Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl – A Review

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The Book

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Published by Alfred A Knopf
Released in 1970
Goodreads | Amazon
Author Links: Website | Twitter


Synopsis

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a children’s book about Mr. Fox and his family. Every night, Mr. Fox goes to one of the three farms surrounding the hole they live in and steals food for his family. The farms are run by nasty men: farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean.

One day the farmers decide they’ve had enough of Mr. Fox stealing their food, and they band together to kill Mr. Fox, Mrs. Fox, and their four small foxes. The rest of the story is the adventure of Mr. Fox outwitting the farmers and saving both his family and his other burrowing friends.

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The book is dotted with tons of illustrations by Quentin Blake, who did the art for most of Dahl’s books.


Review

It’s no secret to people who have been reading this blog since the beginning that I adore Roald Dahl’s books (click to read my review of The Witches)Fantastic Mr. Fox might be one of my favorites.

It’s a very short read. The edition I picked up from the library came out at less than 90 pages, and I believe it took me less than an hour to finish it. I actually love the Puffin Books edition I got from the library due to its having red text and illustrations. I’m so used to the standard black ink that the red made reading the story really fun.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is that, at its core, it’s a book about the connection between family and friends. They work together, through their exhaustion and starvation, to stay alive. It’s a serious message told through a light-hearted story.

I’m still very much on the fence about the artwork by Quentin Blake. I agree with what I said in my review about The Witches that while it’s great for children’s books, I’m not a huge fan of it, but it is somewhat starting to grow on me.


Verdict

I’m giving this story four out of five stars. It was so much fun to re-read a book I loved as a child. It’s the perfect gift for the animal-loving children in your life.




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The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Book

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The Witches by Roald Dahl
Amazon | Goodreads
Published by Jonathan Cape, a division of Penguin Random House
Released 1983
Author Links: Website | Goodreads | Twitter
10 Things You Should Know About Roald Dahl on His Birthday


“It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.” ― Roald Dahl, The Witches.png


What Is It About?

The Witches is a children’s book about a little boy that goes to live with his Norwegian grandmother after his parents are killed in a car crash. His grandmother warns him about the dangers of witches and how to spot one.

“Real witches dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs.”

There are several ways to spot a witch, who are always female: they wear gloves to hide their hideous claws; all witches are bald, and therefore wear itchy wigs upon their heads; they have slightly larger nose-holes, which helps them to smell out nasty children and their “stink-waves”; the pupil of their eye continuously changes color; witches do not have toes, so the end of their feet are simply squared off; their spit and saliva is blue.

The reason for her teaching him about witches is quite simple: Witches are very dangerous and they want nothing more than to rid the entire world of children.

“A real witch hates children with a red-hot sizzling hatred that is more sizzling and red hot than any hatred you could possibly imagine.”

When the lawyer representing the boy’s parents share their will with his grandmother, the pair of them move back to the family’s home in England. One summer, after school is over, they decide to take a vacation, heading out to the coast.

The boy has pet mice, which the hotel has threatened to drown if they see them running about, so he searches for a quiet, hidden place to train them to do acrobatic feats.

The boy finds an empty conference room and sets up behind a curtain. Suddenly a large group of women starts coming in, taking their seats before a podium. Once they’ve all filtered in, a beautiful woman stands at the front and has them lock and chain the doors.

Once they’re all safely locked in, the woman standing at the front of the room removes her face, which had been a mask, and the boy makes a horrifying realization: this is a conference of witches, and the woman who took the mask off is the infamous Grand High Witch! And he’s trapped in a locked room with them!

The boy cowers in fear, anxious for their meeting to be over so he can get back to his grandmother. He breathes a sigh of relief as they start to exit, thinking he made it safely through until one of the witches gets a whiff of a child in the room. They catch him, and they turn him into a tiny mouse, although he still thinks and speaks as the child he was.

From there, the story turns into an adventure, with the boy and his grandmother working together to rid England, and the world, of witches.

The book is illustrated by Quentin Blake, who did work for most of Roald Dahl’s books.


My Thoughts

I grew up with Roald Dahl’s books. In the fifth grade, my teacher was obsessed with him, and every day she would read to us from one of his books. Now, at 31, I still find plenty of reasons to love his stories.

One of my favorite things about this book was the incredibly sweet relationship between the boy and his grandmother. It’s a nearly ideal family relationship, with both of them willing to do anything for the other.

Dahl’s writing style is fun to read, as you can see in this description of the witches:

“That face of hers was the most frightful and frightening thing I have ever seen. Just looking at it gave me the shakes all over. It was so crumpled and wizened, so shrunken and shriveled, it looked as though it had been pickled in vinegar. It was a fearsome and ghastly sight. There was something terribly wrong with it, something foul and putrid and decayed. It seemed quite literally to be rotting away at the edges, and in the middle of the face, all around the mouth and cheeks, I could see the skin all cankered and worm-eaten, as though there were maggots working away in there.”

That is definitely a description that terrified by as a child, but one that delights me to read as an adult.

I honestly cannot tell if I like the illustrations by Quentin Blake. While my art history-degree boyfriend hates it, I find myself feeling that, while not something I would actively seek out to display on my walls, his illustrations work very well for a children’s book. They’re fun and simple.

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One thing about the book that surprised me that I didn’t remember from my childhood-reading of it was it’s frank and positive depiction of death. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a conversation between Grandmamma and the boy near the end of the story where you can really see this. It’s not something that’s written about frequently in books, especially in books meant for children, so it was refreshing to see.

