George Kranky’s grandmother is a grisly old grunion with a mouth puckered up like a dog’s bottom (Roald Dahl’s description). When George’s mother goes out shopping one morning, leaving him alone with the old woman, he decides to replace her 11 o’ clock medicine with a concoction all of his own.
‘The rule would be this: whatever he saw, if it was runny or powdery or gooey, it went in. . .’
Roald Dahl’s stories were a key part of my childhood and I remember being horrified to learn that a girl I knew wasn’t allowed to read his books. Besides The Very Hungry Crocodile and Revolting Rhymes, George’s Marvellous Medicine was one of the first that I read for myself.
Every once in a while you come across a writer who sparkles. There seems to be no reason for it. Another writer could use pretty much the same words and they would come across dull. Other writers make up words, other writers have quirky characters in fantastic and funny situations, and yet Roald Dahl has an untouchable quality about him — what my High School English teacher called ‘fairy dust’.
Most children love stories in which the child is the hero and George’s revenge on his grouchy old grandmother still makes me feel ever so slightly gleeful and daring. Though the grandmother (to an adult mind) has a dark element about her, particularly in the first chapter, she makes for a truly despicable foe, one that every child would wish to best.
Much of the book revolves around the creation of the medicine (there are two batches), which in itself is fun because George takes all manner of ingredients from all over the farm to create it. This has the double delight of creating magic out of a hundred everyday items and the squeamish pleasure of knowing that the grandmother will have to drink it. Quentin Blake’s illustrations only add to the excitement with pictures of George, surrounded by bottles, stirring the pan, and images of him rooting through cupboards in search of new ingredients.
For such a short book, the tension is high as eleven o’ clock comes close and the grandmother demands her medicine. Roald Dahl has a knack for the quirky and ridiculous and so when the medicine is dispensed and George’s parents arrive home to discover the results, only the most grisly old grunions among us won’t be entertained by the chaos that ensues.
This is a fantastic book for children, especially children whose grandmothers can tend on the grouchy side. That said, I still find myself enjoying it very much even as an adult. If you are too grown up to read the book for yourself, Roald Dahl would have a few pointed words for you. Read it to your child (or find yourself a friend with a child you can read it to) or have the book seller slip it into a brown paper bag, just enjoy the simple, innocent magic of a boy who is inventive enough to find a way to give a nasty old witch her comeuppance.
Grandmother. She’s despicable and just a little scary.
‘George didn’t say a word. He felt quite trembly. He knew something tremendous had taken place that morning. For a few brief moments he had touched with the very tips of his fingers the edge of a magic world.’
Grandmother is scary but nothing a child can’t handle. Be aware that this was written in a time when people could safely assume that their children would know not to feed their grandmothers combinations of leftover paint, perfume, cooking oil, vitamin supplements etc.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
If you liked this, you may like:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and Beware of Boys by Tony Blundell