Roald Dahl: Realism and Fantasy Essay

This essay has a total of 2129 words and 8 pages.

Roald Dahl: Realism and Fantasy

The Realism and Fantasy of
Roald Dahl's, Fantastic Mr. Fox

"The delightful tale of a fox who lives by poaching food from his three neighbours, Messrs.
Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, three farmers - each one meaner than the other" (Telgan, Children's
Literature Review, Vol. 41, pg. 27). Mr. Fox and his family endure the hardships of attempted
murder, being hunted, and starvation as the farmers resort to violence to rid themselves of Mr.
Fox and preserve their livestock. Out of an undying will to survive, and out of love and concern
for his family and fellow animal community, Mr. Fox, is able to valiantly burrow a subterranean
tunnel into the store houses of the three farmers. The triumphant Mr. Fox invites all of the
community animals for a feast and propose that they build "a little underground village" (Dahl,
Mr. Fox, pg. 88), that they may never have to contend with those farmers again. All the while,
Boggis, Bunce and Bean still wait on the surface for the starving fox to surface.
Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox is a fiction which employs devices of both realism and fantasy.
Realism, in literature, is defined as a genre "that attempts to persuade its readers that the created
world is very like the world the readers inhabit" (University of Victoria, 1995). Contrastingly,
Fantasy is defined as a genre "of fiction that pictures creatures or events beyond the boundaries
of known reality" (www.hearts-ease.org, 2001). The word, genre, refers to the "types or
categories into which literary works are grouped according to form, technique, or, sometimes,
subject matter" (Brown, 2002). As it will be adduced in this essay, Dahl is able to utilized
conventions of realism and fantasy in complementary ways that make the existence and
experiences of Mr. Fox believable within a known reality, yet enable the human reader to closely
identify with the animal-protagonist beyond the dictates of a known reality.
Devices of Realism
One device of realism in, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is the allusion to nature which conveys the life-
struggle of wild animals, drawing upon all the faculties in their power to keep safe and fed. Mr.
Fox "creep[s] down into the valley in the darkness of night[;] . . . approach[ing] a farm with the
wind blowing in his face . . . [so] that if man were lurking . . ., the wind would carry the smell of
that man to Mr. Fox's nose from far away" (Dahl, Mr. Fox, pg. 18). While Boggis, Bunce, and
Bean were attempting to dig Mr. Fox out of his hole, the Fox family "started to dig for dear life . .
. ‘As deep as we possibly can'" (Dahl, Mr. Fox, pg. 29). The reader can acknowledge Mr. Fox as
a realistic wild animal through his use of natural abilities and instincts.
The setting also carries the realism, especially if the course of Mr. Fox's journey is charted by
the reader. He lives on the top of a hill in the forest, and the farmers (with their associated
livestock) live in the valley. After Mr. Fox is chased deep down into the ground, he cleverly takes
his journey on a more horizontal slope towards the farms that are now on a more equal latitude
with him.
Though animal-animal communication is universal in the text, human-animal
communication does not an any point exist. Dahl's communication structure creates a
separateness of the protagonist animals and the antagonist humans, which structure is partial to
realism conventions.
The consequences of violence are not downplayed to any degree: "The smoke of three guns
floated upward in the night air . . ., half in and half out of the hole, lay the poor tattered
bloodstained remains of a fox's tail. . . Mrs. Fox was tenderly licking the stump of Mr. Fox's tail
to stop the bleeding. . . ‘It will never grow again,' said Mr. Fox" (Dahl, Mr. Fox, pg. 24-25).
Similarly, in its descriptive starkness, "Mr. Fox chose three of the plumpest hens, and with a
clever flick of his jaws he killed them instantly" (Dahl, Mr. Fox, pg. 55). Along with accurate
illustrations, Dahl portrays the known reality of death, injury, and pain as a result of violence and
malice.
It is through these allusions to reality that the reader validates the existence and experiences of
Mr. Fox as a wild animal, in his natural pursuit of sustenance and safety.
These aspects of reality give a basis upon which to judge the constructed nature of fantasy in
Fantastic Mr. Fox. Boggis, Bunce and Bean want to shoot and kill Mr. Fox because they are
frustrated with him stealing their livestock, however, Mr. Fox only steals the livestock to feed his
family. Both of these intentions are, realistically, morally ambiguous (i.e., killing out of anger,
and stealing to eat). The devices of fantasy are used to assemble the text-based reality from
which we will judge our characters, and side with morality of the protagonist.
Devices of Fantasy
Nearly all the aspects of fantasy in, Fantastic Mr. Fox, address the nature of humans and
animals within this constructed reality. Dahl admits to writing "grown-ups . . . [as] silly or
grotesque," for as they are the key agents to the civilizing of children, "children are inclined . . .
to regard grown-ups as the enemy" (Telgan, Children's Literature Review, Vol. 41, pg. 5, quoting
Roald Dahl). "The owners of these farms . . . were also nasty men . . . as nasty and mean as any
men you could meet" (Dahl, Mr. Fox, pg. 8). The characters of farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean
are as bluntly statable at the start of the story as they are at end - the absence of complex
character development being another virtue of fantasy (re: Ella Enchanted, The Princess and the
Goblin, The Tale of Peter Rabbit). Not just adults but all humans (even children) in Fantastic Mr. Fox
are shown to be cruel. At no time is any human noted to be doing anything nice or positive: the
children make up horrible rhymes about the three farmers (pg. 14); "people jeered and laughed"
at the farmers' pathetic plight to catch Mr. Fox (pg. 40); the "one hundred and eight [farmhands]
formed a tight ring about the bottom of the hill . . . armed with sticks, guns, and hatchets and
pistols and all sorts of other horrible weapons . . . [which] made it quite impossible for . . . any . .
. animal to escape from the hill (pg. 47); Mabel, the maid, remarks to Mrs. Bean, "‘I'll be glad
when the rotten brute (Mr. Fox) is killed,'" right before Mrs. Bean wretchedly yells at her to "‘get
a move on'" (pg. 80). As the events and characters in the text construct the text-based reality,
humans come off as inevitably and unchangeably cruel.
Animals, oppositely, embody the admirable ‘human' traits that might prevail in a realist novel
about human interaction. The animals: speak endearingly to one another (pg. 16, 30, 71, 86);
are depicted to be organized into loving families (pg. 15, 84); are part of a caring neighbourhood
community that does not discriminate between species, nor assign territories (pg. 86-88). The
protagonist, Mr. Fox, especially exhibits qualities of intelligence, compassion, self-control, and a
strong-will as he overcomes the trials of being hunted in order to save his family and community.
He is always able to outsmart the farmers, and at the peak of his fantasticness (when he burrows
into the loaded store houses), his self-control, over what would seemingly be a realistic animal
instinct to pillage and take as much food as possible, ensures that his loved ones will always be
able to be fed because he did not take too much as to "give the game away" (pg. 67). As animals
retain these ‘human' qualities, this scenario exists outside of a known reality, and is thus an
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