JASON QIN

Roald Dahl’s double edged sword: forged out of pure fiction and realism

by Jason Qin

Roald Dahl liked to use realism and surrealism as techniques to help deliver the story. Dahl is known to use realism to create empathy in his children’s books and unrealistic ideas in his adult short stories to keep his audience thinking. 

One example of this is the scenes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory before Charlie Bucket takes the tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The level of poverty Charlie’s family is going through is realistic, even though it may have some hyperbole involved. One reason why I think that Dahl does this is to have the children that are reading this root for Charlie and not the other kids who are depicted as disgusting and undeserving. 

An example of Dahl’s surrealism in his adult short stories is “The Swan.” In the story, “The Swan,” the recklessness of Ernie and Raymond towards Peter is unrealistic. First, they throw him onto a train track because he might have been on* them, as the text says

“‘What’s this?’ he snapped. ‘Who you spyin’ on?’

‘Nobody.’

‘Don’t lie, Watson. Them things is used for spyin’! I’ll bet you was spyin’on us! That’s right, ain’t it? Confess it!’”

Since he didn’t die, they made him fetch their catch after they illegally hunted in a bird sanctuary. Then they shoot him in the leg. No one would do that to make someone jump off a tree and try to fly. One quote in the story says, “Blimey! You got a ruddy nerve, ain’t you? I’m telling you for the last time, if you don’t stick ‘em up I’ll pull the trigger!” This quote shows the extremism of Ernie. One reason why I think that Dahl does this is to address a message to the adult readers. Even though this seems nearly impossible, Dahl wanted to tell the world that bullying can go very far One connection I can make between Dahl’s children’s books and his adult short stories is that he likes to use hyperbole to help deliver the story. Another example of Dahl’s surrealism in his adult short stories was the skill of the hitchhiker. It is nearly impossible to find someone who can be that great of a pickpocket, or “fingersmith” as the hitchhiker likes to call himself. That skill would only come with supernatural abilities. Like when he stole the belt, the shoelace, the ring, the books that the policeman had, and a bunch of other possessions of the driver: these examples of the hitchhiker’s skill show that unbelievable things still can be possible (maybe). They are called supernatural because they are out of the normal understanding of the world. Dahl used a made-up character to help the protagonist avoid getting fined for speeding, and that creates an anti-police aura. Dahl made this story to convey the idea that power can be abused.

However, the opposite may be true as well. In the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there are many unrealistic concepts, like the Oompa Loompas. The Oompa Loompas are tinier than dwarves, and come from this fictional place, Loompa Land, where they live on caterpillars and starve, and they had a craving for cocoa beans even though they have never tasted one. Then, Willy Wonka found them to work at his chocolate factory. This contrasts with the stark realism of the beginning of the book, where Charlie and his family subsist on cabbage soup, and where Mr. Bucket is the only breadwinner, working tirelessly in the realistic, if almost absurd job of screwing on toothpaste caps onto toothpaste tubes.

In the story “Parson’s Pleasure,” Mr. Boggis is an antique furniture expert. Mr. Boggis finds a Chippendale commode inside of the house of Bert and Claud, and their nosy neighbor, Rummins. The Chippendale commodes are these antique drawers, but they’re worth a lot of money. “He knew, as does every other dealer in Europe and America, that among the most celebrated and coveted examples of eighteenth‑century English furniture in existence are the three Chippendale commodes”. At the end of the story, Bert, Claud, and Rummins saw the legs off because Mr. Boggis said that he needed the legs, even though he wanted the whole thing. “Parson’s Pleasure” is a realistic fiction story, as the Chippendale commodes are real.

Dahl has figured out how to combine these two techniques: realistic ideas and surrealism, and have them blend instead of clashing. This ability allows him to create the stories he has created within his lifetime. 

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he used realism to brew empathy between the reader and Charlie, and used the opposite to describe the other children. Augustus Gloop, a rich, gluttonous slob who only cares about eating, his taste buds, and filling that tummy. Veruca Salt, a spoiled rich snob who has conned her parents into an endless loop of giving her what she wants, leading her to her loss of possibly inheriting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee live lives that revolve around an inanimate object, which they practically worship: gum and TV respectively. Then you have Charlie, a kid living in extreme poverty, and yet he is the closest one of them to a normal person. As Grampa Joe said, “I can’t wait to hear about which undeserving kid is going to be picked next.” Augustus, Veruca, Violet, and Mike all have the same fatal flaw: their greed. Everyone in the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seems to be greedy, except for Charlie and his family, Willy Wonka, and the shopkeeper, who sold Charlie the chocolate bar with a golden ticket. 

