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Roald Dahl: Realism And Fantasy

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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" (, 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


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



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