Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review - George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

Short review: George's grandmother is a mean old biddy, and George makes her some medicine to take care of that problem.

Mixing chemicals
Create magic growth potion
And then shrink Grandma

Full review: George, the central character of George's Marvelous Medicine, is unusual for a Roald Dahl protagonist. He's not an orphan, nor is he impoverished. His parents even seem to be fairly normal, caring people. He only really has one problem - his grandmother is not a particularly nice person. In fact, we are told, she is mean and evil, although the evil she displays in the book amounts mostly to bossing George around.

In response, George decides to replace his grandmother's normal medicine with his "marvelous" concoction. He wanders about the house when his parents are away pouring everything he can lay his hands on, from toothpaste and shampoo to animal pills, hot peppers, and motor oil, into a single pot, which he cooks up with a helping of brown paint to make the brew look like his grandmother's usual brown medicine. (Oddly, the one category of things he doesn't add to his recipe are the pharmaceuticals intended for humans in the medicine chest, on the grounds that that would be dangerous). He then feeds the result to his grandmother.

As this is a Dahl book, the mess doesn't kill her immediately, but rather makes her grow ridiculously tall, and farm animals grow to champion size, which pleases George's farmer father immensely. George can't remember the recipe, so once they have used it making animals on the farm huge, he has to try to make more. After a couple experiments, George's gigantic grandmother grabs a batch and shrinks to nothingness. And the story ends.

Of all the Dahl stories, this is one of the weakest. George's animosity for his grandmother seems out of proportion to her actions. Although she is bossy, obnoxious, cranky, and even downright mean, shrinking her to nonexistence seems to be a bit over-the-top as a response. The concoction itself seems to be little more than poison, and no explanation is given why this would work, or why George would think feeding his grandmother antifreeze laced medicine would do anything other than kill her.

While most Dahl books involve outrageous stuff, the trouble with this book is that everything seems entirely out of proportion to the provocation, Unlike The Witches, where the witches want to turn all the children in England into mice, or the evil giants in The BFG, where the man-eating giants run off to eat a couple dozen people every night, the nasty nature of George's grandmother seems tame. Also in most of Dahl's books, the silly plans to counter the villains are usually backed up by some sort of explanation, even one as simple as the bag of magic the kicks off the action in James and the Giant Peach. In George's Marvelous Medicine, George simply decides to wander around the house one day mixing all the household chemicals he can get his hands on to feed to his grandmother.

The story has moments such as the silly reactions that some of the animals have to George's later efforts to recreate the medicine. These keep the book from dropping below merely average, but the weakness of the story prevents the book from rising above that mark.

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