Danny, the Champion of the World

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Danny, the Champion of the World
Written by: Roald Dahl
Central Theme:
First published: February 14, 1975
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A 1975 Roald Dahl book about Danny, a half-orphan living with his father, a man with a certain fondness for poaching pheasants, in a caravan next to his father's petrol station/garage on a rather desirable plot in the English countryside. Mr. Hazell, the rich land-owner from whose land pheasants are poached, is less than amused by this hobby and attempts to thwart Danny's efforts.

Danny, however, comes up with a plan to poach all of the pheasants just before the big shoot Mr. Hazell has organised, thereby becoming the pheasant-poaching champion of the world. All very sweet and lovely, unless you're a pheasant. (Though even then, it has to beat the fate Hazell had in mind for them....)

There is, of course, a film; a rather sweet one from 1989 starring Jeremy Irons and his son Samuel as the father and son, and Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Hazell.

Tropes used in Danny, the Champion of the World include:
  • Adaptation Expansion: Dahl's earlier short story, simply titled The Champion of the World, had an identical pheasant-poaching scheme as the one employed toward the end of this book.
    • Also in The Film of the Book, Hazell is given an ulterior motive for attempting to run Danny and his father off their land: he wants to sell his vast land to a developer so they can build an entire new town.
      • The film also includes an ongoing subplot of Danny being tormented by his teacher Captain Lancaster, expanded from a single event in the book.
  • Amusing Injuries: Played for Black Comedy. Danny's father describes gunshot wounds in rather humorous ways, while Danny himself is too horrified to laugh.
    • Shot in the Ass: An easy target on a fleeing poacher. Danny's grandfather had so many scars there it looked like he'd been snowed on.
  • Arcadia: The pleasant rural environment where it all takes place, spoiled only by this rather nasty Hazell character.
  • Author Appeal: Roald Dahl loves childhood nostalgia, and he loves Food Porn.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Averted; the aristocrats who come to Mr. Hazell's shooting parties are treated fairly respectfully by the narrative, disliking their host as a person but acknowledging that his parties are pretty good. Hazell looks silly for trying to be one of them, when he's clearly not. Roald Dahl likes the aristocracy, but doesn't seem to be too big on the bourgeoisies.
  • Based on a True Story: Danny's caning by Captain Lancaster is closely based on Dahl's own experiences, as anyone who's read his autobiography Boy will immediately recognise.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Danny's father tells him about The BFG.
    • It's interesting to see the illustration in the first edition, which shows the BFG as a much darker and more intimidating figure - though still ultimately a force for good - and contrast it with the now prevailing picture of the BFG derived from Quentin Blake and the Animated Adaptation.
  • Everything's Better with Chickens: Danny's grandfather was a master poacher, who often used his chickens to experiment new techniques, the idea being that if it'll work on a chicken, it'll work on a pheasant. Illustrator Quentin Blake has lots of fun drawing these experiments.
  • Evil Poacher: Averted. The father is a good man. In fact, with the exception of Mr. Hazell, the entire village seems lovely. And most of them are (or were, back in the day) in on the poaching. Then again, they're poaching pheasants, which aren't an endangered species, making the poachers' actions more excusable.
  • The Fifties
  • The Film of the Book: Naturally.
  • Funetik Aksent: There's a policeman with a very rustic accent.
  • Henpecked Husband: The reason for the "glass of water" (it's really gin) one of Danny's better teachers is always drinking in the book. Despite discovering the truth, Danny and his best friend never spill the beans. He is a good teacher, after all.
  • Homemade Inventions: Danny's father is good at these (in a more grounded-in-reality way than some examples).
  • Jerkass: Mr. Hazell
  • Missing Mom: Danny's mother died when he was a few months old.
  • Mr. Fixit: The father fixes cars at his petrol station and taught his son a fair bit.
  • Nice Guy: Half the cast.
  • No Name Given: Danny's surname is never revealed in the book; in the film it's Smith.
  • Real Life Relative: In the film, father and son Jeremy and Samuel Irons play the father and Danny. Cyril Cusack, who plays Dr. Spencer, is their father-in-law and grandfather, respectively.
  • Sadist Teacher: Captain Lancaster is not a nice man. His appearance isn't terribly relevant to the plot, but adds a touch of colour to the story.
  • So Proud of You
  • Technically a Smile: Inverted. Danny's father never smiles with his mouth, but only with his eyes. This causes a lot of people to assume he is a very serious man, but he actually has a fantastic, deadpan sense of humour.
  • Trademark Favourite Food: Raisins to pheasants, which was one of Danny's grandfather's greatest discoveries.
  • Windows of the Soul: The phenomenon of the "eye smile" - twisting the corners of your lips upwards looks nothing like a real smile unless the eyes are doing the right thing (which in real life is probably squinting slightly rather than reflecting the innermost workings of the soul, but Truth in Television nonetheless).
  • Write Who You Know: Captain Lancaster was based on one of Roald Dahl's teachers. As noted above under Author Appeal, Dahl loves talking about his childhood.