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 Dissertation
Godric
Posted: Dec 29 2005, 10:31 PM


Happy 250th Birthday!
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Finally got all the crap sorted out. I can post my dissertation here, or e-mail it to whoever's interested. About 12,000 words, on Children's fantasy, focusing on the BFG, CoS and Teh Subtle Knife... Lemme know what yis think... I'm happy either way, but if ye reckon it's smarter just to e-mail it people, that's cool too.
Tomorrow or the NEw Year is good.


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dtruslove
Posted: Dec 30 2005, 04:15 AM


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I reckon you could just post it here for whoever's interested but if you decide to mail it ot put me on the list


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Skivin'Ivy
Posted: Dec 31 2005, 05:37 AM


Seventh Year
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Hope you can post it here Godric - I'd appreciate the opportunity to read it! Ta!
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Godric
Posted: Dec 31 2005, 05:19 PM


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Here goes, hope ye enjoy.


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Godric
Posted: Dec 31 2005, 05:27 PM


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Actually I'm having hassel with the footnotes, and have to go get drunk now, so I'll sort it out and post it when my hangover clears tomorrow. Sorry, see ye soon.


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dtruslove
Posted: Dec 31 2005, 05:54 PM


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QUOTE (Godric @ Jan 1 2006, 01:27 AM)
I'll sort it out and post it when my hangover clears tomorrow. .

Or the day after... when your hangover clears.


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Godric
Posted: Jan 1 2006, 07:11 PM


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...Yeah, gimme a while.
Added another to the list of friends' houses I've thrown up in.


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Godric
Posted: Jan 2 2006, 09:44 PM


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Right this should work, footnotes have been awkwardly incorporated inot the text [they look something like this], there's still some errors in there, and I have since revised some of my thinking, one word in particular no longer strikes me as correct and I use it a few times, but ltes see what happens... Consider this a belated Christmas present, or an extension of your January hangover...


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Godric
Posted: Jan 2 2006, 09:46 PM


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Introduction

The aim of this dissertation is to detail how writers of children’s fantasy utilise secondary worlds as a mechanism to reflect and criticise the primary world. Although often dismissed as works with no aim other than to amuse and provide escapism for children, many such works are in fact remarkably complex in the manner in which they offer social criticism, primarily by creating secondary worlds which are designed to be compared and contrasted with the real world that the writers see around them. This essay will deal mostly with three such novels, The BFG, by Roald Dahl, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling and The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman. Before engaging in how these works use secondary worlds in the manner described, a number of terms need to be defined. The aim of the introduction is to explain what is meant by “fantasy”, what is meant by “children’s fantasy” and what is meant by “primary worlds” and “secondary worlds”.


The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms defines fantasy as “a general term for any kind of fictional work that is not primarily devoted to realistic representation of the known world” [Baldick, Chris; Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms; [Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990]; p. 81.] . Clearly this definition is far too wide and all-encompassing to be of much use, since a plethora of works which are not fantasy texts have no such devotion. Many texts are politically motivated, many are allegorical, and it can be argued that it is impossible for any text to give an accurate portrayal of reality. Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days, for example, supposes to create an accurate portrayal of public-school life in 19th Century England. However it is a highly romanticised novel presenting an almost utopian ideal, which cannot be described as realistic. Rather, fantasy occurs when the reader is aware that the author is ignoring or changing fundamental aspects of reality, but in a textual world where such impossibilities are not problematic. Dracula, a novel involving an evil vampire terrorising Europe, is a clear example of a text that requires an extra step in the willing suspension of disbelief in order to be read, indeed in order to be written. By presenting a world where the impossible is possible Stoker creates a fantasy text, and in order for it to be understood, the reader must accept these impossibilities. In short, fantasy is when an author includes the implausible in their work. As Victor Watson writes in Reading Series Fiction, the reader must enter a tacit contract of desire with the author in order to suspend disbelief. This is the means by which fantasy must be approached.
What, then, makes children’s fantasy different from other children’s texts? I contend that it is a question of perspective. Events that occur within the imagination of characters in the texts, be they day-dreams, dreams, hallucinations or a juvenile misunderstanding of reality are not to be considered fantasy, since such incidents are a part of reality. Maurice Sendak’s picture book Where the Wild Things Are is not a fantasy text because although the young boy in question, Max, journeys to a distant land and plays with monsters, we are aware that the journey took place only in Max’s imagination, and children indulging in such imaginary adventures is an aspect of reality. No changing of the ground rules of reality takes place, therefore Where the Wild Things Are is not fantasy. What occurs is that Max matures, he is aware that his journey was not actual. If it had been, if the impossible had become possible, Where the Wild Things Are would be fantasy, but there is nothing impossible about a child imagining an adventure of this nature, so we do not consider it to be a fantasy. It is as plausible that Max imagines these events as it is plausible that Irvine Welsh’s characters in Trainspotting have bizarre hallucinations, as it is that Dante can dream of Virgil leading him through Hell in The Divine Comedy. Children’s fantasy, as a genre, is as difficult to define as children’s literature in general, but it must comply to the general understanding of fantasy as detailed above.

Fiction abounds with places that do not exist. Streets, towns, cities, entire countries and even whole galaxies have been imagined in the heads of authors and relayed through their texts to the reader. Can any of these places be considered to be real? What makes Conrad’s Costaguana “more real” than Tolkien’s Middle Earth? I contend, again, that the difference is an understanding between the author and the reader. Conrad’s Costaguana, Shakespeare’s Belmont and Doyle’s Barrytown are all invented places that the reader can never visit. But their status as generic places (Costaguana is a generic South American “any-country”; Belmont a generic Italian “any-estate” and Barrytown a generic North Dublin “any-suburb”, inspired by Kilbarrack), means that we are entitled to accept their possible existence within the real world. Nonetheless, the notion that the real world can accurately be portrayed in fiction is a controversial one. In The Fantasts, T.E. Little contends that:

All writers of creative fiction are sub-creators of Secondary Worlds. The Secondary world of a non-fantastic writer will be as close to the Primary World as his talents and the needs of his art will allow…. A licence is granted to writers of ‘normal’ creative fiction to change the Primary World for the purpose of their art. Fantasy begins when an author’s secondary world goes beyond that licence and becomes ‘other’…. Such a sub-creation should be called a Tertiary World. [Taken from Cornwell, Neil; The Literary Fantastic; [Hertfordshire, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990]; p. 16.]

I have some difficulties with Little’s differentiations. His assertion that all fiction is set in a secondary, if not a tertiary domain is surely based on the notion that no part of a creative work can possibly be entirely accurate, and therefore cannot belong to the primary world. However an endless number of fiction writers incorporate real events and real people into their works, just as a number of non-fiction titles contain inaccuracies and personal opinion. It is arguable that some works of fiction present a more accurate representation of the primary world than some works of non-fiction, which would render the reasoning behind Little’s categorisation as obsolete. The view that anything a mature reader accepts as a plausible part of the primary world, such as Costaguana, may be considered to be part of a literary primary world as much as Joyce’s Dublin or Hemingway’s Pamplona is an acceptable one. Only a small stretch of the imagination is required by the reader to accept these places in the writer’s work, the same amount that is required to accept any fictional character’s existence. All of these places could plausibly exist in the primary world, so may be considered to be a part of the primary world.
Implausible places supposedly existing in tandem with the primary world, such as Rowling’s Hogwarts or Swift’s Lilliput, or entirely created environments existing independently of the primary world, such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, may be considered secondary worlds. The reliant factor is the plausibility of these places to the mature reader, and the level of disbelief that one must suspend wilfully in order to read the text.
A secondary world, therefore, is a place the mature reader knows cannot plausibly exist. It is a place authors invent, and whose existence is dependent entirely upon readers accepting the author’s work. In works where characters move from primary to secondary worlds (or vice versa) the difference between the primary and secondary worlds within the text can be less clear. What delineates Privet Drive, which does not exist, from Hogwarts which does not exist? The lines become more blurred still when house elves begin to appear in Number Four Privet Drive. The answer is still a case of plausibility. Privet Drive is plausible. It is as likely to exist as any other generic geographical invention. To highlight this, another street in the Harry Potter series is named Wisteria Walk, which is the same name as the street Adrian Mole grew up on in Sue Townsend’s series. One Wisteria Walk is as easy for a mature reader to accept as the other, and both are to be considered in the primary world. However, the mature reader must be aware of the utter implausibility of Hogwarts as opposed to Privet Drive, of Lyra’s Oxford in Pullman as opposed to Will’s in order for them to be considered secondary worlds. Will’s Oxford, although contained in a work of fiction is nonetheless implicitly a part of our primary world.
The differences between primary and secondary worlds are as follows. If the intent of the author is that the setting of his or her work will be considered as plausible in the real world, then the setting of the text is to be considered to be within the primary world. If the intent of the author is that the setting of his or her work will not be considered as plausible in the real world, then the setting of that text is to be considered to be in a secondary world. It is possible, indeed common, for texts to be set in both the primary world and in a secondary world, or a number of secondary worlds.


At this point I would like to mention the three loose “categories” of fantasy. “High fantasy” takes place entirely in secondary worlds. “Transitional fantasy” occurs when characters from the primary world enter a secondary world. “Domestic fantasy” occurs when a text is set at least partly in the primary world, but where none of the primary world characters leave the primary world. Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger is set entirely in the primary world, as is Matilda. Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series however, partly takes place in the primary world, but we also see creatures from a subterranean secondary world operating in their secondary habitat. If Artemis, or other human characters were to journey into this subterranean fairy world, the books could be considered to be “transitional fantasy”. Seeing as it is only characters from the secondary world who make this journey, we can categorise Artemis Fowl and its sequels to date as “domestic fantasy”.

The aim of this dissertation is to discuss the relevance of these secondary worlds in children’s fantasy novels. Secondary worlds are often ones where the laws of reality as we know it are irrelevant and in a superficial way are very different from any interpretation of the primary world. There has long been a dismissive attitude to these worlds, and works containing them, as many consider them to be mere escapism. I will show, however, that this is not the case. The relevance of secondary worlds to children’s literature is not one of respite or escape, on the contrary they exist in order to draw the primary world in sharper focus, and allow writers to highlight what they consider the societal flaws of the primary world to be. As Eric Rabkin points out,

[Any journey into a secondary world] is indeed escape, but fantastic escape, and therefore a constant reminder of the world diametrically escaped from. The fantastic here, as in satire, is a teaching device. [ Rabkin, Eric S.; The Fantastic in Literature; [London; MacMillan; 1999], p. 42.]

Fantasy writers are extremely conscious of the textuality of their works, and by continually drawing attention to this serve to remind the reader of the fact that they are reading, and are existing in the primary rather than a secondary world. This constant reminder serves to force the reader to consider the primary world with regard to its similarities to, or differences from, a secondary world they are reading about. Having created a secondary world, fantasy writers can draw attention to whatever aspects of reality they please, and to encourage the child reader to be aware of these aspects of reality, and to question them.






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Godric
Posted: Jan 2 2006, 09:48 PM


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Chapter One
Roald Dahl’s The BFG

“But you must understand that it isn’t easy to believe such amazing things straightaway.”





There can be little doubt that Roald Dahl’s The BFG is firmly classifiable as belonging to the genre of children’s fantasy. With relatively uncomplicated language and a straightforward narrative voice, the text provides little that would be unintelligible to a fledgling reader. The main character is an eight year old girl, Sophie, and the events of the novel are clearly not to be considered possible. Sophie is snatched by the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) and taken to the mysterious Giant Country. She discovers that a horde of bloodthirsty giants sneak off to eat human beings every night, leaving the vegetarian BFG to go about his hobby of collecting dreams and “blowing” them through bedroom windows for sleeping humans to experience. Both writer and reader are aware that in order for the text to be comprehended, fundamental aspects of reality must be altered dramatically, and utterly implausible situations must be accepted. A number of observations made by the BFG, and Sophie’s replies to them go some way towards explaining how fantasy works as a genre. Even after encountering giants, and witnessing a series of marvels and being privy to all sorts of unthinkable information, Sophie’s scepticism remains intact with each new revelation that the BFG offers her. The BFG ponders the nature of the epistemological link that humans make between experience and knowledge.

