That’s Fantastic, Mr. Fox

I’m reading Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox to my four-year-old daughter. She loves it, especially the enjoyable rhyme about the rotten farmers:

“Boggis and Bunce and Bean

One fat, one short, one lean.

These horrible crooks

So different in looks

Were nonetheless equally mean.”

It’s a rhyme worthy of being sung by Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.

Dahl is a fantastic writer. He knows how to flip the adult world on its soft head and with a big, brash show announce, “Look at our wonderful and absurd antics.”

And Wes Anderson’s film is right on. I think Dahl would have loved it. Anderson likes to portray the dynamics of dysfunctional families and the beauty that lies within those crazy cracks and faults, and Dahl’s Mr. Fox and his family was a perfect choice.

There is something fantastic about a wild and wily fox outsmarting greedy and slothful humans. And the simple as well as annoying act of stealing chickens reminds me of the myth of Prometheus, stealing back fire from Zeus.

And it feels so right that Ted Hughes, sickened by the strictures of his English degree, encountered a figure with the body of a man and the head of a fox who put a bloody paw on his papers and said, “You’re killing us.”

And if ever there was a trickster, it had to be Roald Dahl.

I remember when I first read James and the Giant Peach, I pestered my parents to buy a peach tree for our back garden in Wales. I must have been desperate to have talking insect friends and to sail away over Carmarthen Bay, heading toward the Emerald Isles or farther, maybe, into the land of Tir Na n’Og.

My parents ended up getting pear trees. Which I now see as a fantastic adult prank.


The Phantom Tollbooth. This has been called a contemporary Alice in Wonderland. And it is. Norton Juster writes like a madman who can’t get enough of the shape, the sounds, the taste, the meaning, the history, the wonder of words. And he does so much with so little: A bored young boy.


Love Hysteria by Peter Murphy. The Lord of Goth’s finest solo album. Murphy moves through each song like a snake shedding its skin. It’s a hypnotic album for late-night listening when the house has that deep-set silence that seems inexhaustible, but isn’t.

Go Away White by Bauhaus. Yes, I’m having a Goth relapse. But Bauhaus, along with the Smiths, Japan, and Echo and the Bunnymen, and Joy Division, put the “kick” in my teenage self. This album is on par with The Sky’s Gone Out and In The Flat Field.  And as is to be expected, it mixes elements of Murhpy’s solo work with Love and Rockets. I want to go and unearth my Anne Rice and drink from the cup of solitude. Or listen to Bowie’s Scary Monsters.


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