In the story “The Hitchhiker,” Dahl uses surrealism to create the character, the hitchhiker. The hitchhiker’s supernatural ability is the main focus of the story, as he saved the narrator from a hefty fine, as a quote says, “‘That’s impossible,’ I said. ‘You’d have had to undo the buckle and slide the whole thing out through the loops all the way round. I’d have seen you doing it.’” The realism in this story is the cop. Thuggish and mean, the idea behind the cop’s traits is very realistic, as some people easily view cops as power-hungry and power-abusing men who have no problem with bullying and terrifying people. “Like an executioner approaching his victim, the cop came strolling slowly toward us,” as the narrator puts it. Dahl also uses the cop to symbolize a lot of other people with the same traits. This story puts surrealism vs. realism to create a worthwhile conflict. Dahl took a surreal concept to battle against a real problem. Through this analysis, I have realized that Dahl likes to stretch these boundaries. This surrealism vs. realism technique has also appeared in Matilda, which is about a girl with telekinesis struggling against her unaccepting parents and her bully of a principal aptly named Mrs. Trunchbull.

I can conclude that Roald Dahl knows how to use realism and surrealism. In his children’s books, realism gives a foundation to the wackiness; for his adult stories, surrealism conveys how wild our experience can be and what a variety of extremes there are to find. 



ANNA QIN

Spoiler Alerts, kids!

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas was not what I was expecting. Firstly, I did not think that it was going to be like a musical with a lot of singing and dancing. The title fits the plot very well. If you haven’t watched the movie, skip this because I am going to spoil it: Jack, the skeleton, discovers Christmas Town and wants to take over Christmas. He works and works his butt off preparing for the big day. Having the other people, the Halloween characters (who all live in Halloween Town), help by making presents (filled with scary toys), making a Santa costume, and capturing Santa. Sally tries to warn Jack that this day will go horribly wrong, but he doesn’t listen. On the big day, he delivers scary toys to children and then gets attacked by artillery until it hits his reindeers and his sleigh explodes. He feels very sorry for what he did and did not mean for it to hurt others. From this, he goes back and saves the real Santa, along with Sally who is captured by Oogie Boogie. When Santa is saved, he goes and saves the day delivering good presents to the kids. 

My favorite character was honestly, the Mayor. Although he was not shown all that much, the parts where he was there were super funny. For example, in the beginning when he goes to Jack’s house but Jack is not there and he has a meltdown. I also really like how when his emotion changes, his head turns the other way showing that he is either happy, excited and joyful or mad, angry or sad. Another character is Sally, who is a big part in the movie. She has a vision that this day will go wrong and tries everything that she can do to stop it. First she just tries to talk Jack out of it but he doesn’t listen, then she creates the fog so that the reindeer can’t see the path, and then when all that fails, she tries to go save the real Santa who is captured but then Oogie Boogie captures Sally. 

Henry Selick, the animation director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, was born on November 30, 1952. He is a major stop motion producer and famous for his productions, James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and his next upcoming production, Wendall and Wild. Stop motion is an animated film where puppets are moved slightly so they appear to be moving in the film. In one second of film, there are 24 frames, which means the animators have to move the puppets just a tiny bit so that they are one fluid motion in the film. 2 seconds of film takes producers about an entire workday to film. Imagine an entire day of hard work for 2 seconds of film! In The Nightmare Before Christmas, there are a lot of singing and dancing parts as I said before. That means that they would have to move the puppets’ mouth and body parts to get it to look real. In my opinion and I think for most other people, that would be very difficult because of how tiny a bit of detail they would have to move and the time it would take to produce a dancing puppet.

I think that The Nightmare Before Christmas was a pretty good movie. It was not my favorite movie but it was still pretty interesting to watch. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 95% which is fantastic. Along with Common Sense media giving it a 5/5! Wow! Looks like a lot of people really like it. IMDb gave it a 8/10 which isn’t as good of a review but still incredible!

Compared to his other movies, The Nightmare Before Christmas was his best film. According to Rotten Tomatoes, a trusted review for movies and films, gave Coraline a 90%. James and the Giant Peach got a 91%. The Nightmare Before Christmas got a 95%. I am excited to see his new film, Wendall and Wind, to see what Rotten Tomatoes gives that film.

Overall, I enjoyed this film and appreciate the time it took to make as well as the hard work Henry Selick and his other producers took to make this film. It was entertaining with all the singing and fun dances. I would give it a 8/10 because I am not that big a fan of musicals but I know that they people who are would definitely enjoy it. I would recommend this to anyone whose favorite holidays are Halloween and Christmas and who like musicals. 



AARON HUR

The author John D. Fitzgerald had an interesting life that connected to the book that he wrote, The Great Brain. Here are some similarities that Fitzgerald had in his childhood with The Great Brain’s (Tom’s) childhood. Tom is the name of John D. Fitzgerald’s father. Also, Tom is the middle son in the book, also known as the Great Brain. John’s family lived in eastern Utah, like in the book, and had a farm with three horses. One horse was actually named Brownie, but in the book, John Fitzgerald replaced the horse with a dog named Brownie. Fitzgerald was also busy doing his chores along with his brothers like in The Great Brain, and they had their fair share of chores. After they did their share of chores, they could play or do what they wanted. The kids always went to school, like in the book, until they got the measles which meant that they had to stay quarantined until they got well. I am assuming that Fitzgerald wrote this book to tell fun stories based on his life. John D. Fitzgerald’s life didn’t always feel animated for him, so he wrote books to make his life more sparky.  



OLIVIA XU

First off, to put it out there, Miss Bianca is a very special mouse, physically and socially.

