Author: Roald Dahl
Finished on: 24 June 2017
Where did I get this book: This is my daughter’s book
When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I discussed our greatest parenting influences. Who were the role model parents we wanted to emulate?
Dr Tanya Byron featured highly for both of us. If watching a million episodes of House Of Tiny Tearaways were enough to make you a great parent, we would be sailing through. My husband’s top choice was Nemo’s dad from Finding Nemo. And for me it was easy. There was one stand out parent in all the books I’ve ever read that I knew I wanted to use as my blueprint.
That kite-making, car-fixing, lantern-building, pheasant-poaching superstar.
This has always been my favourite Roald Dahl book. I love George’s Marvellous Medicine. I love The BFG. Oh how I love Matilda. But Danny The Champion Of The World is something very special indeed. Like Swallows and Amazons, it hits the nail on the head because there is nothing supernatural, but it’s all completely magic.
A couple of years ago (we may have had a bottle of wine), my husband created a hand-written spreadsheet to determine my top ten books of all time. Using criteria from literary worth to unputdownability, we applied scientific reasoning to the question of which books were my favourites.
And Danny The Champion Of The World came out at number two. Of all the hundreds, possibly thousands, of books I have ever read, this one is number two. And I don’t dispute that finding at all.
This reread has been with my son, over many nights of bedtime stories. I don’t normally review the books I read to him, but this was our first chapter book together and it is awesome. So, it counts.
Reading it with him has been brilliant. This, the ultimate story of adventure, daring and sticking it to the man, has had us both on the edge of our seats with anxiety, laughing our heads off, crying with emotion (okay that was just me) and cheering with happiness. It is wonderful.
I must confess it’s different reading it as a parent. It turns out that – shock horror – Danny’s dad isn’t perfect. He puts his beloved son in harm’s way far more than I can approve of, and doesn’t feed him enough.
But it is still a masterpiece. Dahl is a literary genius. Any writer who can take up four pages with changing gear in a car, and make it completely gripping, even to a four-year-old with a usual attention span of approximately three milliseconds, is doing something special. Dahl’s ability to bring a character to vivid life in one sentence flat; the way he changes pace from a year in a sentence, to a minute in a chapter, without showing the joins; the way he speaks directly to his reader without ever seeming self-conscious; his masterful manipulation of our emotions.
He tells extraordinary stories extraordinarily well. And this one is the most extraordinary of all.
But I still have one question that has bothered me for thirty years. Do pheasants really love raisins? Genuinely, if you know, please tell me.