One Bizarre Book: The BFG by Roald Dahl
The BFG by Roald Dahl. FS&G, 1982.
My first thought: wow! Dahl is on LSD! Which makes sense for an early 80s book (child of the 60s/70s). But no, not psychotropic drugs, just a little Freud and Jung with a dash of Platonic forms. Ok, on to at least one real thought: BFG’s fabulous voice of made-up words, rhythm and bizarre syntax that never muddles meaning. It is so vivid and real, and so surprisingly easy to read. But logic seems a non-essential factor in fantasy for this age. The BFG can’t understand the natterbox spiders (doesn’t know the language), but he can understand the chatbag cattypiddlers? Why?
- Yet I can’t get away from a Freudian reading of this book. The giants have frankfurter lips (and we all know what hot dogs represent), with slimy drool, and little Sophie ends up in a giant cucumber-like (oh-so-phallic) vegetable and is then taken into the giant’s mouth ... yes, yes, I know. It’s just creepy to me, like it’s some latent memory the author hasn’t yet come to terms with.
- I love how the BFG is so childlike while the giants are rather obviously bullies. Though the “message” was a little heavy-handed. There is a line about human beans being the only ones that kill their own kind, which isn’t true at all. I had enough hamsters as a child to know they often kill one another, and they eat their young (or in the case of Peaches, half of one of her young. The other half she left for me to find). On that note, I was a little annoyed by the social commentary. It seems the book was half parody (jack and the beanstalk references), half fantasy, and half cultural critique (yes, I know my halves don’t add up). Yet even with all the talk of how human beans kill one another, the giants (only doing what comes naturally to themselves, unlike the awful humans) get a pretty severe punishment.
- Stephen King wrote somewhere that horror is having people react in expected ways to unexpected events—here a giant meets real England and a table is made for him of grandfather clocks and a ping pong table. Dahl gives great authenticating details of the butler needing a ladder to set the table, it taking four footmen to carry the clocks, and so on. Such great humor here, and the fart jokes, and by the bellypoppers and portedos I’m laughing aloud.
- I loved the bit on p.196 about blank pages at the back of an atlas—to draw the places no one has ever been. Isn’t that a metaphor for writing? And life itself?
- On the downside, it took to page 118 (Sophie trying to save the school kids, which she didn’t actually do!) for there to be strong forward motion. The plot was a little muddled and not tied up too neatly at the end. Maybe because the whole thing is just some Jungian shared dream? It was all Dahl’s dream, obviously, since he is the BFG who, we discover at the end, is writing the story. So although I found the book creepily Freudian/Jungian, and although I did enjoy the wild creativity and fun use of language, I do hope Dahl got himself some good psychotherapy.