Read It Before You See It: The BFG

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Late last year, I resolved to read at least one children’s book each month.  I wanted to be able to recommend books to our younger patrons and, let’s face it, I’m basically a giant child.

Speaking of giants and awesome segues, this month I read Roald Dahl’s The BFG in anticipation for its big-screen adaptation by everyone’s favorite director, Steven Spielberg.

Little orphan Sophie catches a glimpse of a Giant one night as he’s stalking the streets of London.  Convinced that she’ll tell the whole world about Giants, he kidnaps her and takes her back to Giant Country.  There she learns that the Giant is actually friendly—the titular BFG—but there are nine other Giants in Giant Country who are much bigger and a whole lot meaner than the BFG.  While the BFG is content to catch dreams and blow them into the minds of sleeping children, the other Giants of Giant Country only want to eat humans.  Sophie and the BFG hatch a plan to stop the other grisly Giants once and for all that involves the Army, the Air Force and the Queen of England.

The oft-adapted author of such childhood classics as Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and—my personal favorite—James and the Giant Peach—has spun a whimsical yarn of a story for all ages about the importance of dreams and, more importantly, acceptance of people who are different.

The BFG literally comes from a different land.  As such, he has a few problems speaking proper English.  Instead, he speaks a language of semi-English words merged with other words to form a kind of Giant vernacular.  He’s obviously not dumb, he’s just different.  Sophie—somewhat arrogantly—calls him out on his speech patterns a few times, but he explains that he’s always had trouble with words.

“Once again that sad and winsome look came into the BFG’s eyes. ‘Words,’ he said, ‘is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.  So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I knows exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.'”

Once again that sad and winsome look came into the BFG’s eyes. “Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.  So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I knows exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.”

Think of children, the novel’s target audience.  Words are new to their little mouths and they’re often so excited about what they’re trying to say that everything gets jumbled into a word salad.  I suppose the same could be said of adults hopped up on too much caffeine.  In that way, the BFG is not only a stand-in for overeager children, but for anyone who doesn’t speak the same way you do—anyone who’s different.  To a certain degree, The BFG acts as a sly guide on how to raise children to not be xenophobes.  That’s a message that was important when the book was published in 1982 and it’s definitely important today.

But, then again, maybe I’m just a giant adult overanalyzing a book for children.

As for the adaptation opening on July 1, early buzz has been mixed, but when you have Disney producing a Roald Dahl adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg, it’s kind of hard to not create something special.  If the trailer is anything to go by, it looks like we’re going to be getting a fun, visually stunning summer blockbuster.

And what’s summer without a Spielberg film?

-Ross

Ross works as a Clerk at the Mt. Washington branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He loves reading books and watching movies and will often ramble about the two here.