11 Facts About The BFG

quentin blake
quentin blake

The BFG is a whoopsey-splunkers tale about a young orphan girl and her friend, the Big Friendly Giant. Learn more about Sophie and her adventure in propsposterous Giant Country. 

1. The BFG comes from Roald Dahl’s ‘Ideas Book.’ 

As with many of Dahl’s books, The BFG was born from an Ideas Book. Dahl scribbled down all his thoughts and inspirations in these notebooks to look at later. He eventually turned the scrawled concept into a full book in 1982. 

2. It’s dedicated to Dahl’s daughter. 

In 1962, Roald Dahl lost his first-born, Olivia, to the measles. Vaccines were not yet available and the young girl died at just seven years old. He read to her every day until she passed away, and dedicated The BFG to her memory. Four years after its publication, in 1986, the grieving father wrote an open letter encouraging his fellow Britons to get their children vaccinated. You can read the letter here

3. The BFG makes an appearance in another work. 

Before the giant was squibbling through his own story, he made a small cameo in an early Dahl work called Danny, the Champion of the World, as a character in one of the bedtime stories that Danny’s father tells him. The characters are identical in appearance and ability (think big ears and an even bigger heart). Like Sophie, Danny’s father had also witnessed the cloaked giant as he secretly blew dreams into the heads of children. 

4. The main character was almost called “Jody.” 

In an early manuscript kept in The Roald Dahl Archive, the protagonist was actually a boy named Jody. Dahl eventually switched the character to a girl named Sophie, named after his granddaughter.

5. Gobblefunk has over 238 words in its lexicon. 

Gobblefunk, the nonsensical language spoken by the giants, featured a lot of playful words like babblement, whizzpopping, and schnozzles. Roald Dahl wrote out a full list of potential Gobblefunk words to be used in the book, which can be found at the Roald Dahl Museum.  Some of the words on the list are pongswizzler, scumscrewer, bagblurter, troggy, and schweinwein. If you’re looking for a good insult, squeakpip might do the trick. 

6. Roald Dahl liked to pretend to be The BFG. 

Long before he committed the story to paper, Dahl would regale his children with the tale of the Big Friendly Giant, who would blow happy dreams into children’s heads with a pipe. Right before his daughters—Lucy and Ophelia—drifted off, he would stick a bamboo shoot through their window, pretending to be the giant blowing them sweet dreams. Although the girls were never convinced, they didn’t tell their father. “He seemed to me, even then, to have a vulnerable core. So I said nothing,” Ophelia later told The Telegraph.

7. The footwear comes from a real world pair. 

You may remember the BFG sporting a nice pair of brown leather sandals in the book. While these can easily be brushed off as an insignificant illustrative detail, Dahl directly asked for them to be included. The author owned a pair of brown suede sandals with mismatched laces; he mailed one to the illustrator, Quentin Blake, to use as a model for the footwear in the book. 

8. You can watch it as a play. 

The BFG has been adapted for the stage by David Wood and was recently performed in Chicago. “Director Morgan Ashley Madison tells the story with energy and confidence in her staging for Emerald City Theatre, using brisk pacing, cheeky performances, and, best of all, lifelike puppets (designed by Rough House Theatre) in a variety of sizes,” The Chicago Reader noted

9. Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl first met while working on The BFG.

It’s hard to imagine a Roald Dahl book without the wacky illustrations of Quentin Blake: the two worked together from 1978 until Dahl’s death in 1990. Although Blake had already illustrated several works for the writer including The Twits and The Enormous Crocodile, the two never met in person until collaborating on The BFG. 

“I think my favourite book of Roald Dahl's to illustrate is The BFG, because I spent a long time talking to Roald Dahl about it and spent a long time thinking about the drawings; so by the time I finished, I knew the book very well,” Blake said on his website. The BFG was Dahl’s favorite book as well. 

10. They were both given awards for the book. 

In 1983, Roald Dahl won the Silver Slate Pencil for writing The BFG. The same year, Quentin Blake won the Silver Slate Paintbrush for the illustrations.   

11. The original depiction of the BFG looks very different. 

Back when the BFG was just a character in Danny, the Champion of the World, he was illustrated by Jill Bennett. Bennett was Dahl’s first illustrator, and also worked on The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Bennett used the description in the book to create the illustration, which Dahl then enthusiastically approved. This illustration—amongst others found in Danny, Champion of the Worldwent on sale for £85,000 in July at The National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England.

7 Surprising Facts About Hans Christian Andersen

 Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) is recognized around the world for his beloved books, including The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, and many others. However, few people know much about the man behind these famous fairy tales—a man who endured many hardships and, by some accounts, transformed his pain into art. Here are seven surprising facts about Andersen’s life and legacy that you won't find in the children's section of a bookstore.

1. Some of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are autobiographical.

According to scholars, the tale of The Ugly Duckling reflects Andersen’s own feelings of alienation. As a boy, he was teased for his appearance and high-pitched voice, which often made him feel isolated, and he later wrote a story about a boy named Hans who gets made fun of as a child. Much like the ugly duckling, Andersen only later in life became the “swan”—a cultured, world-renowned writer with friends in high places. Andersen even admitted of The Ugly Duckling, “This story is, of course, a reflection of my own life.”

