The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake

For fans of Into The Woods by John Yorke, The Enormous Crocodile is an example of a story which mirrors itself perfectly.

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl Quentin Blake

THE PAIRING OF QUENTIN BLAKE AND ROALD DAHL

For those of us who grew up reading Roald Dahl in the 1980s, it’s impossible to separate the author from his enduring illustrator, Quentin Blake. It’s easy to forget that at first Dahl was paired with¬†a few different illustrators before Quentin Blake. (Rosemary Fawcett is one illustrator whose career may have been ruined by Dahl’s dislike of her macabre illustrations, which is a bit rich.)

Sir Quentin Blake As Dahl’s Antithesis

Educated at Cambridge, where he read English at Downing College under F.R. Leavis, Blake is a gentle, reflective man, in many ways Dahl’s antithesis. There seems to be no malice in him, and the generosity of his sense of humor made him hesitate over some of the first Dahl stories on which he worked. However, he says that The Enormous Crocodile became pleasant enough to draw ¬†“once it had been toned down by its editors,” although Blake didn’t find it particularly striking. And although he found the next book, The Twits, “very black”, its extreme changes of style gradually grew on him.

Why Was The Pairing Initially Problematic?

On Dahl’s side, one obstacle was financial. He wanted the best illustrator but, as with the earlier notion of approaching Sendak [who refused to illustrate for a set fee, instead demanding a fee plus ongoing royalties], was reluctant to sacrifice more of his royalties than he had to. Bob Gottlieb wanted Blake’s drawings for the American editions, but Knopf’s contract with Icarus [the company Dahl set up to avoid paying much tax] promised Dahl 15 percent, and Dahl argued that the illustrator should be paid over and above that. From the publisher’s point of view, this was outrageous […]

How Blake’s Illustrations Complement Dahl’s Words

Despite Dahl’s restlessness, it was clear to most readers that Quentin Blake’s amiable drawings were an excellent complement to his writing. They helped to unify what was in the late 1970s and early ’80s a varied output, and they softened the way the books spoke to a child’s worst prejudices and fears.

{In The Twits Blake] depicts ugliness much as a child would: huge nostrils and gaping teeth sketched flat onto the face, hair a mass of bristly scribbles, fingers a bunch of bananas. And where the words are at their most microscopically disgusted–for instance, in the description of the morsels of old food lodged in Mr. Twit’s moustache–Blake supplies a detached, comic-book diagram, with arrows marked “cornflake” and “tinned sardine”.

He was similarly adroit in his handling of George’s Marvellous Medicine. Here, the earlier book’s connubial malice is replaced by frank ageism, most memorably in the depiction of the grandmother, her small mouth puckered up “like a dog’s bottom.” It is on her that the restless eight-year-old George experiments with his homemade size-altering potion. Like The Twits, this knockabout horror story owes something to a circus act or a Punch and Judy show: George “really hated that horrid old witchy woman. And all of a sudden he had a tremendous urge to do something about her. Something whopping… A sort of explosion.” But again Blake lightens things by visually reminding the reader both how small George is and, as he wanders around the house looking for ingredients for his medicine, how lonely and innocent. His actions come across as prompted more by curiosity than cruelty.

— from the Roald Dahl biography by Jeremy Treglown

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE

Symmetry matters more to writers of fiction than readers consciously perceive.

— David Lodge

The Enormous Crocodile is an example of a story which mirrors itself. So, the second half of the story is basically a reflection of the first half. For younger readers than Dahl’s usual audience, this is also a story which builds upon itself. Sequences are repeated with just a few details changed each time. This sort of story can be quite boring for a parent to read if not done really well. The purpose is to provide scaffolding so the child can make good guesses about the change in details, feeling smart for having done so. Repetition also provides comfort of course, which is how Dahl gets away with writing a story about the gory potential deaths of children.

WEAKNESS/NEED/PROBLEM

The story opens to dialogue between two crocodiles. They are nameless crocodiles — the only salient detail are their size and therefore their hierarchy. So we have the ‘Enormous Crocodile’ and the ‘Notsobig One. Dahl owes a lot to Aesop in this story. Readers are already primed to expect the small creature to win, especially since the big one is so full of himself.

He needs to eat, that’s true. But the Enormous Crocodile also has a psychological need to show off.

“I’m the bravest croc in the whole river,” said the Enormous Crocodile. “I’m the only one who dares to leave the water and go through the jungle to the town to look for little children to eat.”

DESIRE

He wishes to prove his courage and eat a child. The Notsobig one tells us what children really taste like (not so good to a crocodile), but the Enormous Crocodile wants to prove himself right. He also has the reputation for being the stupidest croc on the whole river. So he wants to put that idea to rest, too.

OPPONENT

His opponent is not the Notsobig Crocodile, who exists in the story only for the purposes of drawing the main character out. This allows the author/narrator to show and not tell.

The opponents are the characters who stand in the way of him achieving his goal. In turn we have all the animals he meets in his trek across the jungle, presented backwards (in mirror image) over the second half of the journey.

PLAN

“I have secret plans and clever tricks,” repeats the Enormous Crocodile as he comes across each of the jungle animals.

Readers are left in suspense to find out what these are. They delight readers as the crocodile tries comical tricks.

BATTLE

Each animal steps in to save the children, but how does Dahl achieve escalation? This is a requirement when there is a sequence of battles. He uses the size of the animals. So, in the end we get the massive elephant whose strength finishes him off.

SELF-REVELATION

Since in this story the main character dies, there is no self-revelation to be had.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

On Earth, everything goes on as before.

The_Enormous_Crocodile_first_edition

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