Roald Dahl is known the world over as one of the greatest children’s book authors and despite being born in 1916 and his first book published in 1943, his books are still going strong today. Not bad for someone who was described on school reports as “… an indolent and illiterate member of the class” and “Consistently idle. Ideas limited”.
The Magic Finger is a children’s fantasy, a short book first published in 1966, a story about hunting, anger, compassion, kindness and forgiveness. It is narrated by an 8-year-old girl (we never find out her name) who has a magic finger and the consequences of getting on the wrong side of her anger. She is not telling her story, but telling the story of her friends and neighbours, The Greggs.
Girl has a magic finger. That sounds great, doesn’t it? When she gets cross and the red mist comes down, she puts her magic finger on you and that is something that you really don’t want to happen – in a flash, her poor old teacher grew whiskers and a tail, just like a cat! When injustice calls, the Magic Finger confronts the problem and turns people into animal hybrids.
The Greggs (they own a farm, not the bakers) are neighbours of Girl. There is Mr and Mrs Gregg, 11-year-old William and 8-year-old Philip. Girl is friends with Philip and William, but she really doesn’t like it when they go hunting. They aren’t going hunting for food but hunt for the thrill of the kill, shooting as many animals as they can. When they go off hunting one day, Girl sees red and out comes The Magic Finger and it points a curse on the entire Gregg family. After the mindless killing of 16 ducks, 4 ducks turn on them and force them home for the night. Overnight all the Greggs shrink in size and their arms are replaced with wings. They have changed in to duck/human hybrids. On taking flight and enjoying the freedom of flying they notice four enormous ducks in their garden, but these weren’t just large ducks – they now have arms instead of wings! And the tables have been turned. The Greggs are now without a home and the ducks have taken over their house. The ducks want revenge.
Overall, The Magic Finger is a captivating and easy read. Dahl’s use of language is simple but rich and easy to read so that children can understand it, but it is also fascinating enough for an adult reader – Dahl has an excellent use of language that appeals to both children and adults. The dry humour and wit of Dahl really comes through.
Whilst the initial story is of a girl, her anger and her magic finger, the underlying story is of compassion, kindness and forgiveness. The Greggs start the story having no compassion for animals, but after the Magic Finger turns the tables and spending a night living as ducks, they learn compassion and change their ways. It helps young readers understand that the hunting of animals for sport is wrong and that the things you do can have a big impact on other people’s (or in this case, ducks) lives. By reversing the roles, it shows how looking at things from the other point of view can bring things into focus with crystal-clear clarity.
The Magic Finger is a fun, interesting and thought-provoking read that is still relevant today even though it was written nearly 60 years ago, and it doesn’t feel in anyway stale or outdated.
RRP: £5.99 (Paperback) / £4.99 (Kindle)