‘The matter with human beans,’ the BFG went on, ‘is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it in front if their own schnozzles. Of course quogwinkles is existing. I is meeting them oftenly. I is even chittering to them.’ He turned away contemptuously from Sophie and continued his writing. [sic] [BFG, p. 99.]

This, of course, is not strictly true. Child readers, however will be aware that some sort of evidence is required by people in order to justify belief in something. Plenty of people of all ages speculate on the existence of a number of unconfirmed items, events and organisms, but, without evidence, their claims will fall on deaf ears. It is indeed distressing for the emotive believer that this healthy empiricism is so strong in human nature. The entire notion of fantasy is based upon the rational impossibility of the events in the texts rather than the proven impossibility (it is, after all, not possible to prove that giants do not exist, but the utter lack of evidence leads one to conclude in this scenario, that absence of proof is not proof of absence, but nonetheless a strong indicator). Dahl invokes the reader’s sense of the fallibility of human reasoning, and rephrases the process of applying empirically gathered evidence into accepted knowledge into a condition of agnosticism, or scepticism as being inescapable in human nature. He also explains exactly the process of disbelief that needs to wilfully suspended in order to read a work of fantasy without seeing anything other than factual error. Dahl raises the fact that, unless we see, we do not believe, but the logical consequence of this is that we do not believe in anything we have not yet seen, despite the fact that their existence is not dependent upon our perceiving them.
Sophie, in fact, takes on the role of the reader in this text, as the BFG is representative of the fantasy writer. The BFG literally takes Sophie on an adventure, as a writer metaphorically takes a reader. He also collects dreams, and ‘blows’ them to sleeping children. This is symbolic of the effect that a writer should have on the imagination of the reader, and upon their minds. The novel concludes with a sincere verification of this interpretation, as the BFG finishes writing the book that we have just finished reading. Unless Sophie believes in the impossible stories he tells her, the story will not make sense to her. This is why, when Sophie announces her disbelief vehemently, (‘Of course I don’t believe that’ [BFG, p. 99.]) the BFG will return to his writing contemptuously, seeing as it is quite pointless to write a work of fantasy if the reader will simply refuse to believe it, no matter how justified they are. Realism is not a goal of fantasy writing, and therefore should not be an expectation of the reader. Sophie’s perpetual scepticism is explained by Todorov’s theory. In The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, (Originally published as Introduction à la Littérautre Fantastique), he writes:

The fantastic requires …[that] the text must oblige the reader… to hesitate between a natural and a supernatural explanation of the events described. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character… at the same time the hesitation is represented it becomes one of the themes of the work. [Taken from Cornwell, Neil; The Literary Fantastic; [Hertfordshire, Wheatsheaf, 1990], p. 12.]

The BFG is a work of transitional fantasy, a work where characters from the primary world enter a secondary world. The primary world consists of the English village where Sophie lives in her Spartan orphanage, and London, particularly the locality of Buckingham Palace. Real people are referred to, though not by name. They include The Queen of England and a number of other members of the Royal Family. Although not specified, it is clear that the queen Dahl has in mind is Elizabeth II [Sophie recognizes the queen’s face from postal stamps, and Elizabeth II is the first queen to feature on British stamps since Victoria, who obviously predates the helicopters used later on. Quentin Blake’s illustrations in the Puffin edition also clearly resemble Elizabeth II, as may be seen on p. 153.]
. The secondary world is Giant Country (which may or may not incorporate Dream Country, which is also visited). The BFG acts as the means by which primary world characters travel between the two worlds, when he carries Sophie between the two and guides the military and air-force who follow behind him at a later point. Giant Country, it transpires, is located somewhere after the last completed place in an atlas, somewhere in the two blank pages at the back reserved for undiscovered countries that explorers are free to fill in for themselves as they discover new lands.

