The GFG: The BFG in Scots Translatit by Susan Rennie

Book Review by Ceris Aston | 22 Jul 2016
Book title: The GFG: The BFG in Scots
Author: Translated by Susan Rennie

Getting up to look out of the window one eerily silent night, a wee girl called Sophy spots an extraordinary figure across the street.
Something with twa bricht glentin een.
Something awfu lang an awfu black an awfu thin.
Something that in a few moments, will whisk Sophy – bedclothes and all – from her room and everything that she knows, scooping the reader up along the way and transporting us into a world of Giants, of dwams, of feechcumbers and fuzzleglog.
It is the world of the Guid Freendly Giant – the GFG.

Susan Rennie's Scots translation of Dahl's original The BFG loses none of the charm of the original – rather, amplifying it, as we enjoy afresh a much-loved story, and rejoice in Rennie's wonderful use of language. While Dahl's BFG would have accused the tiny pedant of gobblefunking around with words, the GFG chides Sophy for guddlefankin – new, entirely intelligible, nonsense (who can fail to recognise rummlypumps, 'a sign o happiness', or restrain a smile at the GFG's unbridled joy as he 'let oot a series o the loodest and rudest noises Sophy had ever heard in her life'?).

Snozzcumbers become 'fousome fylesome feechcumbers'; frobscottle is 'brammerous fuzzleglog'. Even where the reader does not know the words, we cannot fail to make sense of the meaning. Sophy, constantly correcting the GFG's Scots, is reminded 'tae be patient an stap argy-bargyin... I kens whit words I'se wantin tae say, but somehoo or ither they's aye gettin mixter-maxtered aroond' – a problem not confined to 24-foot giants. The Scots telling of this classic is rich and full of braw words and fantastooshous sounds.

Tiny, bespectacled Sophie is carried from Scotland to a strange place beyond the boundaries of the atlas, where monstrous, fearsome giants spend their days – their nights are passed in excursions to the human world, where they gobble up human beans, 'wheechterin aff tae sindry flangawa places like Wellington for the bootsome flavour an Panama for the hattery taste.' The reader may be interested to learn that 'there is something awfie soup-like aboot Arbroth.'

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Yet while Banecrumper, Girslegorbler, Slaverslorper and their ilk are gruesome, the appalled Sophy receives a pointed lesson from the GFG that her own species is far from perfect. The GFG is reduced to tears at the thought of Sophy's harsh treatment at the orphanage: 'the weel warst thing I is hearing for lang syne'. He fears that if he shows himself to humans, they 'will be pittin me in the zoo wi all the jeeglyraffes and cantylowps' and dismisses Sophy's protestations: 'Grow-en up human beans isna weel-kent for their kindnesses. They is aw ill-deedies and clartscarters.'

Worst of all, Sophy is forced to reflect, is the fact that – alone amongst all creatures – 'human beans is the ainly craiturs that's killin their ain clan.' Asked why nobody notices the disappearances of those eaten by giants, the GFG soberly replies that 'human beans is murtherin ane anither faur quicker than the giants is daein it.'

Yet despite occasional moments of horror – Dahl was a master of the creepy and the GFG's description of a plant screaming as it is plucked loses nothing in the retelling – the book is one of fun, friendship and of two unlikely characters' triumph over the big, the bad and the bloodthirsty. In these dark times, it's good to know that even a tottie wee runtly giant jist twenty-fower foot high can change the world, with a suitcase of dreams and a resourceful friend.

Read it aloud – find an audience if you can, be it an unsuspecting flatmate or next doors' cat. Failing this, make use of your commute and read the story aloud in hushed tones alone on a busy train, your shoulders quaking sufficiently to alarm fellow passengers. This book is brawstottin – a dingdoozer – a muckle joy to read.

Out now, published by Black & White, RRP £6.99