Danny, the Champion of the World is quite unusual for a children’s book, in the sense that it completely skews the reader’s idea of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Danny lives in a lovely sounding gypsy caravan with his father William, who owns a small garage. Danny absolutely adores his father, and they live an idyllic life filled with bedtime stories about the BFG, numerous midnight feasts, and afternoons spent building and flying kites and paper lanterns. However, the local landowner Mr Hazell is determined to make life tricky for William’s business, and so William has no qualms whatsoever about poaching pheasants from Mr Hazell’s land. When he breaks his leg by falling into a trap set by the gamekeepers, William and Danny are determined to humiliate Mr Hazell during the shooting season by poaching every single pheasant from his land.
As primary school children, it’s drummed into us that “two wrongs don’t make a right”, and yet while reading Danny, the Champion of the World I, and I’d imagine everyone else who’s read it, was rooting for Danny and William to win. There’s no getting around the fact that poaching is theft and that poachers are criminals, and yet from the sounds of it every person in the local community is somehow involved. There’s a real sense that a code of honour has been broken by Mr Hazell digging a pit to trap the poachers, although it’s surely to be expected that he’d want to protect his property. Mr Hazell is essentially the victim of the story, but Roald Dahl’s happy to gloss over that due to Mr Hazell being a generally nasty piece of work and threatening Danny unnecessarily.
It’s quite refreshing really. So many children’s books have a clear sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that they always feel like they’re preaching morals, but Roald Dahl happily ignores this. Danny is worried that his father might be caught poaching, but this is based more around the unjust and unpredictable nature of the gamekeepers than any real feeling of William doing wrong. However, Roald Dahl spares narrating parents from the moral dilemma of William and Danny profiting from crime; the pheasants (bar six) all wake up and fly away, and the remaining handful are divvied up between the locals who helped William and Danny with their plan. We’re left with the satisfaction of seeing a well-executed plan carried through (mostly) successfully, and the lingering feeling that Mr Hazell probably got what he deserved.
See also My Culture Mission, read previous Book Review featuring Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, or read reviews of other works by Roald Dahl – George’s Marvellous Medicine, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, Matilda, and Someone Like You.