Monday, 24 March 2014

10 Books That Changed Me | The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl

Last month I said that for the remaining 10 months of the year I wanted to talk about 10 books that have influenced me, whether I read them 10 days ago or 10 years ago. This idea was inspired by the Influential Books Tag that I stumbled across over on YouTube.

Like most children, especially British children, I was practically raised on Roald Dahl's stories. I love Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches and The BFG, but the first book to spring to mind whenever anyone mentions Dahl's name has always been The Magic Finger. This is a little odd considering I never actually owned my own copy of The Magic Finger until last year, when my best friend bought me this lovely hardback copy for Christmas.

The copy I remember from my childhood is the one pictured above, which week after week I would get from my local library. I loved going to the library when I was younger, and yet even though there were so many books for me to choose from 99% of the time I ended up taking out the ones I'd taken out the week before. My little pile from the library usually consisted of The Magic Finger and a HUGE dinosaur encyclopedia that my poor Mum ended up having to carry because it was far too big for me to hold.

What can I say? I had an obsession with dinosaurs when I was little, and I was convinced I was going to be an archaeologist when I grew up!

I first read The Magic Finger when I was around 6 years old, and there's more than one reason it's a book I've held close to my heart ever since. From what I can remember it was the first 'proper book' that I read from start to finish all by myself. If nothing else that reason alone earns this book its place on my list of influential books; I felt the sense of accomplishment that came with completing something entirely by myself, and the realisation that I could read a book without anyone's help opened up a whole realm of possibilities for me.

I always loved it when my parents read to me, but knowing that I could read something on my own filled me with more pleasure than I could ever put into words. I didn't have to rely on my parents for stories anymore, I could tell them to myself.

Looking back, this book introduced me to a theme that I've loved in stories ever since: people getting their just deserts. It doesn't always happen in stories, and it happens even less in real life, but I love it when characters get their comeuppance. This is something that tends to happen in children's fiction in particular, I suppose because we want children to know that, somehow, good behaviour - kindness or bravery or selflessness - will be rewarded in some way, shape or form, and anyone who is cruel to them will one day regret it.

I recently watched Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, and thinking about this book reminded me of a quote from that film: "That is what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again, and again, and again."

What I loved about The Magic Finger when I was younger was that order is restored, and punishment inflicted, at the hands of a little girl. It's only a little book, but it's a powerful message, and back then it filled me with a sense of my own importance. Not, funnily enough, in a self-important way, but in a way that made me realise that even though I was little, the way I treated others and the way they treated me mattered.

What books did you love most as a child?

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