Sophie’s initial impression of Giant Country is that it is a horrible place, utterly devoid of a single redeeming feature. In fact, before she has arrived, she is quite convinced that the giant who has just snatched her is going to eat her. She is unswerving in her assertion of her own imminent doom. Her fears seem justified when the BFG begins to discuss the different flavours of different races of human beings to her. Sophie engages in conversation merely to prolong her own existence, and attempts to change the subject in an attempt to distract the BFG from his obvious ambition to devour her. The BFG eventually informs her that, although he does not himself eat humans, all nine of the other giants in Giant Country do; in fact they are extremely fond of human flesh. Despite the fact that her host will not eat her (indeed, the BFG is a gentle and sympathetic creature) Sophie is nonetheless under constant threat in Giant Country. All of the other giants are far bigger than the BFG, and are far more aggressive. The BFG is quite incapable of protecting Sophie from them physically, and hiding places in the barren desert that is Giant Country are few and far between After just a few hours, Sophie is almost eaten by a giant known as The Bloodbottler. The other giants threaten, beat and bully the BFG, and after a short time suspect him of harbouring Sophie, making no secret of their desire to eat her. Giant Country is quite inhospitable, barren and infertile, with nothing to eat whatsoever bar a disgusting tasting vegetable called a snozzcumber, which the BFG woefully informs Sophie will be her entire diet for the rest of her life, seeing as she is now trapped in Giant Country.
It is easy for the reader to condemn Giant Country and idealise the primary world. However, Sophie eventually learns of certain delights and astonishing discoveries that she would otherwise have been entirely ignorant of. The first is frobscottle, a delicious and invigorating soft drink with gravity defying bubbles that allow for amusing scatological side-effects. Furthermore, Sophie and the BFG eventually become friendly and Sophie is repeatedly delighted by his quirks and secrets, particularly his rather unique speech pattern.

As with all the other texts I address The BFG is an extraordinarily textually aware work. As mentioned, the entire adventure is a parallel for the relationship between the fantasy writer and the fantasy reader. But there are a number of other mechanisms by which Dahl reminds his audience of their place as readers, firmly posited in the primary world. Dahl creates a peculiar giant dialect, comprising of substituting similar-sounding words for each other, and adding suffixes and prefixes in inappropriate places, as well as disturbing the regularities of conventional English grammar. There are also a large number of neologisms.

The Bloodbottler pointed a finger as big as a tree-trunk at the BFG. ‘Runty little scumscrewer!’ he shouted. ‘Piffling little swishfiggler! Squimpling little bottlewart! Prunty little pogswizzler! I is now going to search the primroses!’ He grabbed the BFG by the arm. ‘And you is going to help me do it. Us together is going to winkle out this tasteful little human bean!’ [BFG p. 57.]

Although few of the above words appear in dictionaries, and sentences which are grammatically correct are quite a rarity, not to mention the Bloodbottler’s confusion of ‘primroses’ with ‘premises’, we are nonetheless capable, with a little consideration, to understand the meaning of all such dialogue in the book. However, the fact that we can understand what we are reading in spite of its apparently nonsensical structure forces the reader to consider the process by which they read the text, and force the reader to become aware of their role as readers of the novel, rather than participants in the adventure, which would be the goal of an author attempting to write a work of sheer escapism. Dahl also has the BFG explain the process by which he learnt to read and write, by borrowing a book from a sleeping child and teaching himself. By containing passages dedicated to the act of reading, Dahl again creates textual awareness in his works. Indeed, there is an episode in the book involving Sophie reading the BFG’s description of the dreams he has collected. The descriptions are written in block capitals, with extremely poor spelling and grammar. This textual hiccup again highlights the textual nature of the work. In fact, one of the dreams involves the dreamer having written a book:

I HAS RITTEN A BOOK AND IT IS SO EXCITING NOBODY CAN PUT IT DOWN. AS SOON AS YOU HAS RED THE FIRST LINE YOU IS SO HOOKED ON IT YOU CANNOT STOP UNTIL THE LAST PAGE. IN ALL THE CITIES PEEPLE IS WALKING IN THE STREETS BUMPING INTO EACH OTHER BECAUSE THEIR FACES IS BURIED IN MY BOOK AND DENTISTS IS READING AND TRYING TO FILL TEETHS AT THE SAME TIME BUT NOBODY MINDS BECAUSE THEY IS ALL READING IT TOO IN THE DENTIST’S CHAIR… WHEN I WAKE UP I IS STILL TINGLING WITH EXCITEMENT AT BEING THE GREATEST RITER THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN UNTIL MY MUMMY COMES IN AND SAYS I WAS LOOKING AT YOUR ENGLISH EXERCISE BOOK LAST NITE AND REALLY YOUR SPELLING IS ATROSHUS SO IS YOUR PUNTULASHON. [BFG p.108-9.]

There is enormous textual awareness in this passage. Not only does the reader become aware of the change to capital letters, but also, this is the first time the BFG’s speech pattern is applied to anything other than the BFG’s speech, here it is applied to his writing. Although the BFG spoke in such a pattern before, the narrative voice did not allow for anything other than perfect spelling and punctuation, which is obviously lacking above. The fact that in spite of the highly imperfect nature of the BFG’s note, we can still easily understand its meaning calls our awareness to our reading again. Furthermore, the fact that the dream concerns the reaction of readers to a book calls to mind our own reactions to The BFG itself, and hopefully the reaction will be as positive in the case of the actual novel as it is for to the novel in the dream. Added to this is the delightfully tongue in cheek fact that the worst spelling and punctuation in the passage occurs when the dreamer’s own spelling and punctuation are mercilessly criticised. The inconsistency between the dream and waking reality depicted here also calls to mind the fundamental differences between the work of fiction and the reality of the reader.
Also of note in the creation of textual awareness is the very end of the book, when the BFG has finished writing the book we have just finished reading.

But where, you, might ask, is this book that the BFG wrote?
It’s right here, you’ve just finished reading it. [BFG, p. 208.]

There can surely be no more assertive declaration of the intent of the author to create textual awareness than by referring to the novel as such within its own pages.

Another specific tool of developing textual awareness is to include essences of intertextuality. Intertextuality occurs when a text deliberately calls to mind another text. The reasons for this may be to draw comparisons to the similarities between the two texts, thematically or to encourage the reader to compare the plights of characters in one text to those in another, or even to draw comparison between the author being referenced and the text doing the referring, or the author of the second text.
The BFG contains many instances of intertextuality. The scene in Buckingham Palace where the Queen’s butler calculates the necessary height of the furniture required to seat the BFG, and how much food will be needed to provide him with an adequate breakfast is reminiscent of the Lilliputians’ efforts to figure out how best to provide for Gulliver in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The reason for referencing a work of such declared social satire and for comparing the petty Lilliputians to the human race will be explained later. Charles Dickens is also referenced on a number of occasions. The BFG refers to him as “Dahl’s Chickens”. By including his own surname in the perversion of one of the English language’s most renowned writers, Dahl is being obviously intertextual and again, will hope to draw the suffering of Dickens’ characters to those of Sophie, as again will be elaborated upon later. Dickens is actually the source of the BFG’s literary skills, the book which he borrowed having been Nicholas Nickleby. In his book of memoirs, Boy: Tales of Childhood, Dahl informs us that Dickens was a particular influence upon him in his youth, particularly The Pickwick Papers. The BFG itself became intertextualised in a later work of Dahl’s, Danny the Champion of the World, when Danny’s father tells him a bedtime story involving the BFG.

A further feature of The BFG, one which both creates textual awareness and simultaneously reinforces the links between the primary and secondary world, is when The BFG explains to Sophie that humans from different parts of the world taste differently, the basis for their taste involving a pun on the name of the place where they come from:

“Human beans from Wales is tasting very whooshey of fish. There is something very fishy about Wales…. I will now give you another example. Human beans form Jersey has a most disgustable woolly tickle on the tongue,” the Giant said. “Human beans from Jersey is tasting of cardigans.” [BFG, p. 28. However, there is a certain confusion at one point which obliterates any sense of predictability the reader may have established, when the BFG explains that Danes, from Denmark, taste like labradors, whereas people from Labrador taste like great danes.]