This book has been banned and challenged in several places, mainly for people feeling that this story teaches boys to hate women and that some of the points in the book are sexist.

There are two main points that I see when people complain about this book: misogyny, and the negative portrayal of witches.

I’m not sure if I’m somewhat biased simply because I read this book and loved it as a child, but my own opinion is that this is simply a light-hearted children’s book about a boy having an adventure. However, there are some points that can be made.

First, Grandmamma, the boy’s grandmother, is an amazing, strong woman. She isn’t afraid of anything, is immensely wise, and has a way of staying positive despite difficult circumstances. I think we can all learn a few lessons from her, and she’s a wonderful role model to look up to.

Second, the witches aren’t actually women, they just look like women.

“You don’t seem to understand that witches are not actually human beings at all. They look like humans. They talk like humans. And they are able to act like humans. But in actual fact, they are totally different animals. They are demons in human shape. That is why they have claws and bald heads and queer noses and peculiar eyes, all of which they have to conceal as best they can from the rest of the world.”

Overall, if this book makes you uncomfortable for either of the above reasons, that’s absolutely okay. We all have different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally, I really enjoyed this story, and it’s one that I can easily see myself reading to my own children one day, albeit reminding them afterward that just because they see a woman wearing long gloves, that doesn’t mean she’s a witch.


Verdict

4 out of 5 stars. This is a really enjoyable book and one that is quick to read. It’s also a great book to read near Halloween! I recommend buying this book if you’re a Roald Dahl fan, or checking it out from your local library if you’ve never read one of his books before.



Have you read The Witches? What do you think of it? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below!




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October TBR

It’s finally October! I love this month so much. Pumpkin everything, the leaves changing color, spooky stuff everywhere, cooler weather… there’s just so much to love. The fall is a time when I always feel rejuvenated and at my happiest.

Since it’s the first day of the month, that means it’s time to put together my TBR list for the month. I doubt I’m going to be able to get through everything on the list, but I am certainly going to try! I also have a habit of picking up books on a whim, so expect this list to change a little.

Currently Reading:

Want to Read:

And then also, a healthy dose of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.

What are you planning on reading this month?


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Header image thanks to Elke Bürgin on Unsplash

Banned Books, Part Five

September 23-29 is Banned Books Week, a week that promotes the freedom to read. Every day this week, I’ll be sharing three banned books that you should add to your TBR lists.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

 

 

The Witches by Roald Dahl

Beloved children’s authors are not exempt from having books banned. Some libraries considered the book misogynistic and sexist, feeling that it teaches boys to hate women.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This classic novel was banned by schools and libraries for many reasons: promoting euthanasia, offensive language, racism, and being anti-business.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

I remember hearing about all the controversies surrounding the Harry Potter series when I was growing up and still reading the series. Some schools and parents challenged and banned the book due to witchcraft, being anti-family and, my favorite, “setting bad examples.”

Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts on them?

Read part six of this series
Read Part Seven


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10 Things You Should Know about Roald Dahl on his Birthday

Today is legendary children’s author Roald Dahl’s birthday. Not surprisingly, it’s also Roald Dahl day. When I was in fifth grade, I had a teacher who adored Dahl, and for at least fifteen minutes every day, she would read to us from one of his books. It was my introduction to his work, and I have never stopped loving those stories.

In honor of Roald Dahl, here are 10 things you should know about him.

  1. His parents named him after Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole.
  2. In 1940, Dahl was a member of the No. 80 Squadron RAF, part of the British air force. While flying from Abu Sueir to Mersa Matruh in Egypt, he had to attempt a landing in the desert, because he was running low on fuel and couldn’t find the airstrip where he was supposed to land. The plane crashed against a boulder and Dahl was temporarily blinded, but still managed to drag himself out of the plane wreckage before passing out.
  3. The inspiration for one of his most popular works, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, came from his days at the Repton boarding school. The students there were given trials of chocolate bars to try.
  4. Although known best for all of his children’s books, Dahl also wrote horror stories for adults, even winning a few Edgar Awards.
  5. Six of Dahl’s stories made their way onto Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and he also created a long-running TV show called Tales of the Unexpectedon the air in the U.K. from 1978-1988.
  6. The James Bond film You Only Live Twice was written by Dahl, as was the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
  7. His childhood was filled with tragedy. When Dahl was just three years old, his older sister died from appendicitis. That same year, his father died of pneumonia. After their deaths, Dahl’s mother decided to remain in the U.K. so that her son could get the best education possible.
  8. After his son suffered a sudden head injury, Dahl stepped out of the literary world and into the medical arena. He helped to invent a cerebral shunt that drained excess fluid from the brain. It became known as the Wade-Dahl-Till valve, and the inventors refused to accept any profit from the device.
  9. His favorite authors were Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, William Makepeace Thackeray, Frederick Marryat, and Dylan Thomas. In fact, after visiting Thomas’s writing shed, he ended up building a replica of it in his own yard to write in.
  10. After Dahl died in 1990 from a rare form of cancer, his family buried him with chocolate, pencils, snooker cues, burgundy, and, most notably, a power saw. (I don’t need to know this guy’s family to know I adore them immensely!)

Roald Dahl wrote so many great books, and too many to list all of them here. But here are some to help you get started. (Or you can just buy a whole set of 15 of books!)

What’s your favorite Roald Dahl book? Got any fond memories of reading his books while you were young? Leave a comment down below!