Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on January 1st 1970
Genres: Children's, Fantasy, Fiction
Length: 96 pages Source: Library Sale
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In the tradition of The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, this is a "garden tale" of farmer versus vermin, or vice versa. The farmers in this case are a vaguely criminal team of three stooges: "Boggis and Bunce and Bean / One fat, one short, one lean. / These horrible crooks / So different in looks / Were nonetheless equally mean." Whatever their prowess as poultry farmers, within these pages their sole objective is the extermination of our hero--the noble, the clever, the Fantastic Mr. Fox. Our loyalties are defined from the start; after all, how could you cheer for a man named Bunce who eats his doughnuts stuffed with mashed goose livers? As one might expect, the farmers in this story come out smelling like ... well, what farmers occasionally do smell like.
Traditionally, I think Roald Dahl’s books are a quirky delight. Even if he was sort of a horrible person, his childrens books are memorable and fun. If you look past the unfortunate things that weaseled their way in.
So lets talk about Fantastic Mr. Fox. If this is a beloved tale from your childhood, you may want to skip this review, because I’m not going to be particularly nice. A lot of Dahl is woven in my childhood, but not this book, so it’s easier to be objective and grumpy.
I’m going to give two different descriptions of the book:
Mr. Fox is a clever, fantastic fox and a good father. When the horrible mean farmers set out to destroy his home and kill his family, Mr. Fox and his family dig deep and fast. They’re slowing starving, but with some quick thinking, Mr. Fox sets a plan in motion to have a feast and invite all the tunneling animals! They are saved from the wicked farmers and it’s all thanks to Mr. Fox!
Is that not delightful? How lovely to have a story about a clever, loving fox outwitting the bad guys. Okay but now lets dive into the second description.
When three despicable farmers – described by the gluttony, height, and cleanliness – grow tired of Mr. Fox stealing their food, they decide they will do anything to stop him. After shooting off his tail, they get a taste for his blood, and dig up their land so they can kill him and his family. Mr. Fox and his family dig, but they grow weak and hungry. Mrs. Fox is the only one who can’t go on – in fact, all the lady animals are too weak to dig any further. So Mr. Fox and Mr. Badger take their oldest children and dig their way into the farmers storehouses, taking the best of their chickens, geese, and hard cider. They justify this by saying it’s okay to steal for your family. The food is brought back to the overcome women to cook dinner, and the menfolk take a wee break to drink and talk about how smart they are. The animals decide to keep stealing like this from the farmers and live happily ever after.
Okay so problems, right?
For one, the quirks in the farmers are that they are super fat (“three chickens a day!”), a “midget” (Dahl’s words, not mine *sigh*), and a stinking drunk. You’re not supposed to like them because they’re villains, but it’s prudent to mention that this is a childrens book and lets not teach our younglings to body shame people? Ya? Let alone the slur and why is there a drunk here? He could have just been mean, right? Not be filthy and unbathed with marbles gunking up his ears and picking his nose and eating nothing but drinking only his “special cider”.
Then there’s the womenfolk. Mrs. Fox is portrayed as frightened and weak and is, essentially, sent to the kitchen. Um, no. I don’t even have more to say about that – I’m just out.
Then there’s the animals getting tipsy and singing about fine cider, and teaching your children it’s okay to do bad things to bad people, and “at least we aren’t trying to kill them”. Because, yes, lets use that in front of a jury. I’m just generally so unimpressed by this one that my grumpy review may be longer than the book itself.
The plot is simplistic, the characters are unlikable (although Small Fox is a little cute I guess?), and while the writing is still light and bouncy… Roald Dahl’s bigotry is showing through. This is a book I’d skip reading to my own kids, personally, and I didn’t miss it in my own childhood. The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me is a much cuter, more fun book at about the same length and for the same age group.
I will say this. The fox illustrations were absolutely adorable.
Fantastic Mr. Fox Will Be Donated
There’s nothing sentimental making me hold on to this book. Even though it’s very small and takes up no room on my bookcase, it’s not one I want to read again and it’s not one I’m going to keep. I went through this phase of wanting to collect up all the books and all the authors I loved as a kid… and in some ways that has paid off. Fantastic Mr. Fox is not one of them. Hopefully this book will find a child who will love it and who will not notice the… erm… problems.