Roald Dahl’s name is almost synonymous with whacky, almost surreal characters and plots. Yet my absolute favorites among his books for children are two of the least strange: his autobiography Boy, and this book, Danny the Champion of the World.
When Danny was an infant his mother died, leaving his father to raise him alone. Throughout his early years Danny was as happy and content as child could possibly be. His father was wonderful, absolutely the best father possible. But he had a deep dark secret: he enjoyed poaching animals from the nasty neighbor’s woods. Soon Danny has been inducted into the secret, and despite his father’s misgivings, helps to create the best revenge ever on the cranky, malicious neighbor.
Although there are hints of fantasy – mostly in the father’s stories, one of which bears a remarkable resemblence to one of Dahl’s later books, The BFG – the main part of the book is done realistically. Danny’s almost awed love for his father seems typical for a young child to feel towards his parent, before all of the complicated and complex emotions of puberty set in. It is rare in modern fiction to find a parent-child relationship that is mostly conflict free, in particular a relationship between a father and a son, making this book resonate even more deeply. Younger children can sometimes be put off by the many novels featuring kids in stark conflict with their parents, and we have to remember that while strife is inherent in any relationship, there are many children who adore their parents and will appreciate a book that revolves so strongly around a father and his son.
The plot itself is fun and exciting. Roald Dahl is, of course, a master at his craft. The writing is excellent, and the pacing moves the book forward without ever feeling rushed. This was one of my childhood favorites that has stood the test of time to be still appreciated now that I have reached adulthood.