Ahead of the UK release of The BFG Movie on DVD and Blu-ray on 21 November, Rachel White, the Museum Archivist, tells us about the first appearance of the BFG.
'"And in that enormous high-ceilinged cave,” my father went on, “the BFG spends hours and hours every day working among his bubbling pots and steaming cauldrons, concocting, mixing, inventing his marvellous magic powders.'
Roald Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World
The mysterious figure of the Big Friendly Giant began life as a story within a story, appearing as a character invented by Danny’s father in Danny the Champion of the World. In the book, much like Roald Dahl himself, Danny’s Dad is a ‘marvellous story-teller’, concocting fantastic tales to keep Danny enthralled at night, just as Roald Dahl told stories to his own children.
In the earliest draft of Danny, held here in the archives of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, the Giant is shown to be part of the local landscape. Rather than travelling from Giant Country, he lived in the hill behind Danny’s caravan, surrounded by the fields and woods inspired by the Buckinghamshire countryside which was Roald Dahl’s home.
Here was where he mixed his magic powders, made from wishes and “the dreams that children dream when they are fast asleep”. In this early version of the story, Danny’s Dad describes the BFG’s method of granting good dreams to children. The BFG chooses exactly the right powder and puts three spoonfuls of it into his blowpipe. The fine powder floats around the room and sooner or later most of it gets breathed in by the child.
Original illustration of the BFG in Danny the Champion of the World, copyright Jill Bennett.
Somehow, the Giant always knows exactly what is worrying each child – a lesson at school, an exam or a teacher, or perhaps what they are wishing for – for friends to stay friends, for a new bicycle or a hamster. With this knowledge, the BFG (in this early version wearing a ‘peculiar hat with a very wide brim’), selects exactly the right powder and blows it into the room, making sure that each child gets a dream that suits their hopes and wishes.
So, for example, there is a ‘Run Like the Wind Powder’ for a boy who wanted to win a race:
And the next day, but only for the next day, your legs would suddenly be stronger than ever and you would be able to run faster than any other boy in the race
In later drafts of the book, Roald Dahl refined his ideas but kept the sense of a mysterious, shadowy giant, glimpsed ‘only once’ by Danny’s Dad loping across the fields.
When he came to write The BFG, Roald Dahl expanded the character using the early ideas he had tried in Danny to bring the Big Friendly Giant out of the shadows and become the fully rounded and endearing character that makes this one of his best-loved stories.