Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Mar 18, 2015
Leave it to Roald Dahl to come up with something completely wacky . . . and yet, surprisingly engaging.
Danny and his father live in an old caravan next to the filling station. It is nothing fancy, but the two of them are happy and content, especially if they are working on cars or telling stories (the BFG even makes an appearance at one point in one of Danny's father's stories, which is especially delightful, especially since, at the time, The BFG was still several years away from being published).
Things might have continued on just as they always had if Danny hadn't woken up one night and realized his father wasn't in the caravan with him. Although nine years old, Danny starts to panic just a little. His father finally returns, and when he does, he realizes he has no choice but to let Danny in on his "deep dark secret," which is this: some evenings he likes to creep into the woods and knock off a pheasant or two (although, in his defense, this was his first time doing it since Danny was born. Apparently old habits die hard.) The problem is, the pheasants don't belong to him. They belong to a man named Mr. Hazell, and they reside in Mr. Hazell's wood. In fact, Mr. Hazell has the wood specially stocked with pheasants so that several months later, when they're nice and plump, he can invite the local dignitaries over to hunt the pheasants for sport.
Danny's father has long had a serious dislike for Mr. Hazell (and shares this dislike with almost everyone else in town, including the police). He is not alone in poaching pheasants off Mr. Hazell's land (and his delight from the sport come as much from trying to out-sneak Mr. Hazell as it does his love of roasted pheasant). It turns out, Danny's grandfather is something of a legend for coming up with some of the most successful methods of pheasant poaching.
Until Danny comes along, that is.
After Danny hears about his father's midnight activities, he comes up with a fantastic idea for how to take out all the pheasants in one go. It involves raisins and sleeping pills, and Danny and his father plan to carry it out on the night before Mr. Hazell's big hunting party. They can't wait to see the look on his face when he walks into the wood, all set to impress his esteemed guests, and finds it empty.
Sorry for the rather long summary. I wanted to give those of you who, like me, have not read the book a sense of what it is all about. However, chances are if you're not already familiar with it, that little summary didn't really help and you're still scratching your head, thinking, Say what? This book is about the illegal poaching habits of a nine-year-old boy and his father?
Yes, I know. I've read the entire thing, but I'm still kind of waiting for the punch line.
The thing is, I had a hard time getting behind the illegal activity because (dare I admit it?) I didn't despise Mr. Hazell enough for it. Sure, he had an insufferable ego and was a bully, but stealing is stealing whether the person deserves it or not. My impassivity could have been because I hadn't had enough interaction with Mr. Hazell. Until the end, the reader's only exposure to him is through second-hand accounts. Those opinions come from Danny's father and Sergeant Enoch Samways and Doc Spencer and Reverend Lionel Clipstone (all highly respectable characters), but nothing they said got my blood boiling or my heart wishing for revenge against Mr. Hazell.
However, and this is a big however, somehow Aaron and Maxwell found my lost passion. They felt what Danny and his father were feeling. They yearned for the success of the mission. They despised Mr. Hazell. All told, I was a little envious of them. I think maybe they were hearing the book the way Roald Dahl intended, and there was a part of me that wished I could conjure up that much excitement over pheasants. Honestly, I felt much more dislike for Danny's teacher, Captain Lancaster, and there was no retribution for him, so obviously my judgement of who deserved what was not lining up with Roald Dahl's.
My favorite part of the story was Danny's relationship with his father. I may not have approved of (or even understood) the allure of poaching, but I couldn't deny Danny and his father's love for each other, which was fierce and loyal. I loved seeing this strong friendship between a father and a son. (Although, I have to say since finishing this book, I find myself looking back and reading a bit too much between the lines--Did Danny care too much about pleasing his father? Did he feel like he had to earn his father's love? etc. etc.)
I can't tell if I'm over thinking it or under thinking it or if I just didn't click with the story. Probably the latter. Maybe I'm just playing too much the part of the responsible parent these days, and so Danny's father just seemed a little on the immature side. But maybe that's why my boys loved it--they could think of nothing more exciting than to have a father who would risk a little danger and trouble for the sake of fun.