Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Danny the Champion of the World

Danny the Champion of the World
Roald Dahl ~ Jill Bennett ~ Alfred A. Knopf, 1975

I'm going to lay it on heavy for this one, and call it one of the best books I have ever read.


Adult or for children.

I know that's a tall order, and if I waver a bit in that description I can at least say, for sure, that it's my favorite Roald Dahl, ever.

Lacking the fantastical angle of his other books for kids, this story reads how a good book should. It's perfect. The simple tale of a man and his son and one fantastic hobby.

The book has been reillustrated several times (most recently, of course, by Mr. Blake), but the original pen and ink drawings by Ms. Bennett really stand out as particularly whimsical. I don't know why the first image was (and still is) a photograph of a baby instead of a drawing, but how cool is that!?!. Does anyone know if it's, in fact, a picture of Dahl or one of his children?

I had no brothers or sisters.

So all through my boyhood, from the age of four months onward, there was just us two, my father and me.

We lived in an old gypsy caravan behind a filling station. My father owned the filling station and the caravan and the small meadow behind, but that was about all he owned in the world. It was a very small filling station on a small country road surrounded by fields and woody hills.

While I was still a baby, my father washed me and fed me and changed my diapers and did all the millions of other things a mother normally does for a child. That is not an easy task for a man, especially when he has to earn his living at the same time by repairing automobile engines and serving customers gasoline.

But my father didn't seem to mind. I think all the love he had felt for my mother when she was alive he now lavished upon me.

I don't wanna give too much of the story away as it's marvelous, but know there are good guys and bad guys and illegal goings ons and little guys defeating big guys and pheasants.

Lots and lots of pheasants.

Not only is it a fascinating - mysterious - scary - loving read, but one of Dahl's most famous characters, The BFG, first appears here as a story the father tells. Dahl later went on to give the big friendly giant his own book, but it's here that the importance of oral story-telling is really felt.

My only regret is that I read this book to my son. I wish my husband had read it to him because when you cry at the end (and believe me, you will), it really is the father/son connection that is being celebrated. A breathtaking sentiment, indeed.

Also by:
Dirty Beasts
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Magic Finger


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se7en said...

That is exactly the first book I ever took out of the school library - memories flood back!!!

A Kitchen Witch said...

My friend lost her husband named Danny a few years ago. They have a three year old boy, Danson. The name of this book caught my eye, do you think it would be appropriate to give as a gift or would you think it would be too tear-jerking given the situation?

Mary A. (connect4mary@mac.com) said...

Just love your blog so much. I find something fascinating every time I visit.

Burgin Streetman said...

Kitchen Witch: It is a very moving story. Nothing really sad happens. It's more the sentiment that makes me cry, but i imagine it would be all that more emotional if I didn't have a father to imagine in the story. read it first before you decide. it is a fabulous book!

Heather said...

Perfect timing for this post. We just finished Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator last night, and I pulled Danny the Champion of the World off the shelf. I agree with you that it's one of the best books ever and that Bennett's illustrations capture the essence of the novel. I also remember thinking as a child that this was a window into a world I could never hope to live myself: living in a gypsy caravan behind a gas station seemed so magical!

Catherine said...

I've read most of Dahl's books but not this. Can't believe I've missed it. Will remedy immediately.

Rachel said...

Oh I agree! The edition you have is the same one I had as a child and I haven't seen it for years. Love it.

Gretchen said...

This is absolutely one of my favorite books of all time. I have clear memories of so many amazing passages: how cool is the description of sewing sleeping pills into raisins? Wonderful to read as a kid, wonderful to read as an adult, wonderful to read to a kid!

Neoklis said...

Dear all,
This book was read by my teacher when I was 8 , in Copenhagen ,Miss Dawn Watts then, since married to a very special and sparky Dane, Bjarne Nielsen.Actually, it was first read , almost chpater by chapter on our first school trip as pre bedtime story and then continued in class thereafter.I actually bought the book in the original 1977 edition with all the lovley drawings...
It is a very moving book, you simply cannot but cry at the end...It leaves you with a very positive feeling and a message which I have tried really hard to apply towards my children ( duaghters) ...
If you haven't read it , do so.If you have already, read it again and again....Just to remind yourself that you too, were a child once and remember all the moments spent with your family....

Suechurch said...

Just read where it is indeed a photograph of the author himself as a baby which appears on the first page of the book.

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