I picked up a copy of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" at my mum and dad's at the weekend and zoomed through it in about ten minutes. It's a pretty simple story: three farmers get sick of having their livestock pinched by a fox, and so attempt to kill him and his family: first with a shotgun, then by digging him out, then by trying to starve him out (strangely they didn't try chasing after him on horseback with a pack of hounds - apparently the most efficient way of keeping the fox population under control). Naturally, Mr. Fox outsmarts them all and comes out on top.
You can read it as an allegory of nature winning out over technology, if you so desire, but that's not what makes this a classic, and it certainly isn't what hooks the kids (or me, for that matter).
Roald Dahl was a genius, and what makes him a genius is that he knew that kids are vicious, dirty little brutes and are only interested in blood, muck and guts. Examples of this are all over his books - the repulsive kids accompanying Charlie around the Chocolate Factory, the other giants in the BFG, the Twits.... and so on. In this particular story, Mr. Fox has his tail blown off by a shotgun pretty early in the story, leaving only a bloody stump, and the three farmers are delighfully vile:
"Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were nonetheless equally mean."
Dahl revels in making the farmers as revolting as he can, and in sparing his readers none of the details: he tells us that Bunce eats only doughnuts stuffed with mashed goose livers and we learn that Bean has some trouble hearing because he never washes, and his ears were full of "all kinds of muck and wax and bits of chewing gum and dead flies and stuff like that".
I'm currently almost halfway through "The Invention of Solitude" by Paul Auster, but I'm beginning to realise that life's too short, and I'm going to see if I still have my copy of the BFG lying around. Now don't get me wrong - Auster is a great author, but he's no Dahl, is he?
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