In The Magic Finger, a number of overlapping concerns are addressed and valid questions are raised about significant social issues: Should hunting be allowed to occur merely for the pleasure of the hunters? Should an eight-year-old child possess, and use, a gun? What happens to animal families when one or more members are slaughtered for sport? Do humans have a greater right to attack animals than animals do to attack humans?
Although narrated in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, Dahl’s book presents a provocative look at the issue of hunting from the perspectives of a bold young female activist and the hunters’ prey—in this case, the wild ducks themselves. Thoughtful readers will be challenged to reevaluate their own thoughts on the issue because, despite the humor of the story, the question of whether hunting is morally acceptable demands attention. Dahl’s viewpoint is clear throughout the lighthearted text, at times thinly disguised in the voice of the female narrator: “It doesn’t seem right to me that men and boys should kill animals just for the fun they get out of it.” At other times, it is the dialogue between the hunters and the hunted that hints at an underlying bias of the book.“No! No! No!” called out Mr. and Mrs. Gregg, both together. “Don’t shoot! Please don’t shoot!” “Why not?” said one of the ducks. . . . “You are always shooting at us. . . . Yesterday you shot my children. . . . You shot all six...
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Roald Dahl was a strong supporter of the downtrodden and a courageous crusader against injustice. This common thread runs through a number of his most popular children’s books. In The Magic Finger, it is deer and wild ducks that are oppressed, and the hero and upholder of justice is an eight-year-old girl with a magic finger. The story ends happily for the antagonists, the Gregg family; this is not the case in all of Dahl’s books. In fact, this is not the case for a cruel teacher, the antagonist in a subplot of The Magic Finger. When the young girl is unfairly victimized by the teacher, the magic finger’s power turns the teacher into a catlike creature, a condition from which she never recovers.
In Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (1961), the protagonist, James, is the victim of injustice thrust upon him by wicked and uncaring aunts who make his life miserable. A strange old man gives James magic crystals to add to water. He convinces James that if he drinks this potion, he will no longer be unhappy. The boy falls and spills the crystals at the base of a tree, resulting in the creation of an enormous peach that will provide many magical adventures for James. Things do not end happily, however, for his aunts: The peach rolls down a hill, crushing them—a type of justice seemingly upheld.
Dahl’s Matilda (1988) features a bright young girl with stupid and self-centered parents who is further victimized by the headmistress at her school. Again, justice is, questionably, served when Matilda gets rid of her parents and goes to live with a favorite teacher. The plot contains cruelty, vulgarity, and violence that will certainly be offensive to some parents and teachers.
Dahl’s basic premise for these books is noteworthy: There are many injustices in the world, and there is a need for strong voices raised against them. The Magic Finger may be his least-offensive book in addressing this issue. It is a classic work that warrants an open-minded reading.