Literature / The BFG

"I is not like the others, I is a nice Giant, I is a freaky Giant. I is the Big Friendly Giant. The BFG, that's me."

NO! Not that kind of BFG! The BFG is a book by Roald Dahl. "BFG" in this case stands for Big Friendly Giant, and is the name of one of the protagonists. He is a Giant, the magic mythological kind who lives in Giant Country and is the only member of his race who doesn't eat humans. The other protagonist is Sophie, a little orphan girl who the BFG kidnaps (and later regrets) because she catches a glimpse of him — she's terrified at first but, once she learns he's nice, she's actually quite glad to be out of the horrible orphanage she lived in.

The other Giants are child killers, and downright terrifying. Sophie is very nearly eaten by one (the Bloodbottler) but survives when he spits out the disgusting vegetable she's hiding in. The BFG lets Sophie in on his secret job — catching dreams from Dream Country, then mixing them up and distributing them to children (blowing them through a big trumpet). He also locks away any nightmares he finds, to make sure they don't find a way to kids by themselves.

Sophie comes up with a plan to capture the other giants: Making the Queen of England dream about the Giants and also that they can be stopped by a little girl called Sophie and a friendly Giant. Thus, when she appears on the Queen's windowsill, Sophie is instantly believed (with the additional backup of a recent ring of child massacres that the Queen also dreams about on the same night that they happen). The Queen calls on the Army and the RAF to capture the Giants, which they do with the help of the BFG and Sophie.

An Animated Adaptation was made by Cosgrove Hall in 1989. A new live-action adaptation by Disney directed by Steven Spielberg is set for release in July 2016.

The book provides examples of:

