The BFG: The protector of Our Dreams
There was a time when I was really small that I used to have really bad dreams. These were not just nightmares, these were night terrors. I would, according to my sister, wake up screaming and sweating, as if I was being eaten by a monster, right there on the bed. So, my sister, who was a little older than me, read me The BFG before I went to sleep each night. She used to tell me that this book was written by a doctor, who had met the BFG and employed him to help with people with such very bad dreams.
The idea that there was a giant, though certainly not the biggest of giants, who befriended little people and kept them safe: this was amazing to me. The gentleness and enthusiasm with which he chased the sprinkle of magic of good dreams was my first glimpse of beauty. The bravery he showed to fight the bad giants, the monsters who stalked my night terrors, made me want to have courage too. I knew I wasn’t Sophie. I wouldn’t have been able to trust a twenty-four-foot man and go on a wild trip to meet the Queen. But, I wish I could have met him and seen in his eyes the gentleness that lived in his heart.
By far my most favourite of books will always be The BFG. I think, even now, when I fall asleep, I know I will be fine because I have my giant protector of my dreams. This is what my big sister said, and this is what I still secretly believe.
From book to film
When I heard that Steven Spielberg planned to make a movie of my most precious of books, I felt a little sad. The process of book to film can be magical but it can also rob the soul from the pages and smear someone else’s vision on the screen. He was my BFG and I was protective of his image in my mind. This image was of course dictated by Quentin Blake, but I was philosophical about this. The pencil drawings, lightly water-coloured, were simple sketches that did just enough to explode into the mind of a little girl. I still felt as if I owned the movie in my mind.
I went to see the film, of course I did. It is The BFG. I may be an adult now but this is my book. Obviously, I took my 12-year-old niece for company. She wasn’t that bothered by the idea of the film, if I am honest, but I needed a child to stop it looking weird for me to be in the cinema. She gracefully agreed to come with me, though negotiated a box of popcorn and some ice-cream out of the deal. Children today are far more cut-throat in their dealings with weak-hearted adults than I ever remember being.
At first, I approached the film with the same nonchalant cynicism that comes from being British. Pah, I thought. Steven Spielberg may think himself a genius of the film world (Jaws still makes me think twice before paddling) but he is no match for Roald Dahl.
The good thing about low expectations is that you are always more powerfully side-swiped when it seems you have got it so completely wrong. It is as if Spielberg had taken my imagination and shone a light in, projecting my thoughts upon the big screen. My mouth dropped open, my arm stopped moving popcorn from tub to lip – my hand stayed hovering somewhere at chest height, for the entirety of the film.
It was beautiful.
Ah, how clichéd language sounds when you are trying to capture the simplest of experiences. The delicate CGI of the giant and the wonderful way Dahl’s made up language form rhythmic on the tongue of the actors, the use of light to sprinkle the dreams in the air, the play of music to create the sense of wonder. I loved it: from beginning to end. I watched it three times in the cinema. I didn’t bother to try to bribe my niece to come with me, I didn’t care, I would go on my own. She came anyway and bought me a pick-n-mix on the last visit to see the film.
I was enchanted with the poetry of the images and knew Spielberg was more than the genius I thought he was before. In his films it is the simple choices that are so impressive: the du-duh cello chord in Jaws and the bright red coat in a black and white film of Schlinder’s List. In the BFG it was the soft, gentle features of my giant that so carefully reflected the drawings first made by Quentin Blake. This was so simple and yet so clever because it meant that the imagination of the children who had read the book was projected onto the screen. Spielberg didn’t give us his version of The BFG, he gave us our version. And, it was magical.