The BFG
Roald Dahl
Contributed by Pearl Vahle
Context

Author’s Biography

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, near the Welsh capital of Cardiff, on September 13, 1916, to parents Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg. Dahl was raised by his single mother after the death of his father and sister when he was three. Dahl attended boarding school throughout his childhood, and joined the Public Schools Exploring Society on an expedition to Newfoundland before becoming a salesman for Shell Oil in Dar es Salaam. Dahl enlisted in the Royal Air Force in Nairobi at the start of World War II. After a crash landing in the Libyan desert, Dahl wrote Shot Down Over Libya, an account of the crash. After the war, while raising five children, Dahl began writing children’s stories. Over the course of his life, he worked as a novelist, short-story writer, poet, fighter pilot, screenwriter, inventor, spy and chocolate historian.

Dahl’s 19 children’s books include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Whitbread Award-winner The Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, George’s Marvelous Medicine, and Matilda, a winner of the Children’s Book Award from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. Dahl was also awarded the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award three times. Dahl’s books are widely available in illustrated editions, and several—including James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Fantastic Mr. Fox—have been adapted to film. Dahl is also known for a large collection of adult short stories, including "The Landlady," "Beware of the Dog," "An African Story," and several others. Dahl is also known for writing screenplays for film and television, including the television shows Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected, and films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice

Dahl died on November 23, 1990 of myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood disorder. He was 74.

Context

The BFG was written in 1982 by Roald Dahl. Dahl was a well-known author at this point, having already published popular books such as Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Danny, the Champion of the World. These books established his legacy as a delightful children’s author. The idea for The BFG, the tale of a giant who captured dreams and gave the good ones to children, occurred to Dahl several years beforehand. He wrote the idea in his Idea Book, where he kept small ideas that he imagined. The basic idea was first used in Danny, the Champion of the World, as a bedtime story that Danny’s father told to Danny. Dahl also told the story to his own children as a bedtime story.

Essentially, the plot centers around a young girl named Sophie living in an orphanage with a mean headmistress. Lying awake one night, she sees the BFG coming down the road giving children dreams. He takes her away to the land of the giants, and there she must manage, with the BFG’s help, to not get eaten by the other giants who are not as nice as the BFG (by a long shot, for they eat children and are rude and nasty). She manages to outwit and stop them from going to eat the Queen of England with the assistance of the BFG. They get captured and everyone lives happily. The BFG even adopts Sophie.

The BFG, as well as the other giants in the story, speak in a sort of pidgin English, called gobblefunk. It is fully understandable, but peppered with gibberish words such as “ twitch-tickling” and “squiff-squiddled.” This was done to help further differentiate the giants from the humans and just to be funny of course. This is an example of Roald Dahl’s characteristic humorous style.

The BFG stands for "The Big Friendly Giant," which is ironic, as the BFG is the smallest giant by far compared to the other giants. He is, however, exceedingly friendly. The Queen of England plays no small part in this book. While she is only called “The Queen of England” in the book, the character is based on Queen Elizabeth II. The lead character of Sophie is named for Roald Dahl’s granddaughter, Sophie Dahl (biography.com).

The BFG was given the honor of receiving the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Award in 1982. It is also Dahl’s favorite story that he has ever written. It has been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, French, Afrikaans, and Welsh. There has been one film adaptation and another is being planned. In 1989, ITV aired an animated version, starring Amanda Root as Sophie. A movie version of the BFG premiered in 2016 and starred Mark Rylance as the BFG (Debruge).

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