The Minpins by Roald Dahl

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The Minpins by Roald Dahl

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: It's Roald Dahl, it's a little bit scary, it's a little bit funny, it's a little bit magic. However, The Minpins just isn't dark enough. It lacks the trademark Dahl wicked grown up, replacing it with a rather run-of-the-mill monster. You can find monsters anywhere. Patrick Benson's illustrations are beautiful, but when compared to Quentin Blake's sketches, simply add to the watered-down Dahl effect. It's a nice book for sharing, but probably not for buying.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: October 1991
Publisher: Viking Books
ISBN: 0670841684

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Beware! Beware! The Forest of Sin! None come out, but many go in!

So says Little Billy's mother as he gazes out of the window, longing to explore the big, black, secret wood that lies at the foot of his garden. It seems to Little Billy that every thing he is allowed to do is boring, and every thing he is not allowed to do is exciting. Little Billy dreams of exploring The Forest of Sin, despite his mother's fearsome warnings of Whangdoodles, Snozzwanglers, Vermicious Knids and - worst of all - the Terrible Bloodsuckling Toothpluckling Stonechuckling Spittler. And so, one day, he slips out of the house and into the forest. Inside, it is cool, shadowed, green-black dark and it is very, very quiet.

Quiet, that is, until Little Billy hears a noise. Before he knows it, he is being chased through The Forest of Sin by a whooshing, panting, smoke-belching creature. As it closes in upon him, it begins to breathe fire. Little Billy escapes in the nick of time by climbing one of the enormous oak trees, right to the very top, and the beast gives up its chase, for the moment. And then, Little Billy meets the Minpins. The Minpins are tiny, tiny creatures, no bigger than a finger, and they too, are constantly pursued by the fire-breathing monster. That is why they live high up, in the trees, and that is why they all wear very clever suction boots. The Minpins have never heard of Whangdoodles or Snozzwanglers. They have never heard of the Terrible Bloodsuckling Toothpluckling Stonechuckling Spittler. However, they have heard of the Red-Hot-Smoke-Belching Gruncher. And now, so has Little Billy. It seems as though his mother's warnings were not so miserably spoilsport after all. Together with the Minpins, Little Billy must find a way to defeat the Gruncher and to get home...

The Minpins is a good little book. Roald Dahl wrote it, after all and he is the master. It is a little bit scary, it has a lot of adventure and a goodly sprinkling of jokes. It has a gentle, but wise moral but retains an eye on the fantastical. The fairy dust of imagination and magic shimmers from its pages. However, The Minpins is not one of the master's best. It seems that in his last books - and the Minpins is the last Dahl ever published - the naughtiest man in children's literature relented a little towards grown-ups. This one, like Esio Trot, does not have the Dahl signature character, Evil Adult In Position Of Authority. Instead, it has the much more run-of-the-mill monster for its child hero to vanquish. Because of this, some of the dark, edgy quality is lost. I think that the secret to Dahl's popularity is that edginess. The Minpins overall impression is very much like that of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, but with a lot more text. Despite Billy's exciting, dangerous adventures, it always feels safe. You know?

The Minpins is illustrated by Patrick Benson; possibly one of the finest artists working in children's books today. The drawings are rich, colourful, dramatic, sometimes dark and scary, sometimes dreamy and uplifting. However, although Benson is a wonderful illustrator, any true Dahl fan will miss Quentin Blake's cartoons. Benson's illustrations for The Minpins are beautiful and atmospheric, but they lack the subversive craziness Blake lent to Dahl's texts so effortlessly. Do not ever underestimate the importance of apt illustrations in a children's book. They are vital. In The Minpins, we see a slightly softer Roald Dahl, and perhaps you could say that Benson's illustrations suit that. I though, could not help feeling ever so slightly short-changed. I wanted something less emotional.

The Minpins has too much text for a toddler's picture book, yet has illustrations and a format very much like a picture book. It has no naughty adult. Although there is danger, it does not feel dangerous. For these reasons, I fear it will never make a family favourite. It will not be the book your child keeps not on the bookshelf, but under his or her pillow. Rather, it is a book for any parent who likes to spend time reading aloud to their children - it takes about an hour to read the whole thing - or for the Roald Dahl anorak - me! - who wants to complete their collection. I am sure I am right in this, for while I see both my children read and re-read many Dahl books, I cannot recall them ever picking up The Minpins since the times when I was still reading them a story at bedtime.

Borrow The Minpins. Read it aloud to your children and enjoy it. If you must, buy it to complete your collection. Do not expect an introduction to Roald Dahl though, for most of his other books are far, far better. Our favourites are The Magic Finger, George's Marvellous Medicine, and Danny, Champion of the World. Go for one of those instead!

And DON'T go into The Forest of Sin!

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