in for yourself.” (21.80-82)
And that’s your lesson in avoiding how to answer direct questions. It’s kind of ingenious the way Roald Dahl skips over the question of where exactly Giant Country is. It’s a land that has never been explored before, and by having his characters change the subject instead of talking about actual geography, he’s going to keep it that way.
The next moment, a huge hand with pale fingers came snaking in through the window. This was followed by an arm, an arm as thick as a tree-trunk, and the arm, the hand, the fingers were reaching out across the room towards Sophie’s bed.
This time Sophie really did scream, but only for a second because very quickly the huge hand clamped down over her blanket and the scream was smothered by the bedclothes. (3.5)
This image, from Sophie’s in-bed point-of-view, is horrifying. A giant hand literally grabs her. It’s like the start to a trogglehumper—but worse, because it’s before she knows there’s a funny word for “nightmare.”
The Giant picked up the trembling Sophie with one hand and carried her across the cave and put her on the table. Now he is really going to eat me, Sophie thought. (5.1-2)
Here we get another snapshot of Sophie’s tiny size: she fits on top of his table. She’s like the size of a plate, or maybe just a spoon. How could someone that small escape a giant? If we didn’t know the book’s initials stand for Big Friendly Giant, we’d think she’s screwed.
“And who please is going to be stopping them?” asked the BFG. “Couldn’t you?” said Sophie. “Never in a pig’s whistle!” cried the BFG. “All of those man-eating giants is enormous and very fierce! They is all at least two times my wideness and double my royal highness!” (6.33)
The BFG’s small size compared to the other giants is another twist in scale. Before this moment, he seemed powerful, but here we learn that compared to other giants, he’s just as weak as Sophie.
Suddenly, there was a crunch as the Bloodbottler bit a huge hunk off the end. Sophie saw his yellow teeth clamping together, a few inches from her head. Then there was utter darkness. She was in his mouth. She caught a whiff of his evil-smelling breath. It stank of bad meat. She waited for the teeth to go crunch once more. She prayed that she would be killed quickly. (9.31)
Shmoop just got real. It doesn’t get much more hopeless than being actually inside a giant’s mouth. We don’t know what’s worse: the fear of slowly and painfully being munched to death, or having to smell the big guy’s breath the whole time.
Suddenly, the Fleshlumpeater shot out two enormous hands and grabbed the BFG around the waist. He tossed him high in the air and shouted, “Catch him, Manhugger!” (11.37)
The tables have turned: just like the BFG grabbed Sophie earlier in the story, now the BFG is lifted by large hands. He’s huge to Sophie, but to the other giants, he’s the size of a ball.
They dumped the poor BFG on the ground. He was dazed and shattered. They gave him a few kicks and shouted, “Run, you little runt! Let us be seeing how fast you is galloping!” The BFG ran. What else could he do? The giants picked up rocks and hurled them after him. (11.44)
In this whole scene, the BFG has no choice. He’s at the mercy of the other giants. He has to run when they say run. At least he’s running in the opposite direction of them.
“Great Scott!” cried the famous voice. “Eighteen girls vanish mysteriously from their beds at Roedean School! Fourteen boys disappear from Eton! Bones are found underneath dormitory windows!” (18.46)
We knew before that children were going to be killed, but the detail about the bones makes the horror of children being eaten feel a bit too real.
At this point, Mr. Tibbs suddenly realized that in order to serve the BFG at his twelve-foot-high-grandfather-clock table, he would have to climb to the top of one of the tall stepladders. What’s more, he must do it balancing a huge warm plate on the palm of one hand and holding a gigantic silver coffee-pot in the other. A normal man would have flinched at the thought of it. But good butlers never flinch. Up he went, up and up and up, while the Queen and Sophie watched him with great interest. It is possible they were both secretly hoping he would lose his balance and go crashing to the floor. But good butlers never crash. (20.37)
Mr. Tibbs, the butler, is both small and impressive in this scene. It reminds us just how funny and odd it would look to have a giant being served by tiny people. Kind of like people being served by ants.
“I is guzzling you nice and slow!” the Fleshlumpeater was saying to the soldier in his hand. “Then I is guzzling ten or twenty more of you midgy little maggots down there! You is not getting away from me because I is galloping fifty times faster than you!” (21.116)
Uh oh, little soldiers. At this moment, it seems like hope could be lost. There is no chance the soldiers could escape the Fleshlumpeater, even if they run. Lucky Sophie’s a quick thinker.
There was only one disaster. Three silly men who had drunk too much beer for lunch decided to climb over the high fence surrounding the pit, and of course they fell in. There were yells of delight from the giants below, followed by the crunching of bones. (23.12)
There’s something especially gory about the sound of human bones crunching. It reminds us that even though the giants are trapped in a hole, they’re just as powerful as ever. At least they’re only powerful inside the hole, though. If you needed convincing not to drink too much beer, now you have it.