Posted on September 22, 2017
37./38. ‘Esio Trot’ and ‘The Magic Finger’ by Roald Dahl
There’s nothing like a Roald Dahl read for a quick pick-me-up. In the last couple of weeks I’ve read Esio Trot and The Magic Finger; the first I’ve read before, the second I haven’t. They’re the shortest books in my Roald Dahl box set and I got through each of these in under an hour!
First up, Esio Trot, which I read in the bath. This is a heartwarming story about an old man called Mr. Hoppy who is completely in love with the woman in the flat below him, Mrs. Silver. They talk to each other from their balconies, and he learns that Mrs. Silver would like nothing more than for her tortoise, Alfie, to grow. Faint heart never won fair maiden, and so Mr. Hoppy comes up with a devious plan to make Mrs. Silver’s wish come true.
It’s been quite some time since I read this book (although I did recently watch the Dustin Hoffman/Judi Dench TV adaptation, which I can highly recommend), and although I’d remembered certain parts of the story, there were some bits that had slipped my mind. For instance, what happens to Alfie (I mean, the original Alfie) is pretty unexpected but quite pleasant. I was also surprised to (re)discover that Mrs. Silver never finds out about Mr. Hoppy’s tortoise plot, although, reading it as an adult, I reckon she knew what was going on and just let him do what he thought he needed to to win her heart.
This is a delightful little story, perfectly pitched for both children and adults, and accompanied by Quentin Blake’s inimitable illustrations.
“Tortoises are very backward creatures. Therefore they can only understand words that are written backwards. That’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Now for The Magic Finger. This is about an unnamed girl who can cast magic with her finger when she gets particularly angry (this was published 14 years before Matilda, and it certainly feels like a spiritual precursor to that book). One day she sees her friends, the Gregg family, shooting wild ducks, and so she casts a spell on them that will give them a taste of their own medicine.
This story features Dahl’s typical comic darkness, and the common themes of children finding they can take revenge on adults, and thus standing up for the weak and powerless. I hadn’t read this book before, and it does make me wonder how important the nostalgia factor is to me when reading Dahl’s children’s books. I certainly didn’t feel as much of a connection to The Magic Finger as I have to other Dahl books that I’ve read before, so maybe some of the magic is lost with Dahl if you aren’t experiencing it with some of that childhood magic – either by being a child yourself, or by reading it to one.
Still, this is a delicious revenge story with a good moral lesson and plenty of physical humour.
“I put the magic finger on them all!”
Have you read these books or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!