The BFG is one of those books that I had always almost assumed that I had read, without really ever thinking about. We have always had a copy in the house, and it’s Roald Dahl, so I must have read it, surely? Only when I saw that it had been published in 1982, and therefore would count towards my challenge of reading ten books from the year I was born, I realised that I hadn’t read it.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for 32 years and don’t know the story of The BFG, it starts with a little girl called Sophie who is kidnapped from her bedroom in an orphanage by a giant. Never having seen a giant before, Sophie is obviously terrified, but it soon transpires that she has had the good luck to be captured by the only Big Friendly Giant that there is. The rest of the giants are child-eating monsters, going out every night to gobble up children all over the world, and Sophie and the BFG concoct a plan to stop them.
The first thing to say is that like most British people of a certain age, I’ve always considered myself a huge Roald Dahl fan. I read Matilda at a young age, and like many bookish children, it really struck a chord. I didn’t have an awful childhood like Matilda, but I did love books, and I loved how much she loved books. We read the likes of George’s Marvellous Medicine and James and the Giant Peach at school, and I read Going Solo as an adult and I loved it. So I fully expected to love The BFG, and I was ultimately a little underwhelmed by it.
It can be hard to judge a book that was written for children when reading it as an adult. Particularly when I didn’t read it and love it as a child, and so have no nostalgia for it. Ultimately I think that I would have found it entertaining and funny as a child, and I think it’s probably still going to appeal to children today. But reading it as an adult didn’t hold that same appeal to me. I found myself getting slightly irritated at the language that the BFG used because he didn’t know the right words. Again, I know this would have amused me as a child, but as an adult, it didn’t.
I liked the descriptions of how children across the world tasted, depending on which country they came from. I particularly liked the description of English children.
I is very fond of English school-children. They has a nice inky-books flavour.
The climax of the book sees Sophie and the BFG convincing the Queen that giants are real, and that something has to be done about the barbaric ones. This part of the book is problematic to me, but mainly because I’m reading a thirty-year old book in 2014. I’m not one of these people that thinks that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be banned because of the amount of times a racial slur is used. The word isn’t acceptable now, but it was in common usage then, and the book is an important book about slavery. But The BFG has a lot to say about the leaders of the world when the Queen decides she needs some help, and it’s not all good. The ‘Sultan of Baghdad’ chops people’s heads off “like you are chopping parsley”, don’t you know? I understand that an author could write such a thing in the early 80s and get away with it, but it was no more right then than it is now, and as we’re more sensitive to causing offence these days, is it fine to just read something like that and say “Oh, it was a different time!”, especially bearing in mind that we are reading these things to our children? There’s also the description of the Big Friendly Giant compared to the child-eating giants. Children might not necessarily pick up on it, but it’s clear to any adult that the difference between them is that the BFG has pale skin, and the others have dark skin.
There’s no denying that Roald Dahl has an amazing imagination, and that he created worlds for children to escape into and fall in love with. His particular talent, I think, is taking ordinary children from the ordinary world, and placing them in magical and mystical situations. The BFG certainly fulfils this, but for me, as a 21st century adult, there was too much I didn’t like about it, and I think if I ever had children, I’d probably think twice about sharing this particular Dahl classic with them.
The BFG by Roald Dahl
First published: 1982
Four down, six to go on number one of 32 Before 32 – read ten books from 1982.