Its fast, funny and furiously charming. If Willy Wonka was Dahls younger, harder secret self, the BFG is his older, more avuncular avatar. He is a maker of dreams who spirits the heroine Sophie (named after his granddaughter – the book is dedicated to her, too) away when she spies him at his nightly work and together they save the worlds children from human bean-eating giants.
When Quentin Blake came to illustrate the book, he couldnt work out what the BFG should wear on his feet. He consulted Dahl. Through the post a few days later came one of Dahls own huge, battered Norwegian leather sandals. And those are what the BFG wears.
Like all writers, Dahl had an ideas notebook. One of the scribbled lines in it ran: Beer stealing. An old boy dropped his glass eye into the tankard. He then saw it looking up at him.
From such tiny acorns do fabulously diseased oak trees grow. This time, it gave us the glorious grotesquerie that is The Twits. I remember vividly the story being read to us in primary school. The spaghetti worms! The Hugtight glue on the Big Dead Tree! And consequently bird pie every week and one quartet of boys slipping out of their arbour-adhering trousers and running away with their naked bottoms winking at the sun! The penny-sized pieces of wood being added to Mrs Twits walking stick to make her think shed got the shrinks!
You think I had to look any of this up to refresh my memory? You underestimate the power of Dahl. The glass eye, of course, is Mrs Twits and turns up at the bottom of her unbeloved husbands beer mug. Nice.
Its a pure shot of happiness/disgust for younger readers who dont yet feel the need for a little light and shade in their stories – and indeed for older readers who occasionally feel life and literature is altogether too full of grey areas and would like to drill back down to basics.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
A collection of short stories for what would now be called a YA audience, and a fine bridge between Dahls childrens books and his adult work. The Swan still hurts my heart, The Mildenhall Treasure still has me writhing in exquisite agony, and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar itself still has me sighing in complete satisfaction.
It also contains Dahls first ever published story, about crashlanding in Libya during the war, and an essay Lucky Break – about how he came to write it. CS Forester (Dahl was moving in quite glamorous circles during and after the war) had been commissioned to write a story for the Saturday Evening Post about Dahls experience and Dahl offered to send him some notes, which turned out to be publishable in their own right. A lucky break for us all.