quentin blake
quentin blake

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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
11 Simple Facts About Henry David Thoreau
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau declared his love of nature, simplicity, and independence. Although most people know about Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods, as well as his Transcendentalism, abolitionist views, and writing on civil disobedience, there’s a lot more to uncover about him. In honor of his birthday (he would’ve turned 201 years old today), here are 11 things you might not have known about Henry David Thoreau.

1. WE’RE PROBABLY MISPRONOUNCING HIS NAME.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, David Henry Thoreau switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. His legal name, though, was always David Henry. Although most people today pronounce Thoreau’s surname with the emphasis on the second syllable, he most likely pronounced it “THOR-oh.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s son, Edward, wrote that the accent in Thoreau’s name was on the first syllable, and other friends called him “Mr. Thorough.”

2. HE INVENTED A MACHINE TO IMPROVE PENCILS.

In the 1820s, Thoreau’s father started manufacturing black-lead pencils. Between teaching students, surveying land, and working as a handyman, Thoreau made money by working for his family’s pencil business. After researching German techniques for making pencils, he invented a grinding machine that made better quality plumbago (a mixture of the lead, graphite, and clay inside a pencil). After his father died, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company.

3. HE ACCIDENTALLY BURNED HUNDREDS OF ACRES OF WOODS.

In 1844, a year before moving into a house in Walden Woods, the 26-year-old Thoreau was cooking fish he had caught with a friend in the woods outside Concord. The grass around the fire ignited, and the flames burned between 100 and 300 acres of land, thanks to strong winds. Even years later, his neighbors disparagingly called him a rascal and a woods burner. In an 1850 journal entry, Thoreau described how the earth was “uncommonly dry”—there hadn’t been much rain—and how the fire “spread rapidly.” Although he initially felt guilty, he wrote that he soon realized that fire is natural, and lightning could have sparked a fire in the woods just as easily as his cooking accident did.

4. HIS HOUSE AT WALDEN POND LATER BECAME A PIGSTY.

After Thoreau left the home he built in Walden Woods in 1847, the structure went through multiple iterations. He sold the house to Emerson (it was on land that Emerson already owned), and Emerson sold it to his gardener. The gardener never moved in, so the house was empty until a farmer named James Clark bought it in 1849. Clark moved it to his nearby farm and used it to store grain. In 1868, the roof of the building was removed from the base and used to cover a pigsty. In 1875, the rest of the structure was used as a shed before its timber was used to fix Clark’s barn. Today, you can see replicas of Thoreau’s house near Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

5. HE AND HIS BROTHER WERE CAUGHT IN A LOVE TRIANGLE.

In 1839, Thoreau wrote in his journal about how he fell in love with Ellen Sewall, an 18-year-old from Cape Cod. In 1840, Thoreau’s older brother John proposed marriage to Sewall but was rejected. So, like any good brother, Thoreau wrote a letter to Sewall, proposing that she marry him instead. Sewall rejected him too, probably due to her family disapproving of the Thoreau family’s liberal views on Christianity.

Despite the aforementioned marriage proposal, some historians and biographers speculate that Thoreau was gay. He never married, reportedly preferred celibacy, and his journals reveal references to male bodies but no female ones.

6. DESPITE POPULAR MISCONCEPTION, HE WASN’T A LONER.

Historians have debunked the misconception that Thoreau was a selfish hermit who lived alone so he could stay away from other people. Rather than being a loner, Thoreau was an individualist who was close to his family members and lived with Emerson’s family (on and off) for years. To build his cabin in the woods, he got help from his friends including Emerson and Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott. During his stay in the woods, he frequently entertained guests, visited friends, and walked to the (nearby) town of Concord. At his funeral at Concord’s First Parish Church, a large group of friends attended to mourn and celebrate his life.

7. HE WAS A MINIMALIST.

Long before tiny houses were trendy, Thoreau wrote about the benefits of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle. In Walden, he wrote about giving up the luxuries of everyday life in order to quiet the mind and have time for thinking. “My greatest skill has been to want but little,” he wrote. Thoreau also related his love of simplicity to the craft of writing: “It is the fault of some excellent writers ... that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail. They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness.”