There’s also evidence that Andersen placed his characters in desperate and hopeless situations to reflect his own personal traumas, which included being raised in poverty, losing his father, and having to briefly work in a factory at age 11 to support his mother. Paul Binding, a literary critic who penned a book about Andersen, said the long-lasting appeal of his stories go beyond their authenticity, though. "True, some of Andersen’s most famous stories—The Ugly Duckling, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, even The Little Mermaid—are dramatizations or sublimations of his own dilemmas, but they would not work on us as they do if they did not transcend the personal—in language, in observation and detail, and in intricate but unobtrusive structure—to stand on their own as perfectly wrought artifacts of universal appeal," Binding wrote for The Guardian.

2. Andersen's original version of The Little Mermaid was a lot more depressing than Disney’s take.

Andersen’s Little Mermaid story from 1837 was far darker than the kid-friendly Disney movie it would later inspire. In the original (which you can read online for free here), an unnamed mermaid who falls in love with a prince is offered the chance to take a human form, even though she'll live in perpetual agony and has to have her tongue cut out. The mermaid's goal—besides love—is to gain an immortal soul, which is only possible if the prince falls in love with her and marries her. After the prince marries someone else, however, the mermaid contemplates murdering him, but instead accepts her fate and throws herself into the sea, where she dissolves into sea foam. The mermaid is greeted by spiritual beings who say they'll help her get into heaven if she does good deeds for 300 years. So there’s that, at least.

3. Poor translations may have altered Andersen's image abroad.

According to UNESCO, Andersen is the eighth most-translated writer in the world, trailing right behind Vladimir Lenin. Though his works have been reproduced in more than 125 languages, not all of them have been faithful retellings. From the beginning, there have been many examples of “shoddy translations” that “obliterated” his original stories, according to the writers Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank in their modern translation of The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen. As a result, Andersen’s reputation beyond Scandinavia was “not as a literary genius but as a quaint 19th-century writer of charming children’s stories,” the pair write.

4. Andersen wore out his welcome while staying with Charles Dickens.

Andersen met his literary hero, Charles Dickens, at an aristocratic party in 1847. They kept in touch, and a decade later Andersen came to stay with Dickens at the British author's home in Kent, England. The visit was meant to last two weeks at most, but Andersen ended up staying five weeks, to the dismay of the Dickens family. On his first morning there, Andersen proclaimed that it was a Danish custom for one of the sons of the household to shave their male guest. Instead of complying, the family set him up with a local barber. Andersen was also prone to tantrums, at one point throwing himself face down on the lawn and sobbing after reading a particularly bad review of one of his books. Once Andersen finally left, Dickens wrote and displayed a note that read, “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seemed to the family AGES!” Dickens stopped responding to Andersen's letters, which effectively ended their friendship.

5. Andersen was terrified of being buried alive.

Andersen had a lot of phobias. He was afraid of dogs. He didn’t eat pork because he worried he would contract trichinae, a parasite that can be found in pigs. He kept a long rope in his luggage while traveling, in case he needed to escape a fire. He even feared he would accidentally be declared dead and buried alive, so before bed each night, he propped up a note that read, “I only appear to be dead.”

6. Andersen may have been celibate his whole life.

Although Andersen lived a long and full life, he struggled with personal relationships and never got his own fairy tale ending. At different points in his life, he fell for a number of women—and possibly a few men as well, according to some interpretations of the amorous letters he wrote to young men—but his feelings were unrequited each time. "I believe he never had a sexual relationship," biographer Bente Kjoel-bye told the Deseret News. Although Andersen is often regarded as a pure and chaste figure, he was no stranger to lustful thoughts. When he was 61 years old, he went to a brothel in Paris for the first time and paid a prostitute, but didn't do anything except watch her undress. After a second visit to a "shop which traded in human beings," he wrote in his diary, "I spoke with [a woman], paid 12 francs, and left without having sinned in action, but probably in thought."

7. Andersen is considered a “national treasure” in Denmark.

The Danish government declared Andersen a “national treasure” when he was in his late sixties, around the same time that he started showing symptoms of the liver cancer that would ultimately claim his life. The government subsequently paid him a stipend and started constructing a statue of the author in the King's Garden in Copenhagen to commemorate his 70th birthday. Andersen lived to see his birthday, but died four months later. Over a century later, you can still see tributes to the writer’s legacy in Copenhagen, including a second statue of Andersen along the street named after him (H.C. Andersens Boulevard) and a sculpture of the Little Mermaid at Langelinje Pier. Visitors are also welcome at his childhood home in Odense, Denmark, and at a museum dedicated to his work in the same city.

Beowulf Was Written By One Person, According to Computer Analysis

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

The poem has been read in classrooms around the world and has influenced countless works of literature, but the identity of the author of Beowulf remains unknown. Scholars can't agree on when exactly the anonymous poet wrote Beowulf, or on whether it was even a single person. Now, a study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour may finally put one part of that debate to rest. After analyzing the text of the Old English epic, researchers have concluded that Beowulf is the work of one author, the Boston Globe reports.

Written a millennium ago, Beowulf follows a brave hero, the title character, as he slays beasts in Scandinavia, including a monster named Grendel and Grendel's mother. The oldest surviving manuscript dates back to roughly 1000 CE, and there are many competing theories as to its origins.

For their study, researchers from Harvard and other universities used computer algorithms to find patterns in the poem. A type of literary statistic analysis called stylometry was able to break down Beowulf by a number of factors, including meter, breaks, word choice, and the prevalence of certain letter combinations.

The team found that many of the distinguishing style elements of Beowulf are consistent throughout the poem, suggesting that every line came from the same source. But who that one author might have been is still unknown.

Scholars love to speculate on the true authorship of great works—even when there are famous names attached to them. Some experts think that as many as nine writers are really responsible for William Shakespeare's body of work.

[h/t Boston Globe]

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