My fiancé is a musician, which means he reads a lot…of music. He never really got into books when he was little and claims he has only finished about twenty books in his entire life. But, as we live together, he now lives in a house that is practically a library and yes, people, he has started reading fiction. I couldn’t be prouder. So this review is dedicated to this man, as he sits outside giggling while reading Roald Dahl. Also, Danny the Champion of the World has always been a personal favourite of mine.
Danny is a nine-year-old, who lives with his dad in an old gypsy caravan surrounded by the lovely meadows and green hills somewhere in England, probably in the 1950’s. Danny’s mother died when he was only little. Danny is at first taught by his father, William, so he doesn’t go to school. His father teaches him all important things, like how to make a kite, a soapbox, how to fix cars and how to have a proper midnight feast. As one can imagine, Danny loves his father more than anything in the world. Later on in the book, Danny does go to school, where he has the horrible Captain Lancaster for a teacher. Then everything changes the night his father goes missing and Danny goes out in an old car to look for him.
His father has a small garage and together they just manage to get by. But in addition to his work on cars, his father regularly goes into Mr. Victor Hazell’s woods to poach pheasants, as he confesses after Danny has found him that night he went missing. Apparently this has been a family tradition for generations now and they have turned poaching into an art, with the secret ‘Sleeping Beauty’ method. The entire village hates the local magnate Hazell, as he tries to buy up land everywhere to host his extravagant hunting parties for dukes, lords and wealthy businessmen, so a large part of the village goes out at night poaching. And this is when Danny comes up with a brilliant scheme to thoroughly embarrass Mr. Hazell at one of his parties: one of the largest and most dangerous poaching plans in history, which will eventually make Danny the champion of the world.
The father figure is very important in this book. Danny’s father is mischievous, with light smiling eyes, and remembers very well what it was like to be a kid. His father teaches him how to build things, how to play and have fun, how to work on cars for his future and what it means to be a good person. Not only is he fun, but he is also wildly protective of his son when he finds out about the archaic methods of punishments his schoolmaster employs. He fulfills both the role of the mother, as well as that of the father. As Roald Dahl mentions at the end of the book: ‘A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is sparky!’ And Danny’s father is the father we all wanted.
The first part of the book is quite boring, in the sense that nothing much happens. The real poaching adventure happens later on in the book. However, when I was little I had a book called ‘The dangerous book for boys’, which had all kinds of advice on how to entertain yourself during those long Sunday afternoons and during the Holidays. The beginning of Danny is very similar to this book, as it contains all kinds of fun things to do when there weren’t that many computers and iPhones around. Danny does all of these things with his father and I remember doing and building and playing these things as well as a child. So, not only is it great fun to read these first chapters, it might also give you some ideas on how to spend your next summer afternoon.
Then there are these wonderful village idiots: There’s the brilliant and stoic constable, who poaches as well, of course; The doctor, Doc Spence, who seems a little confused at times, has wild white hair, but is a very, very kind-hearted man; Mr. Rabbetts, the mean guard of Hazell’s woods, who apparently likes to pepper the backsides of the poachers when he catches them; Mrs. Clipstone, the vicar’s wife, who pushes a pram about and secretly delivers pheasants to people and as per usual, the reverend is in on the scheme as well. These characters and their funny descriptions make this a wonderfully charming and witty book. The writing is brilliant, ‘keeping you on the edge of your seat’- kind of scary at times and very imaginative.
Roald Dahl’s books follow a pattern of children winning over adults. Often adults appear in the form of cruel and unfeeling individuals, who get away with whatever they are doing, simply because they are grown-ups. I grew up with these kinds of adults, which is why I loved Roals Dahl’s books so much. As a child, this seems unfair to you: you are only little, so there’s nothing you can do. Dahl must have felt the same way. When you read his autobiographical book, ‘Boy’, he writes about getting beaten with a cane by his headmaster, which is what happens to Danny as well in this book, by his cruel schoolmaster. However, in Roald Dahl’s universe, children are the ones that punish the adults. They can defeat them through tricks and schemes. I loved this concept as a child.
There is however a different side to these stories of children being able to punish adults. As a child I thought it only fair and funny even. But reading these books again now, some of the things children do are quite horrible and the punishments are cruel. When I think about this book now, it can also been seen as a thief, coaching his son into thievery as well, with the help of all the shady characters living in a ‘picturesque’ English village. But then again, conning the money-hungry magnate who likes to shoot over 120 pheasants at the time for sport and humiliating the sadistic schoolmaster, do I feel sorry for them now, as an adult? Nope. Victory!
Ness Award, as it was my three-year-old monster’s favourite
Roald Dahl, Danny, the champion of the world (London, 1975)