When is the last time you read a book that you genuinely enjoyed reading every word and every page? I’m not talking about reading a book and thinking, “that was pretty good/bad/enjoyable” etc. and getting a lot of CPD or a new point of view from, I’m talking about when you last read a book that had you smiling from start to finish? Laughed out loud and felt like a seven year old kid again while reading? That special bit of childish wonder creeping back into a more mature (and in my case) a much more cynical mind?
“Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”
Recently, after finishing a book on Intercultural Communicative Competence for some bed time reading (which was very good by the way), a little voice in my head chirped up and gave me the thought of reading something lighter, something easier for the heart and soul – maybe it was actually my seven year old self talking to me in 2021. With this year and last being…the way it has been in its own unique thankless manner, I decided, why not go for something that was much lighter reading that what I’d usually sit down with.
“Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.”
So for some reason, I was immediately drawn to the idea of reading Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake as those stories and illustrations were a pretty standard feature of my childhood. Almost nightly in fact, for a long as I can remember. Along with Enid Blyton (although those books may not have aged just as well, but I’m not getting into that here).
I bought The BFG in the Kobo Bookstore for my e-ink ereader, although I still have my original copy with the faded pink (it might have been red at one stage) cover and now very deep brown and faded pages back home in Ireland.
Although a much shorter book than I remember – it is a kid’s book after all, and I’ve just finished a second Masters, so my regular reading material has changed a lot in the last 30 years, I found it interesting how easy I was able to fall into Dahl’s world of Sophie and The Big Friendly Giant. Perhaps it is the storyteller in me, maybe it’s because I’ve been reading up on many folk stories from around Ireland recently that I found it so easy to fall into this imaginary version of England and Giant Country and found myself completely absorbed by the story.
“What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announced rather grandly.”
But it wasn’t just the story that made it so much fun to read, it was Dahl’s use of language. There is something utterly lovable in the language he uses, and what he invents. Anyone who grew up with Dahl’s books remembers instantly the scrumdiddlyumptious food stuffs from chocolate factories, Vermicious Knids that often would eat poor, helpless Oompa Loompas and disgusting Snozzcumbers that are one of the only types of foods the BFG would eat.
There is an innocence but also a very serious maturity about the books he writes, especially when it is a character looking back on humanity. After all, Dahl served in the Second World War as a fighter pilot, so chances are, to put it mildly, ‘he’s seen some shit.’
Have a look at this next quote from the book,
“Do you like vegetables?” Sophie asked, hoping to steer the conversation towards a slightly less dangerous kind of food.
“You is trying to change the subject,” the Giant said sternly. “We is having an interesting babblement about the taste of the human bean. The human bean is not a vegetable.”
There is so much of that, which has me stopping to read it twice and thinking to myself “ahh here, that’s so nicely put.”
This was when Sophie first landed in Giant Country and she was still trying to work out of she was going to be lunch or not. But it’s not just the innocent, almost childlike way the BFG speaks, it’s also a genius use of language from Dahl – it makes perfect sense, but it works so artistically. That said, it obviously brought up the question of – how the hell would I introduce that to second language learners?! That might be a battle for another day.
Although obviously written for a younger audience, there is also a fantastical adult interpretation of the entire story and logic of it all. Towards the end when the Air Force are headed for Giant Country to catch the nasty giants to prevent them eating people, one pilot of a helicopter asks another for directions, to which one replies (after he’s been tracking their location on a map) that they’ve gone off the map onto the adjacent blank page! Wonderful!
The fantastical storytelling also appears when the BFG talks about catching dreams in jars, just like someone would back when they would catch butterflies or bees a few generations ago. There is something of a traditional storyteller right there, catching these dreams or stories, then sending them onto the dreamer or sleeper to enjoy for another time. While I keep stories I come across in text files, video and note books, the BFG keeps his in glass jars, and they move around like little creatures, alive inside.
“We is in Dream Country,’ the BFG said, ’this is where all dreams is beginning.”
So my advice is take some time off the ‘heavy’ reading once in a while and just enjoy an easier book for the sake of enjoyment itself. I found myself smiling the whole way through The BFG and am about to start Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator next, with a few others lined up after that as well. Grab those books you read as a youngster and just bloody enjoy them again!
“Yesterday,” he said, “we was not believing in giants, was we? Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers. Just because we happen not to have actually seen something with our own two little winkles, we think it is not existing.”
Enjoy that childish magic all over again.
Still as fresh as ever.