  • Big Damn Heroes: The BFG bursting in to save Sophie from Fleshlumpeater during the climax.
  • Big "NO!": Sophie, when Fleshlumpeater is implied to eat a young boy.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Malaproper BFG repeatedly mispronounces Charles Dickens as Dahl's Chickens. This is given a Shout-Out in the film version of Matilda.
  • Broken Aesop: Although the BFG likens the Giants' eating of humans to the humans' eating of animals, it doesn't stop him tucking into ham and eggs. Even though he brings up pigs as a specific example.
  • The Butcher: One of the giants is named "Butcher Boy".
  • Call a Pegasus a "Hippogriff": There are of course early examples of child-eating giants, but the evil giants (BFG aside) look much more like ogres than giants, being less humanlike.
    • Then again, it's possible that The BFG is the last of his kind and the other giants are a different race of giants which would explain the way they look down on him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Queen gives Sophie a sapphire brooch to wear. Later, she stabs the Fleshlumpeater with it to distract him from eating a soldier.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Good dreams are green, stable ovoids. Nightmares are thrashing red storms.
  • Cultural Translation:
  • David Versus Goliath: The BFG and the humans against the evil giants.note 
  • The Dreaded: The only human bean giants fear is the legendary Jack.
  • Dream Weaver: The BFG is a benign example, mixing up good dreams for the children of the world from the bottled small dreams he captures, and locking away nightmares. He's reluctant to mix up the dream for the Queen in Sophie's plan because, as it's about the horror of the giants, it's naturally a nightmare.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The BFG is first mentioned as one of Danny's father's stories in Danny, the Champion of the World, written six years earlier.
  • Happily Adopted
  • Heroic BSOD: The BFG has a mild one when he accidentally catches a particularly nasty nightmare while fishing for dreams, which upsets him so much that he immediately decides to go home. He quickly gets over it by deciding to give the nightmare to one of the other giants.
  • Hollywood Atlas: Lets see... the Queen of England runs everything and can overturn any decisions that her military commanders tries to make... Sweden is such a small community that everyone notices if three of them suddenly disappear... and Baghdad is run by a Caliph.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The BFG is disdainful of humankind in general, but realizes by the end that not all humans are bad.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The giants are effectively this.
  • I Choose to Stay: In the book, Sophie and the BFG stay in Buckingham Palace in the end.
  • Infant Immortality: The plot is built around averting this trope. Children do die in this book, though never on-screen.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Used by one of the British pilots to understand where Giant Land is located; he turns to the blank page at the back of the atlas and explains it must be there. Of course in this world The Cloudcuckoolander Was Right.
  • Invisible President: Averted; the Queen is not only seen, but is a major character and plays an important role in the story, and a fairly worshipfully-written one, too. Though admittedly she's only called The Queen of England, not Queen Elizabeth II. However, she looks rather like her in Quentin Blake's extremely-stylized illustrations for the book.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: At the very end of the story, the BFG (having become literate) tells Sophie that he's planning to write a novel about their adventures. The last line of the book is "You've just finished reading it."
  • Knight of Cerebus: The other giants, especially in the animated film, they induce Mood Whiplash whenever they appear and their Child Eater habits are played very seriously
  • Magical Land: Giant Country and Dream Country. The book indicates these are unexplored territories on Earth.
  • Malaproper: The BFG is a constant malaproper ("Right as snow!" {Right as rain}, "Two rights is not making a left" (Two wrongs don't make a right). Both these cases aren't examples of the BFG being stupid, but are because (as he has no parents) he is self-taught. Quite an impressive feat all in all, given that in the original book he managed to teach himself to read and write from a single book — Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby. In the book, he eventually gets tuition and doesn't do this anymore. The evil Giants, however, aren't interested in such pursuits and play the tropes pretty much straight ("I is now going to search the primroses!").
  • Meaningful Name: Not Sophie (who was named after Dahl's granddaughter) but all the giants have very obvious names relating to their characters (e.g. Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, Childchewer, Fleshlumpeater, Maidmasher... and the BFG himself).
  • Muggles Do It Better: The British Army and the RAF could have easily obliterated the giants (as discussed in length by the Field Marshal and the Air Chief Marshal - tanks, machine guns, bombs, artillery, fighter jets, etc). Yet, they managed to tie them up in their sleep, commando style, without firing a shot, and still come out on top.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Giants are a race of violent, evil brutes who grind their teeth with human bones, especially children's. The BFG is the only good member of the race and is horrified at his cohorts' brutality and anthropophagy, which the other giants disown him for.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The villainous giants: The Childchewer, the Butcher Boy, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bloodbottler, etc.
  • No True Scotsman: The other giants essentially disown the BFG for not eating humans, though neither party does anything to patch the ties.
  • Odd Name Out: Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, Childchewer, Fleshlumpeater, Maidmasher... and The Butcher Boy.
  • One-Gender Race: The Giants are exclusively male; this is a trope Dahl plays with at least twice, as in The Witches the villainous race of that piece is all female (and a few all-male races are mentioned in it too). Giants simply come into being. The Giant race is pretty small, actually — there's only 10 of them.
    • Then, again giants are always male. Giantess is the term for a female giant.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: ...except BFG himself, who's considerably smaller than the others.
  • Picked Flowers Are Dead: The Big Friendly Giant comments that since he can hear the voices of plants, anytime somebody picks a flower he can hear the plant screaming as though somebody were having their arm twisted off. Sophie wonders whether she'll ever be able to pick flowers again.
    • A similar concept previously appeared in one of Roald Dahl's short stories for adults, "The Sound Machine", in which the titular machine reveals to its inventor that plants make some kind of noise when they're cut, plucked, etc. Whether it's an expression of pain or not is unknown, but it's enough to severely unnerve the inventor.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Someone getting into the Queen's bedroom past the security? Happened the same year the book was published. Twice.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The BFG and the other giants are thousands of years old.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Queen, who is implied to be Queen Elizabeth II. For all his faults, Roald Dahl loves his Queen.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The evil Giants all have red eyes in the animated film. Although the Fleshlumpeater appears to be blind in one eye.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The red and green mouse-type-creature that lives in the BFG's house.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: The BFG reveals the location Giant Country to humans so they can defeat the evil giants and no more children will be eaten.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: At the end, the evil giants are trapped in a deep pit and given only disgusting vegetables for food... save the one occasion three drunk men scaled the fence and fell in.
    • Also, the nightmares the BFG catches.
  • Sergeant Rock: The unamed Paratrooper Sergeant.
  • She Knows Too Much: Not quite. Sophie is snatched from her bed so she can't reveal the giants' existence to the human world.
  • Spin-Off: The BFG first appeared in Danny, the Champion of the World, an earlier book by Dahl, in a bedtime story told by Danny's father.
  • Square/Cube Law: A blink and you miss it example in the book. When the BFG is visiting the queen, the butler reasons that, since the BFG is four times a normal human's size, he'll need four times the food when they go to cook breakfast for him. This turns out to be far from sufficent.
  • To Serve Man: All the giants eat humans except for the BFG.
  • Toilet Humor: There is an entire chapter (and in the movie, an entire song) dedicated to a drink that makes one fart (or rather, "make a Whizzpopper")... in pretty epic proportions. The BFG even does one in front of the Queen, who takes it quite amusingly well under the circumstances ("I prefer the bagpipes.") However, since the book WAS published in 1982, before most examples of the trope were abundant in college movies, and since it really is quite funny, it's not TOO offputting.
  • Token Good Teammate: The BFG is the only good giant, the rest are Always Chaotic Evil.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: All the Giants are terrified of only one human — the legendary Jack. In the Hebrew translation, it's David. Also, it seems that Fleshlumpeater is literally scared of snakes as well: the title character at once point scares him with "the Venomsome Vindscreen Viper".
  • You No Take Candle: All the Giants speak in broken and mangled English, including the BFG (though he has a better grasp than the others). Also, only the bad Giants have the violent element. In the book, he eventually gets tuition and doesn't do this anymore. The evil Giants, however, aren't interested in such pursuits and play the tropes pretty much straight ("I is now going to search the primroses!").

The adaptations provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: A very minor case with the Giants in the live action film. In the book, they're fat, bearded monsters with "piggy little eyes and enormous mouths with thick sausage lips", and in the animated film, they fare even worse. They aren't nearly as hideous in the 2016 movie, as their designs are a bit more human (although they are still considerably repulsive).
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Sophie went from having long blonde hair in the book to having short red hair in the animated film. In the live action film, she has short brown hair.
  • Animated Adaptation: Cosgrove Hall made one in 1989.
  • Animated Musical: The Cosgrove Hall version had songs in it.
  • Animation Bump: In the animated adaptation, different characters were drawn and animated in different ways. The Queen, the Paras and the Royal Guards are drawn in a hyper-realistic, rotoscoped way, while the military commanders, the giants and even Sophie are animated in a more traditionally and cartoonish, but less detailed way. Sometimes, it can be rather jarring to see the Queen's comparatively stale, realistic expressions compete with the tubby, fat-nosed Field Marshall's over-the-top gesticulations, while on other occasions (like the army overpowering the giants), it's rather genius.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Giants is never killing their own kind; only humans is. In the cartoon, Fleshlumpeater tries to kill the BFG after his plan to imprison the evil giants is exposed, on the basis that he doesn't consider him a true giant any more, but a "human bean".
  • Big "NO!": Sophie gives a particularly terrifying one when she watches the Fleslumpeater devour a sleeping boy she and BFG had just given a happy dream.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Sophie in the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the movie, a nightmare caught early on is used to defeat the Fleshlumpeater and save the day during the climax.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the animated film, the giants do not feature as much as they do in the book. In the book, they are constantly being talked about and show up in many sequences.
  • Go Out with a Smile: In the film, a boy is eaten by Fleshlumpeater while he's having a nice dream.
  • HAHAHA–No: In the movie, the BFG does this when discussing the different flavours of humans from around the world with Sophie.
  • I Choose to Stay: In the film, the BFG goes back to Giant Country so he can continue making dreams and Sophie decides to go back with him.
  • Its Pronounced Tropay: Due to their severe lack of education, the giants frequently mispronounce words in the English language; even the BFG refers to human beings as "human beans". During the climax of the film, when Fleshlumpeater refers to Sophie as a "human bean", the BFG defiantly corrects him.
  • Jump Scare: In the movie, the moment when Bloodbottler first enters the BFG's home is extremely jarring.
  • Karma Houdini: Averted somewhat in the movie: Mrs. Clonkers, who is thoroughly unpleasant and cruel, not only has her Orphanage of Fear shut down, but it is also decided that she will become the evil Giants' keeper. She can't have been too happy about that.
  • Magical Land: Giant Country and Dream Country. The visuals in the animated movie seem to imply they are more akin to other dimensions.
  • Mind Rape: In the movie, the last evil Giant standing (Fleshlumpeater) is defeated when the BFG blows a nightmare into him, causing him to hallucinate that he is face-to-face with Jack the Giant Killer. In the book, Fleshlumpeater is given that dream much earlier, but only as a humorous aside.
  • No True Scotsman: The other giants essentially disown the BFG for not eating humans, though neither party does anything to patch the ties. The climax of the film makes it clear that they don't even consider him a giant.
    Fleshlumpeater: You is not giant! You is more like...human bean!
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The scene in which the Fleshlumpeater devours a sleeping boy is made even scarier because we don't actually see him do it. Instead, when he reaches into the boy's window, it cuts to Sophie whose reaction says it all before cutting back to Fleshlumpeater obviously chewing something we can't see.
  • Obviously Evil: The giants look even more evil in the animated movie than their physical descriptions and illustrations from the book. For instance, Fleshlumpeater is not only a towering brute, but has fanged, rotten teeth, a scarred face, barbaric regalia, and blood-red eyes.
  • Oh Crap!: In the movie, after the Army captures eight evil Giants:
    Head of the Army: Funny. He (the BFG) said there were nine!
    Head of the Navy: You know he can't talk English. He probably can't count, either! Ha-ha!
    Fleshlumpeater: (roars)
    (panic ensues)
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: At the climax of the movie, when the enraged Fleshlumpeater is hunting down the titular character: "B! F! G!"
  • Scenery Porn: In the movie, the shots of Dream Country and the exterior shots of the volcano in Giant Country are beautiful.
  • She Who Must Not Be Seen: Mrs. Clonkers never appears in the animated film. Only her voice is heard.
  • Shout-Out: In the animated movie, a young boy has a Danger Mouse poster in his bedroom.