Esio Trot

January 22, 2007

tortoise by Q BlakeEsio Trot is just tortoise spelled backward! That’s the secret to Mr Hoppy’s magic spell, the one helping him win Mrs Silver’s heart by causing her beloved tortoise Alfie to grow larger. The moral message is that Every Little Bit Counts, the illustrations are cute and well incorporated – at one point Mr Hoppy descends a flight of stairs made up of the text, and the book is short enough to be a bedtime story or a child’s first BIG book. Like other Roald Dahl, it’s also a bit twisted.

Dahl uses common techniques with great success to make the story appealing to children: cute animals; an obvious (but uncommon and necessary) moral message with enough hints dropped for a child to grasp it before it is stated outright; presentations of ingenuity – like the turtle grabbing machine, that can be grasped but not too simply.“Poo is a very strong word in any language,” Their subversion is pure Dahl. From the simple jokes a child could never get away with outside the sacrosanct world of books (“Poo is a very strong word in any language,” Mr Hoppy said, “especially with tortoises.”) to Mr Hoppy’s central trait of deceit, for which he is never called out and is in fact rewarded, this isn’t quite what you expect from a children’s story. Mr Hoppy isn’t presented as a hero though – what’s being cheered are the ideas at play. Except for making him the central character in a children’s book, Dahl does nothing to characterize Mr Hoppy as a Sweet Old Man, going as far in the other direction as the passage “You never know,” Mr Hoppy said darkly. “You never know.”

The author’s note showcases Dahl’s childlike ability to embrace conflicting ideas without question, explaining another part of what makes him appealing. On one hand he laments the horror done to tortoises imported to the UK from northern Africa, but on the other he shames his government for outlawing the practice and keeping families from buying tortoises.

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