A Child’s Guide to Underage Driving, Poaching and Getting away with it
Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny, The Champion of the World‘ was a revelation to me as a child. I read it over and over, and delighted in Danny’s caravan living, his ability and nerve to not only drive a car in the dark but to attempt to escape from the police. His daring thrilled me.
It was only when I read it again as an adult that I realised how radically subversive it is. Seriously, would a book get published today containing a child driving a car at night, and only narrowly escaping being apprehended by the police; a father and son bonding over the handing down of the thrills and skills of theft without dire consequences and due punishment? I seriously doubt it. ‘Danny, The Champion of the World‘ is like a manual on poaching for children ( I refuse to believe that the raisin and sleeping tablet method wouldn’t work – it’s too ingenious – and even though I’m townie to the core, I like to think I’d be equipped to bag a pheasant if I really wanted to – and wasn’t a vegan.) Also, let’s not forget that Danny’s father disappeared off into the night and left him alone, and with no phone to call for help if needed – Social Services would be filling out forms for weeks over that alone. Despite what the authorities would say though, the relationship between Danny and his father is warm and honest.
I loved that the evil landowner, Victor Hazell had his pheasant shoot ruined, and that even the most upstanding members of the community colluded in his humiliation. Despite the illegality of it all, there was a natural justice that was being served and it was truly inspiring to read of a small underprivileged boy triumphing over such a powerful and despicable man.
Thank goodness the book did get published when it did, so we can still enjoy it today, because Roald Dahl’s unapologetic decision to give children anarchic thrilling adventures and hilarious subversion instead of dishing out dull tales of moral instruction gave us kids a taste of what it would be like to hold the cards for once, in a world where adults make all the rules, have all the power and usually kill all the fun.