Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Title: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Author: Roald Dahl
Genre: Children's fiction, animals, comedy, adventure
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Children's Fiction
Age Group: 4+

Farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean are not nice men. They are fat, stinky, and rude. Mr. Fox is able to steal from them every night, but after a while they decide they simply will not tolerate that anymore. With Mr. Fox, Mrs. Fox, and their children trapped in their hole by the farmers, Mr. Fox must think of some way to get his family food before they all starve. Not to mention all the other animals that have been affected by the complete destruction of the hill Mr. Fox lives in. How will Mr. Fox save his family and neighbors? Will the farmers catch him and shoot him like they plan?

Word of Warning
  • The farmers are rude, fat, and one of them drinks hard apple cider. At first it is not entirely clear that this is alcoholic, but later in the story we find that he apparently drinks too much (we are left to assume he gets drunk).
  • Mr. Fox is a thief, as foxes are. But he takes it to a whole new level. At first, he simply steals what he needs. Then, he steals an entire feast, managing to make the farmers look like fools in the process. Unfortunately, by doing this he saves his neighbors and family from starvation, and looks like a hero.
  • Mr. Fox and a few others are happy to drink cider (Mr. Fox does stop one of his children from doing so). The rat gets drunk on cider. This is portrayed as comical but also distasteful and not something to be done.
  • Originally, the other animals object to Mr. Fox's thefts, but they are more than happy to feast with him.
  • The farmers are determined to shoot Mr. Fox and even shoot his tail off (he does, of course, survive this). Apparently they had originally promised the tail to a woman who works for them, but she is consoled by the offer of his head, stuffed and hanging in her house.
  • The fox family is in danger of death by starvation, shooting, and being dug out of their home.
  • Mr. Fox is a hero
My Thoughts
In reality, there really is no problem with the thefts of Mr. Fox. After all, that's what foxes do. Foxes are animals, and thus cannot have a moral life, which also means that theft in their case is not wrong. But this isn't reality. When Mr. Fox somehow musters the free will to start stealing more than he needs, he crosses the line that kept him safe from having sinned by his theft.
The biggest problem? He's a hero! He saves his wife, young children, and all the neighbors (badgers, rats, rabbits, etc). Not exactly the reward we want for the character who is a slippery thief.

Still, the story is cute, exciting, and relatively innocent. Perhaps a discussion on alternatives to Mr. Fox's excessive theft could be a good way to follow up a reading of this book. It was, after all, a great adventure. Exciting adventures are hard to find for this age range, but this book here is one of the few in existence.


grandma jane said...

You know, I think if I had young impressionable children around, I'd probably forgo this one having read this review.
This book may have adventure, but the lesson learned may not be worth it. Too bad, for Ronald Dahl is known for his rather imaginative narratives....
Thanks for another well-done review.

Stacy C said...

It definitely isn't one of his best books for younger children, but I think any older kid who has a good grasp on what's right and wrong would be ok reading it.
I guess my perspective on Roald Dahl might be different than a parent's perspective because I was introduced to him when I was 14 or 15...