11 Facts About The BFG

An annotated page from Roal Dahl's 'The BFG' by Quentin Blake is displayed at Sotheby's auction House on December 4, 2014 in London, England.
An annotated page from Roal Dahl's 'The BFG' by Quentin Blake is displayed at Sotheby's auction House on December 4, 2014 in London, England.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The BFG is a whoopsey-splunkers tale about a young orphan girl and her friend, the Big Friendly Giant. Learn more about Sophie and her adventure in propsposterous Giant Country. 

1. The BFG comes from Roald Dahl’s ‘Ideas Book.’ 

As with many of Dahl’s books, The BFG was born from an Ideas Book. Dahl scribbled down all his thoughts and inspirations in these notebooks to look at later. He eventually turned the scrawled concept into a full book in 1982. 

2. It’s dedicated to Dahl’s daughter. 

In 1962, Roald Dahl lost his first-born, Olivia, to the measles. Vaccines were not yet available and the young girl died at just seven years old. He read to her every day until she passed away, and dedicated The BFG to her memory. Four years after its publication, in 1986, the grieving father wrote an open letter encouraging his fellow Britons to get their children vaccinated. You can read the letter here

3. The BFG makes an appearance in another work. 

Before the giant was squibbling through his own story, he made a small cameo in an early Dahl work called Danny, the Champion of the World, as a character in one of the bedtime stories that Danny’s father tells him. The characters are identical in appearance and ability (think big ears and an even bigger heart). Like Sophie, Danny’s father had also witnessed the cloaked giant as he secretly blew dreams into the heads of children. 

4. The main character was almost called “Jody.” 

In an early manuscript kept in The Roald Dahl Archive, the protagonist was actually a boy named Jody. Dahl eventually switched the character to a girl named Sophie, named after his granddaughter.

5. Gobblefunk has over 238 words in its lexicon. 

Gobblefunk, the nonsensical language spoken by the giants, featured a lot of playful words like babblement, whizzpopping, and schnozzles. Roald Dahl wrote out a full list of potential Gobblefunk words to be used in the book, which can be found at the Roald Dahl Museum.  Some of the words on the list are pongswizzler, scumscrewer, bagblurter, troggy, and schweinwein. If you’re looking for a good insult, squeakpip might do the trick. 

6. Roald Dahl liked to pretend to be The BFG. 

Long before he committed the story to paper, Dahl would regale his children with the tale of the Big Friendly Giant, who would blow happy dreams into children’s heads with a pipe. Right before his daughters—Lucy and Ophelia—drifted off, he would stick a bamboo shoot through their window, pretending to be the giant blowing them sweet dreams. Although the girls were never convinced, they didn’t tell their father. “He seemed to me, even then, to have a vulnerable core. So I said nothing,” Ophelia later told The Telegraph.

7. The footwear comes from a real world pair. 

You may remember the BFG sporting a nice pair of brown leather sandals in the book. While these can easily be brushed off as an insignificant illustrative detail, Dahl directly asked for them to be included. The author owned a pair of brown suede sandals with mismatched laces; he mailed one to the illustrator, Quentin Blake, to use as a model for the footwear in the book. 

8. You can watch it as a play. 

The BFG has been adapted for the stage by David Wood and was recently performed in Chicago. “Director Morgan Ashley Madison tells the story with energy and confidence in her staging for Emerald City Theatre, using brisk pacing, cheeky performances, and, best of all, lifelike puppets (designed by Rough House Theatre) in a variety of sizes,” The Chicago Reader noted

9. Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl first met while working on The BFG.

It’s hard to imagine a Roald Dahl book without the wacky illustrations of Quentin Blake: the two worked together from 1978 until Dahl’s death in 1990. Although Blake had already illustrated several works for the writer including The Twits and The Enormous Crocodile, the two never met in person until collaborating on The BFG. 

“I think my favourite book of Roald Dahl's to illustrate is The BFG, because I spent a long time talking to Roald Dahl about it and spent a long time thinking about the drawings; so by the time I finished, I knew the book very well,” Blake said on his website. The BFG was Dahl’s favorite book as well. 

10. They were both given awards for the book. 

In 1983, Roald Dahl won the Silver Slate Pencil for writing The BFG. The same year, Quentin Blake won the Silver Slate Paintbrush for the illustrations.   

11. The original depiction of the BFG looks very different. 

Back when the BFG was just a character in Danny, the Champion of the World, he was illustrated by Jill Bennett. Bennett was Dahl’s first illustrator, and also worked on The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Bennett used the description in the book to create the illustration, which Dahl then enthusiastically approved. This illustration—amongst others found in Danny, Champion of the Worldwent on sale for £85,000 in July at The National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England.

Artificial Intelligence Identifies Shakespeare's Co-Writer on 'Henry VIII'

Scott Barbour, Getty Images
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

William Shakespeare has long been celebrated as the greatest playwright of all time (and he's certainly the most quoted). Historians have speculated whether his name might be a pseudonym for a lesser-known writer or whether he had assistance in composing his plays, among other theories. In 2016, Oxford University Press credited Shakespeare's contemporary Christopher Marlowe as co-writer of three plays in Henry VI.

Now, new evidence has come to light that casts doubt on Shakespeare’s sole authorship, this time for Henry VIII. According to an analysis [PDF] published prior to peer review on arXiv.org, the Bard wrote roughly half of Henry VIII. His contemporary, playwright John Fletcher, wrote the rest.

The conclusion was based on the findings of an algorithm taught to examine word choice and writing style, created by researchers at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague.

The program first "learned" each writer’s approach to their craft by reading four plays by Fletcher and by Shakespeare, written at about the same time. The algorithm identified traits unique to each. Fletcher, for example, tended to use ye instead of you, or ‘em in place of them.

The algorithm was then applied to Henry VIII. It earmarked the first two scenes as being written by Shakespeare. Fletcher wrote the next four. The writers' styles then mixed until later in the play, when Shakespeare’s voice appeared to take hold.

Collaboration among playwrights was common in the era, and scholars have long believed Fletcher was somehow involved—possibly assisting an aging Shakespeare.

Nineteenth-century literary analyst James Spedding theorized in 1850 that Fletcher had co-written the play; Fletcher had succeeded Shakespeare as the house playwright of the King’s Men Acting Company following the Bard's death in 1616. Spedding even surmised who wrote which scene. This most recent analysis loosely lines up with his findings.

[h/t Smithsonian]

11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

An old photo of the Angels Hotel
Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

A cover of an old copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend, Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Mark Twain standing near a window while wearing a white suit and smoking a pipe
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

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