With the BFG Movie Coming and All
In honor of a very special day, I thought I'd revive this old post about a book I found, um, intriguing, with some interesting asides (see below!).
My first thought as I read this book was Wow! Dahl is on LSD! Which makes sense for a book published in the 80s (is Dahl a child of the 60s/70s?). But no, he wasn't on psychotropic drugs. The book is Freud and Jung with a dash of Platonic forms. That says it all, doesn't it?
Ok, on to at least one real thought: BFG’s fabulous voice of made-up words, rhythm and bizarre syntax that never muddles meaning makes the book vivid and real, and surprisingly easy to read. Logic, however, seems a non-essential factor in this book, and in fantasy for this age in general. Example: the BFG can’t understand the natterbox spiders (he doesn’t know the language), but he can understand the chatbag cattypiddlers. Um. Why? Not that I really care because, hello, natterbox spiders and chatbag cattypiddlers are just too freaking awesome.
Yet I can’t get away from a Freudian reading of this book. Case in point, the giants have these frankfurter lips, right? And we all know what hot dogs represent... And they have this slimy drool, and little Sophie ends up in a giant cucumber-like (phallic much?) vegetable and is then taken into the giant’s mouth ... Yes, yes, I know. A stretch. It’s just creepy to me, like the author is subconsciously working through some latent memories he can't make sense of. Anyway, enough of that. Now for additional disjointed and seemingly random thoughts:
I love how the BFG is so childlike while the giants are rather obviously bullies, though the “message” is a little too heavy-handed for me, and a wee wittle one-sided. There's a line about human beans (yes, 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.
Moving on: 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. In public. People are looking at me.
On the downside, it took to page 118 (Sophie trying to save the school kids) for there to be strong forward motion. The plot was muddled throughout 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. Obviously, right? RIGHT?
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.
As an aside, I loved the bit about why there are 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 for life itself?
A second aside: Dahl and I share a birthday! Which just so happens to be TODAY! Happy birthday to us!