This style of punning continues as Sophie is informed that people from Wellington taste of boots, and that people from Panama have a distinctly “hatty” flavour. As well as raising textual awareness by punning, the BFG, by mentioning places from the primary world, calls our minds away from Giant Country and back into the primary world, as Dahl here provides us with an early example of precisely the type of mechanism a fantasy writer may use to remind us of their intention to make their reader more, not less, aware of the real world and its conditions. Just as Sophie in this scene is forced to re-evaluate her own species as she is told how humans taste to giants, so too will the reader discover that the beastly giants are not much less bloodthirsty than some of the human characters we meet, and than many of the human beings throughout history who have unleashed terrifying war and bloodshed.

As Sophie becomes more familiar with Giant Country she is forced to re-evaluate the primary world, and the reader is forced to re-evaluate it with her. Before Sophie even leaves the orphanage it is clear that it is an unpleasant place, and in the very first chapter it is mentioned that punishments are handed out for such inoffensive misdemeanours as leaving your bed at night to visit the lavatory. It baffles Sophie that the BFG, who lives in a land where he is surrounded by murderous, monstrous giants, is moved to tears by her tales of cruelty in the orphanage. It is an early reminder of man’s inhumanity towards man, which is further developed later. Indeed, the references to Dickens, famous for portraying the suffering of orphans, and whose favourite topic was social inequality and injustice, are deliberate here. The social commentary that marks Dickens’ work is by no means lacking in The BFG, as Dahl hopes to enlighten us by referencing the Victorian novelist.

Dahl also mentions the horrors of warfare in The BFG:

‘Human beans is the only animals that is killing their own kind…. They is shootling guns and going up in aerioplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.’ [BFG p. 78-9.]

Despite this zoological inaccuracy (several animals are known to be cannibalistic, or kill their own kind for a variety of reasons) the BFG’s message is clear. No species is capable of more cruelty than mankind. He by no means defends the giants, whom he clearly loathes, but he makes no secret of the fact that, even in spite of his vile compatriots, he finds humanity to be a rather odious species. This point is verified later when the Queen calls to her palace the Head of the Army and the Head of the Air Force. Their immediate reaction upon hearing of the giants and their hideous ways is to dispose of them through the most violent ways possible. The BFG refuses to cooperate with them if their conditions involve warfare, calling to mind Gulliver’s refusal to help the emperor of Lilliput when he is requested to wipe out the Big-Enders completely [See Swift, Jonathan; Gulliver’s Travels; [London, Penguin, 1994], p. 48: “I plainly protested, that I would never be an instrument of bringing a free and brave people into slavery.”]. The cruelty and pettiness of mankind, particularly within the field of warfare, is Swift’s theme in that particular episode of Gulliver’s Travels as it is here in Dahl’s work. The respective military officers are also quite rude and dismissive of the BFG, condemning him for his imperfect English. Indeed they do not even address him directly, but speak to the Queen and Sophie as though the BFG were some sort of moronic being. Their pride is also deeply stung when they are insulted by him, quite deservedly. The reader is thereby forced to reconsider the primary world, with its flaws and imperfections.

By the end of the tale Giant Country is utterly redundant. The BFG no longer lives there, nor do any of the other giants, who are being held in a massive pit in London. The BFG makes no suggestion of his wish to ever return, nor do any of the other characters. He even becomes fully educated and literate and by the end of the novel no longer speaks in the jumbled dialect that he used when Sophie met him. By abandoning the secondary world, and concluding the action in the primary world, Dahl reminds us of the world we live in and all the ways it has been criticised. The relevance of the secondary world in The BFG is therefore to force the reader to consider the flaws of reality. It serves as a vehicle of social commentary, despite being centred around impossibilities of reality.


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