Book Review: Danny the Champion of the World

Just get used to it. You’re going to get a Roald Dahl review at least once a year. I love Roald Dahl. Some of my most favorite books in the world were written by Roald Dahl. (His titles include Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Witches, The Twits, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, etc.) I’m not alone in my love, though I also understand that some, especially American, parents think that Dahl is too edgy or not soft enough or something. Still, I’ll go on loving Dahl, despite the (mostly background) controversy, reading his books out to my kids, and watching the movies with childlike delight.

ROALD DAHL BOOKS

I had never read Danny Champion of the World before it appeared on my son’s fourth grade reading list, but it sure sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Who is this champion of the world? I want to meet them. Maybe I want to be champion of the world! Let’s open the cover and find out what this could possibly mean!

DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLDOf course, if you are a stodgy parent, you might not want your child to read this. The moral of the story is that parents should have some spark to them, some fire and life, maybe even some secrets. It is the story of Danny, who discovers that his very own, small town mechanic dad is secretly a poacher. (I hope I’m not giving too much away, but I think that parents should be aware of this content.) Danny is drawn into this mysterious, fascinating, and exciting world of poaching and before long is head-to-head with the local, tyrannical, land-owner, Victor Hazell.

Owing, I believe, to its celebration of nature and its deep-down boyishness, my son loved this book and added it to his short-list of favorites. It’s cute and has true-to-story form, keeping the reader engaged and entertained all the way through. I believe it has failed to reach the modern reader at the same rate as other Dahl books because the subject—poaching, or even hunting—has become a thing. Vegans beware. Though, to be fair, we’re not talking about the illegal hunting of endangered animals for sport or ivory or something. We’re talking hunting sustained animals for food and as a political statement against the bourgeois. It’s not something we have an accessible parallel to in America, but it could spark some serious conversation in your home. Note: I don’t have a problem with hunting responsibly.

Even more of a difficulty, I think, is that a father and son basically go on a crime spree together. It is illegal to poach, despite any moral objections, and much of the story’s rush comes from the forbidden nature of the sport. (Not that popular books and movies are normally free of crime cast in a positive light (ala “sticking it to the man”). It’s actually a familiar theme, as in Going in Style or Now You See Me or many, many other stories.) And there is some “animal cruelty” thrown in, granted you don’t think it’s funny to trick dim-witted birds into their doom.

Then there are the great things about it, like the adoring relationship between father and son and the zeal for life in its simplest and most enjoyable form. Danny has everything he needs in his dad, his camper home, and the world that surrounds them. We find an idyllic world here, even if it’s not the one we would have thought of.

Recommended, with all the caveats that I mentioned above.

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