Do you know what the BFG stood for before his publisher told him he had to think of other words for the acronym? Dahl wasn’t joking either, not at all. This story is of a man’s interest in a prepubescent girl. The first thing he does is enter her bedroom in the middle of the night and kidnap her. Taking her away from the orphanage she lives in to the land of the extremely unfriendly giants who, in the original draft forced the little girl to look at their giant ‘clubs’. But the BFG’s different, he’s friendly….(grooming!) It all ends with the little girl giving the BFG kisses and living next door to him and everyone is very happy. Dahl sees himself as the BFG giving Sophie, children, a new way to think, different from human adults, who don’t even believe in giants let alone let themselves be loved by them.
It is an inventive story without doubt, and all fairy stories require you to absolutely suspend disbelief. Lots of them include sexual and violent elements which children either don’t notice (sexual) or thoroughly enjoy (violent). When Disney gets hold of them, they lose both and become the anodyne Barbie-doll princesses (cue violins-in-the-background) we are used to. In that tradition, the BFG succeeds.
In the mid-to-late 20thC there was less emphasis on paedophilia than there is now, and I wonder if it this book could have been written at all in the 21stC. Ironically, this book is banned in some educational districts in the US for ‘teaching poor moral values’ and cannibalism. Ridiculous. Children laugh at those sort of things. I don’t believe in banning books, but Dahl was an unpleasant character and it is wilful blindness to ignore the feet of clay our heroes sometimes have as we place laurel wreaths on their brows.
Misogyny: Dahl’s misogyny, especially in his adult stories, is quite extreme, and, in shades of Harper Lee and Go Set a Watchman being turned into To Kill a Mockingbird at the publisher’s insistence, the first draft of Matilda:
“Painted the protagonist as a devilish little hussy who only later becomes “clever”, perhaps because she found herself without very much to do after torturing her parents.”Dahl’s editor Stephen Roxburgh completely revised Dahl’s last novel and, in doing so, turned it into his most popular book.”
Anti semitism,: ” In a 1983 interview with the New Statesman, he said, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they [the Jews] were always submissive.” Buzzfeed
Racism and rudeness. Remember the Oompah-Loompahs? The NAACP objected that in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the manual labor, performed by characters called Oompa-Loompas, are described by Dahl as African Pygmies, essentially brought-over slaves running the chocolate factory. Look at the original illustrations for the first edition of the book on Bidnessetc In the BFG, one of the giants, the Fleshlumpeater is supposed a black character, certainly another of them likes eating Turkish people.
There is also a discussion on Bignessetc on his general misogyny and unpleasant character leading his publishing company, Knopf, who made a lot of money from him to write,
“You have behaved to us in a way I can honestly say is unmatched in my experience for overbearingness and utter lack of civility.”
Dahl used to belong to the only country club in South Wales that allowed Jewish members. My father and grandfather were members in their time. He once objected very loudly to the number of Jews dining there and how it fouled the atmosphere. The management threw him out and banned him. He is supposed to have done something similar at a gambling club in London with the same result!
I think he worked on the principle that everyone male, white and Christian shared his views on women, non-whites and Jews. I get it here, those sort of whites say racist things to me thinking because I am white I will go along with it. My clerks, always black, say they get complaints about whites from other blacks thinking they are bound to sympathise, but they don’t. But most of us aren’t racist or hate any group of people. Trouble is most people aren’t vocal about that in a conversation and are likely to nod and just file it away. We need always to speak out.
Perhaps the best link of all to Roald Dahl is This Recording. He was without doubt a horrible person, but equally without doubt, a tremendously talented writer with an extraordinary imagination. I’ve enjoyed on some level all of his books and the films made of them.