Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Summary (actually by me, for once):  You might already be familiar with this story if you've seen the movie *and more about that in a moment*.   According to the back of my book, this is "Concerning the extraordinary adventures of three nasty farmers, two curious creatures, a family of foxes and our hero..."    The three nasty farmer, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, are determined to destroy Mr. Fox after discovering that Mr. Fox has been stealing from their storehouses.   Bean comes up with an idea to dig out Mr. Fox, destroying the Fox home and forcing the Fox family to run for their lives.   Question is: how long can the foxes, and other animals, survive against the three farmers?

And here's what I thought:   I chose this book as the first one to write about for my "Dahlathon" celebration in September.   I don't remember if this was the first of Dahl's books that I read as a child, but it was always one of my favorites.   Dahl writes this book for children, but I think that his sly, clever humor can also really be appreciated by adults.   The story is fairly simple:  animals versus humans. 

  Let's start with the humans.  Boggis, Bunce and Bean are all pretty awful; in fact, right at the beginning, we learn, "All three of them were about as nasty and mean as any men you could meet."   Boggis, a chicken farmer, eats nothing but chickens all day.  Bean raises turkeys and has apple orchards and exists on nothing but hard cider (which, I have to admit, I actually enjoy quite a bit -- although the idea of cider and nothing else is not appealing).  Bunce raises ducks and geese and -- get this --- eats nothing but doughnuts stuffed with goose livers.   Ugh!   Dahl really seems to delight in the disgusting, but this was the kind of thing that as a child, I found wonderfully icky.     And, it makes it really easy to despise these farmers right off the bat.

So let's move on to the animals, shall we?   Mr. Fox, is "a fantastic fellow."  He's clever, and creative, and a family man, determined to protect his family against the horrifying farmers.   And...he's a thief.   This has never bothered me, as I always knew that foxes, as wild animals, would steal chickens.   I suppose I always figured it was in Mr. Fox' nature, and since he didn't seem overtly greedy in this story (only taking enough to feed his family), I never thought of him as being despicable, himself.   And really, he's quite charming -- and a natty dresser (see illustrations).     

The other supporting animal characters include Badger, who is respectable and kind (and a great digger), and Rat, who's a despicable twerp.   

The story is rather short, and I don't want to give anything away --- but suffice to say, it's clear that Mr. Fox is much cleverer than the farmers.    Dahl does a nice job of making Mr. Fox a fully realized character, and one that the reader sides with.   The illustrations, as well, really lend something special to the story.  In my book, a Bantam edition from 1978, the illustrations are the original ones, by Donald Chaffin.  I've included two pictures in this post to show you just how natty he makes Mr. Fox look, but all of the illustrations really make the story come alive.  I have always loved all of the little details he includes, and how realistic they were (well, as realistic as a fox in knickers could be).    

And a quick word about the new-ish film that was made out of this story.  I watched it over this last weekend, and while I thought it was okay, I really wasn't that wild about it.   Because the book is so short, the film had to expand the story --- but there were some parts I thought were a little excessive.  I also thought it was interesting that the movie borrowed something from one of Dahl's other stories, Danny The Champion of the World (it's the thing about blueberries and beagles ---- more on that when I post about Danny).   In the film, I thought Mr. Fox was actually a little obnoxious; he was sometimes pretty rude, especially to the others around him, and frankly, I just didn't find him very charming.   I had been curious to see what the movie was going to be like, but I don't think I'll watch it again --- I'll just stick to this wonderful book!


Anonymous said...

I saw the movie a while ago, and wasn't thrilled by it. You could kind of tell they changed things around to make it more movie-y and less book-y. I need to read the book, because I think I'll enjoy it much more than the movie.

BookQuoter said...

First time I have heard about this book and the movie!! I will stick to the book. Thanks.


My sons and I have always loved Roald Dahl. My youngest is 10 and in 2nd grade his teacher read them The BFG. He's loved him ever since. We've read Fantasic Mr. Fox many times but didn't see the movie because I new they would ruin it.

Great review!
Heather Buried in Books

Whitney said...

Fantastic Mr. Fox was one of my favorite books in 3rd grade. I'd go around saying poppycock no matter what I was referring to.

I think I hold Mr. Fox on such a pedestal any adaptation wouldn't meet my expectations. I'll stick to the book.

Joe said...

My kids love the movie. They wach it all the time. They are looking forward to reading the book. There faviorte character is kiely the Possum and mr. Fox

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