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George's Marvellous Medicine - a fantastic concoction for little minds to savour
George's Marvellous Medicine - Roald Dahl
Member Name: PaigeTurner
George's Marvellous Medicine - Roald Dahl
Advantages: Brilliant use of language and homour
Disadvantages: George has an unrealistically grown-up way of speaking
"Growing is a nasty childish habit," Grandma tells George. "Never grow up. Always down". This Roald Dahl gem comes just pages into his book, George's Marvellous Medicine and I settled back onto the sofa more comfortably. I was in for a real treat here - this was Dahl at his best.
There are a number of aspects of Dahl's style of writing I enjoy such as his no-holds barred approach to characterisation, his use of similes to bring his descriptions alive, his made up words and his sense of humour. He is also not afraid to write stories which many other children's authors would shirk at, so far does he push the boundaries of children's literature.
All of these qualities are present in George's Marvellous Medicine. I was also struck by the book's fast pace. It romps through the action, barely pausing for breath and it is clear Dahl set out to really enjoy himself writing this one.
This is not the first time I have read this book. I read it when I was a child - several times judging by the battered condition of the spine - but I have to admit, before I started re-reading it, I could not quite recall the plot. Unlike many of Dahl's other novels like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate factory I don't think I had quite the same empathy with the child protagonist. I think this is due to the short story style of George's Marvellous Medicine, only skimming the surface of the characters' backgrounds. Even so, I noticed on re-reading this book as an adult what it lacks in depth it makes up for in cleverness in other areas.
The story begins when George's mother goes out and leaves him alone to look after his grandma. He is an only child and his father's farm is in the middle of nowhere so he has no children to play with. He is bored.
His grandma is an odious woman who he suspects is a witch. She terrifies him with talk of eating bugs hidden in cabbages and celery and threatens she will tell him secrets that will make his eyes pop out of their sockets. She has to take her medicine four times a day and George think it never does her any good.
He decides to make her a new medicine using the contents of the whole house. Nothing is out of bounds except the medicine cabinet which he has been told contains things which can kill, yet his main hope is his marvellous medicine will make his grandma explode.
Dahl is not afraid to push the limits of acceptability in his description of grandma. He says she has a "small puckered mouth like a dog's bottom" for example. I loved the way he uses common derivative terms to describe her - the old bird, the old geezer and the old wurzel. This is incredibly disrespectful but it had me in stitches. Dahl really knows how to ramp up the comedy.
What I did notice - and this surprised me - was my switch in empathy in re-reading the book. As a child I doubtless empathised with George, having to put up with his horrendous grandma. I would have been cheering him on for sure as he added appalling ingredient after appalling ingredient to his mixture.
As an adult I started to see it from grandma's perspective. As a child, without doubt you believe grandma is motivated by pure evil and like George think she must be a witch. As an adult I realise she is quite clearly winding George up. She has eaten a slug as surely as you or I. She knows the right buttons to press to get a rise out of her grandson.
I also noticed the similarities between the two characters - both are incredibly bored. George has no children to play with and grandma is left to sit in her chair all day. No wonder she enjoys winding George up. It's something to pass the time.
Despite George's early horror, he too revels in the consumption of all kinds of disgusting life forms when he embarks on making his medicine. George is as devilish as his grandma. "How I'd love to walk in and slosh it all over old grandma and watch the ticks and fleas go jumping off her", he says. And despite his fear his grandma could be a witch, he recites a rhyme similar to a witch's incantation when mixing up his medicine.
What seemed slightly at odds was the grown-up tone of George's speech. An example is the way he says it will "knock the old girl sideways". I suspect this book is as much Dahl's revenge on grandma as George's. It is his voice we hear speaking out through George.
The whole book plays to children's desires. What child wouldn't like to ransack the whole house and pour the contents of every bottle into a pan to make a fantastic brew. While as an adult I cannot help thinking what trouble George is bound to get into when his parents get home. I also wince at the latest ingredient he is tipping into the pot, concerned over its effects. I would never have had this concern as a child. The nastier the better I would have thought.
I adore Dahl's descriptions. He at once makes them humorous but also enables the reader to understand exactly how something feels, smells or what it sounds like. "Whenever he got a whiff of it up his nose, firecrackers went off in his skull and electric prickles ran along the backs of his legs."
Dahl's description of the effects of the medicine on grandma will really fire up children's imaginations. She takes off from her chair, clouds of smoke coming out of her mouth. "Call the fire brigade", grandma calls, "man the hoses".
Dahl makes it clear no characters are completely set in their characteristics and being a child or an adult is no dictator to how they will behave. Grandma becomes positively juvenile on finding herself growing and growing. "Give me another dose, my boy, and let's go through the roof", she calls. While George's father, far from punishing George, cannot believe the merits of this medicine. He feeds it to all of his farm animals to make them super-sized and dreams of opening a marvellous medicine factory and selling it on to other farmers by the ton. It is George who then becomes the voice of reason.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed reading George's Marvellous Medicine again and recommend it to children and adults alike. It provides a welcome escape from the realities of life and allows the reader to run riot with George for just a little while. Children will giggle and clap their hands in glee. Adults will do the same, with perhaps a bit more concern for poor grandma's well-being.
Summary: A clever little book which keeps on offering as its reader grows
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