8. HE TOOK COPIOUS NOTES.

Although he was a minimalist, Thoreau wrote an abundance of notes and ideas in his journals, essays, and letters. He jotted down his observations of nature, writing in detail about everything from how plant seeds spread across the land to the changing temperature of Walden Pond to animal behavior. In addition to his plethora of notes and environmental data, Thoreau also collected hundreds of plant specimens and birds’ eggs.

9. HE WAS PRAISED FOR HIS ORIGINALITY.

In 1862, newspapers widely reported the news of Thoreau’s death. Obituaries for the 44-year-old writer appeared in The Boston Transcript, The Boston Daily Advertiser, The Liberator, The Boston Journal, The New-York Daily Tribune, and The Salem Observer. The obituaries describe Thoreau as an “eccentric author” and “one of the most original thinkers our country has produced.”

10. HE DONATED HIS COLLECTIONS TO THE BOSTON SOCIETY OF NATURAL HISTORY.

After Thoreau’s death, the Boston Society of Natural History got a huge gift. Thoreau, a member, gave the society his collections of plants, Indian antiquities, and birds’ eggs and nests. The plants were pressed and numbered—there were more than 1000 species—and the Native American antiquities included stone weapons that Thoreau had found while walking in Concord.

11. DON HENLEY OF THE EAGLES IS A HUGE FAN.

As a big fan of both Thoreau and Transcendentalism, musician Don Henley of the Eagles started The Walden Woods Project in 1990 to stop 68 acres of Walden Woods from being turned into offices and condominiums. The project succeeded in saving the woods, and today The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization that conserves Walden Woods, preserves Thoreau’s legacy, and manages an archive of Thoreau’s books, maps, letters, and manuscripts. In an interview with Preservation Magazine, Henley described the importance of preserving Walden Woods: “The pond and the woods that inspired the writing of Walden are historically significant not only because they were the setting for a great American classic, but also because Walden Woods was Henry David Thoreau's living laboratory, where he formulated his theory of forest succession, a precursor to contemporary ecological science.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Quentin Blake, courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2018
Matilda Illustrator Quentin Blake Is Auctioning Items From His Personal Collection of Drawings
Quentin Blake, courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2018
Quentin Blake, courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2018

When you think of Roald Dahl's classic books, chances are you're actually imagining Quentin Blake's work. Blake is the award-winning illustrator behind the signature imagery in beloved books like The BFG, Matilda, and The Twits. Now, Blake is auctioning off some of his drawings from his private collection through Christie's, giving the public a chance to own art intimately connected with these canonical children's books.

The illustrations on offer were completed by Blake over a period of some 40 years. They include preliminary studies, alternative versions of illustrations that made it into books like The Twits and The Enormous Crocodile (Blake's first collaboration with Dahl), and other related art. In addition to illustrations he drew for Dahl, there's artwork he created for his own books, for other authors, for hospitals (like the watercolor above, an alternative version of a drawing he made for the Rosie Birth Centre at Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, UK), and for public exhibitions.

Below are just a few of the pieces available, currently ranging in starting bids from around $600 to more than $15,000.

A watercolor image of a witch dressed in black
"The Grand High Witch," 
an alternative illustration of the character from The Witches created for Blake's 2016 Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits project
Quentin Blake

A watercolor of a father with his arm around his son, holding a kite
"Danny and His Father," an alternative illustration of the characters from Danny the Champion of the World that Blake produced for his Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits
Quentin Blake

Four illustrations showing the BFG with his ears in different positions
“The BFG showing how he flaps his ears,” a preliminary drawing for the 1982 edition of The BFG
Quentin Blake

A watercolor of the BFG holding Sophie in the palm of his hand
“Sophie and the BFG,” an alternative illustration of the characters from The BFG created for the Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits
Quentin Blake

Take a look at the rest here before the auction ends on July 12. Proceeds from the auction will go to three nonprofits: The House of Illustration, Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity, and Survival International.

All images courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2018

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER