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Literature / Danny, the Champion of the World

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A 1975 Roald Dahl book about Danny, a half-orphan living with his father, a man with a certain fondness for poaching pheasants, in a caravan next to his father's petrol station/garage on a rather desirable plot in the English countryside. Mr. Hazell, the rich land-owner from whose land pheasants are poached, is less than amused by this hobby and attempts to thwart Danny's efforts.

Danny, however, comes up with an Evil Plan. All very sweet and lovely, unless you're a pheasant. (Though even then, it has to beat the fate Hazell had in mind for them....)

There is, of course, a film; a rather sweet one from 1989 starring Jeremy Irons and his son Samuel as the father and son, and Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Hazell.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Dahl's earlier short story, simply titled The Champion of the World, had an identical pheasant-poaching scheme as the one employed toward the end of this book.
  • Amusing Injuries: Played for Black Comedy. Danny's father describes gunshot wounds in rather humorous ways, while Danny himself is too horrified to laugh.
    • Shot in the Ass: An easy target on a fleeing poacher. Danny's grandfather had so many scars there it looked like he'd been snowed on.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Dahl, despite his apparent dislike for putting morals in children's books, delivers a very direct example of this trope at the end of the book:
    A MESSAGE to children Who Have Read This Book. When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves, is a parent who is SPARKY.
  • Arcadia: The pleasant rural environment where it all takes place, spoiled only by this rather nasty Hazell character.
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  • Asshole Victim: Good thing Hazell's such a jerk, or the fact that our hero is a poacher would be a lot more problematic.
  • Author Appeal: Roald Dahl loves childhood nostalgia, and he loves Food Porn.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Averted; the aristocrats who come to Mr. Hazell's shooting parties are treated fairly respectfully by the narrative, disliking their host as a person but acknowledging that his parties are pretty good. Hazell looks silly for trying to be one of them, when he's clearly not. Roald Dahl likes the aristocracy, but doesn't seem to be too big on the bourgeoisies.
  • Based on a True Story: Danny's caning by Captain Lancaster is closely based on Dahl's own experiences, as anyone who's read his autobiography Boy will immediately recognise.
  • The Caper: The latter half of the book is mostly about Danny's poaching idea and he and his dad's attempt to implement it.
  • Clucking Funny: Danny's grandfather was a master poacher, who often used his chickens to experiment new techniques, the idea being that if it'll work on a chicken, it'll work on a pheasant. Illustrator Quentin Blake has lots of fun drawing these experiments.
  • Corporal Punishment: Danny is caned on the hand by his Sadist Teacher
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Danny's father tells him about The BFG. It's interesting to see the illustration in the first edition, which shows the BFG as a much darker and more intimidating figure - though still ultimately a force for good - and contrast it with the now prevailing picture of the BFG derived from Quentin Blake and the Animated Adaptation.
  • Evil Is Petty: Danny's father just declined to serve Mr. Hazell petrol once, and Mr. Hazell subsequently attempted to use various legal tricks to force the family off their land (although none of them work).
  • Everybody Knew Already: Danny is quite astonished when he finds out how many local notables (including, but not limited to, the village policeman, the doctor and The Vicar) are well aware of the pheasant poaching going on and either turning a blind eye or having a go at it themselves.
  • Funetik Aksent: There's a policeman with a very rustic accent.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Kindly do not molest us."
  • Henpecked Husband: The speculated reason for the "glass of water" (it's really gin) one of Danny's better teachers is always drinking in the book. Despite discovering the truth, Danny and his best friend never spill the beans. He is a good teacher, after all.
  • Homemade Inventions: Danny's father is good at these (in a more grounded-in-reality way than some examples).
  • Injured Limb Episode: During one of the pheasant-poaching trips, Danny's dad ends up with a wonky leg.
  • Jerkass: Mr. Hazell
  • Kids Driving Cars: When the nine-year-old Danny fears that his father has been injured while poaching, he takes a customer's car out to fetch him. Despite driving quite slowly, in complete terror, and being passed by a police car, he manages it without incident. Justified since he's helped out in his father's car repair shop for most of his life and knows them inside and out.
  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: This book introduces a bit more moral ambiguity than Dahl is commonly known for, but there is still clearly a good-guy side and a bad-guy side. What the good guys are doing is clearly not remotely legal, but they’re poor and hungry and the guy they do it to is kind of a tool so it's okay.
  • Missing Mom: Danny's mother died when he was four months old.
  • Mr. Fixit: The father fixes cars at his petrol station and taught his son a fair bit.
  • Nice Guy: Half the cast.
  • No Name Given: Danny's surname is never revealed. In the 1989 film, it's 'Smith'.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Subverted by Danny's grandfather, who always tested out his pheasant poaching theories on chickens well before trying them in the field. Danny's father at one point laments that the time and material constraints on their own operation mean he doesn't have time to do a test run with the sleeping pills like his dad would have.
  • Papa Wolf: Danny's dad does NOT take kindly to Captain Lancaster caning his son. He is ready to go find Captain Lancaster and "beat the living daylights out of him", and only doesn't because Danny stops him.
  • One Dose Fits All: Discussed. Danny is worried that they only have fifty sedative capsules for two hundred pheasants. His dad points out that pheasants are only a fraction of the size of a human, so even a quarter dose will be more than sufficient.
  • Only Child Syndrome: Danny is an only child.
  • Parents as People: Danny's dad is clearly a kind and loving father, but he's got his share of flaws and he also poaches for fun, a hobby that could have potentially gotten him fatally shot which would have left Danny an orphan.
  • Roguish Poacher: Danny's father.
  • Sadist Teacher: Captain Lancaster is not a nice man. His appearance isn't terribly relevant to the plot, but adds a touch of colour to the story.
  • Slice of Life: In contrasts with Dahl’s other children’s stories with elements of whimsy and fantasy, Danny’s story doesn’t fit into that genre as the plot centers around him and his father poaching pheasants.
  • So Proud of You
  • Technically a Smile: Inverted. Danny's father never smiles with his mouth, but only with his eyes. This causes a lot of people to assume he is a very serious man, but he actually has a fantastic, deadpan sense of humour. Danny also notes that he prefers this style, as it's impossible to fake a smile with your eyes.
  • Thrill Seeker: Danny's father explains why he can't stop poaching, despite the inherent risks involved. It's not easy to catch a pheasant, it's just the hunter and the prey, but detests Hazell's organised shooting events as unnatural, wholesale slaughter, where the poor creatures stand no chance.
  • Too Unhappy to Be Hungry: Danny and his father are too afraid to eat their food because they plan to poach a whole lot of pheasants the next day. Downplayed though as they're not really unhappy, they're excited as well as afraid.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Raisins to pheasants, which was one of Danny's grandfather's greatest discoveries.

The movie adds examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Hazell is given an ulterior motive for attempting to run Danny and his father off their land: he wants to sell his vast land to a developer so they can build an entire new town.
    • The film includes an ongoing subplot of Danny being tormented by his teacher Captain Lancaster, expanded from a single event in the book.
  • The Film of the Book: Naturally.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Danny and his father are given the surname Smith.


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