The resourceful and independent Miss Bianca

She has ermine white fur, which is unusual, and something even more special is that she has big brown eyes, while other white mice have pink or black eyes.

I am surprised that she is not snotty and self-entitled: instead, Miss Bianca is a polite little lady, and very empathetic. Most people or mice, after living in a fancy pagoda (especially the Porcelain Pagoda) without any worries except to help their master with his arithmetic problems (the boy), would get at least a little bit spoiled! Miss Bianca though, is as deferential and courteous than the other mice, and definitely even more!

Even so, shifting from the Porcelain Pagoda to the Mouse Prisoners’ Aid Society is tremendous. It’s similar to royalty mixing with common people, from riches to rags. However, Miss Bianca handled this change a lot better than a queen would handle it. I can just imagine the queen staring in disbelief at the servants mooching around the unwashed dishes in the sink and throwing a furious tantrum.

After reading the beginning of The Turret, I think that this point in life is probably very confusing and crushing for Miss Bianca.

First, she didn’t really want to resign, so she was hesitant to sign the resignation letter, but after thinking about helping the boy and writing her volume of poetry, she decided that she was obligated to stay in private life. Following this, at her retirement party she discovers someone who is being held prisoner in the old turret. Because of her nature, of course Miss Bianca wants to rescue this prisoner. After that, she realizes that this prisoner is Mandrake, an evil man who was cruel and pitiless to the poor Patience, so Miss Bianca is conflicted about whether to rescue him or not. Finally, she decides that it is her duty to rescue prisoners, even if they are vile, even though she knows that Mandrake was “completely odious.” So she announces it to the Society, but everybody hates Mandrake, so not a single mouse wants to rescue him and some hissed at Miss Bianca. This probably humiliated her and damaged her ego, because there is no doubt that she had never had this type of social problem in her life.

Miss Bianca might also be annoyed at Bernard. They have been great friends with each other for a length of time already, but when Miss Bianca wants to rescue a prisoner, Bernard turns his back on her, leaving her to do everything by herself.

She is getting her character tested differently now, in working alone. In the first two books, she had to be brave, quick, and cunning, working with other mice to rescue the prisoners. Now, she hasn’t gotten to rescue the prisoner, but is trying to be able to rescue him. Miss Bianca has already gotten put down horribly. Her determination to rescue is tested, and so is her inner strength. Also her independence. Miss Bianca must think to herself: Well, since they won’t help me, then I won’t use their help. I can do this!

And as we all know, she can.



CHLOE ZOU

The picture takes place in the Porcelain Pagoda, and more accurately in Miss Bianca’s bed with its pink silk sheets. She is worrying over her plan of rescuing Mandrake, which is the reason she is sitting up with a look of worry on her face, with her sheets crumpling down to the ground, to which she is taking no notice.

The Turret is the third book in the Rescuers series, but it is a little different than the two books before it. For one thing, this time the prisoner, unfortunately, is not innocent: in fact he is far from innocent. Also, Miss Bianca is acting by herself, unlike before, when she always acted with the Prisoners Aid Society. And to make it worse, she is not supported by anyone, including her very close friend Bernard.  Although she does get help from the Boy Scouts who are very eager, even they do not know her full plan (at least in the beginning), so it is impossible to say that the Boy Scouts really do support her. This book kind of twists everything up a little bit. But it is still based around the same idea (rescuing a prisoner) even if this prisoner might not deserve to be rescued.

Even though Miss Bianca is kind of on her own island where only the Boy Scouts help her (and they don’t know the whole plan either) she has that determination to do it and doesn’t give up. All the other mice are against her, including Bernard, who means the most to her out of all mice. Though I think that if Bernard was on her side, it wouldn’t really matter what all the other mice think. Unfortunately right now Bernard is against her, so maybe a little part of her still hurts to think that her very close friend is not on her side. All the other mice think that “setting Mandrake at liberty would be to loose a monster on the world.”

Despite what they think, she thinks differently; she believes that there is a chance for Mandrake to reform if she rescues him from the Turret, which is what makes her keep going. Before, in the previous two books, you only get a glimpse at her determined personality, but now you can see it really coming through, when her drive is what makes her continue her plan to rescue Mandrake, because if she didn’t believe Mandrake had the chance to reform in the first place, I doubt she would have kept going, or even started at all. Not everything that happens is all serious and about her determination.

It is quite funny when she asks Bernard,  “Do you perform easy rhythmic movements too, Bernard?” and he then replies with a growl, “No, I don’t.” Miss Bianca is definitely a unique mouse, and not just in the way she looks (with her white ermine fur and her sparkling silver chain), but her determined personality. But even with her great personality she is stumped about how to rescue Mandrake from the Turret – it only has one small barred window, and a staircase guarded by George and Jack. Fortunately Shuan, the Boy Scouts leader, already has a plan in the works, and Miss Bianca’s plan to rescue Mandrake is hatched. But what I think is most exciting is the sudden change near the end of the book, having to do with romance, keeping you in suspense. Margery Sharp is able to include romance, while still making this series a delightful read for children, and it is not the type that is too sappy and makes children want to throw it in the trash. In fact I think the romance adds a nice second plot that is quite enjoyable to read. 

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