Patrick's Reviews > Esio Trot

Esio Trot by Roald Dahl
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's review
Feb 10, 2014

did not like it

** spoiler alert **

Fuck this book. Don't read it to your kids. That's the short version.

If you want the longer version, settle in. We're going to have a bumpy ride.

Also. There's spoilers here. And cussing. And some indignation. Be warned.

I've always thought of myself as a bit of Roald Dahl fan. I read BFG growing up and loved it. I watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and loved it.

But recently, my love dimmed a bit when I read James and the Giant Peach, a book that was a serious boatload of meh. A nickel's worth of story in a dollar-long book.

And don't you DARE say, "Oh it's just a children's book." Or "Kids don't know any better." Or "You can't hold YA fiction to the standards of…"

Stop. Just stop. That's such bullshit that it's an insult to the word 'bullshit.' Kid's books should be just as good as any other books. No. They should be held to a *higher* standard than other literature for the same reason that we take extra care with children's food.

The fact is, what you feed your kids is important, and that includes what they put in their heads as well as what they put in their bellies.

So let's talk about this book: Esio Trot.

In this story, you have Mr. Hopper. He loves two things, the flowers he grew on his balcony, and his downstairs neighbor. Mrs. Silver.

He's terribly lonely and he's terribly shy.

His downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Silver, has a pet tortoise that she adores. The tortoise is named Alfie, he lives on Mrs. Silver's balcony, and Mr. Hoppy is terribly jealous of him.

One day, Mrs. Silver laments to Mr. Hoppy. (They talk while on their balconies. She with her turtle, him tending his garden.) She's had Alfie for eleven years, and he's still tiny. She wishes he would get bigger. "I'd give *anything* to make that happen," she says.

Mr. Hoppy gets all twitterpated hearing this, so he lies to her, telling her he knows a magic spell that will help her tortoise grow. And I quote:

"I beg you to tell me, Mr. Hoppy. I'll be your slave for life!"

When he heard the words your slave for life a shiver of excitement swept through Mr Hoppy.

End quote.

So he gives her some bullshit he makes up, telling her it's a spell he learned from a Bedouin. Then he goes out and buys a hundred tortoises. Then he builds a long grabber arm of the sort you would use if you wanted to, say, steal someone's tortoise off the balcony right below yours.

At this point I thought to myself, "He's not doing what I'm thinking, is he? Then I flipped a couple pages, and told my son that it was bedtime and we'd finish the book tomorrow.

Disappointed, he went to bed. I finished the book.

Here's what happens: Mr. Hoppy spends the next two months slowly replacing Mrs. Silver's pet with progressively larger tortoises.

Mrs. Silver is amazed by this, of course. And out of gratitude, she marries Mr Hoppy.

Then Mr. Hoppy gives away all the tortoises. Including Alfie, Mrs. Silver's pet of 11 years.

Do I really need to explain to anyone that this is fucked up?

Do I feel bad for Mr. Hoppy? This lonely, shy man? Do I empathize with the fact that he loves someone but can't bring himself to tell her? Hell yes. I've *been* that guy. Sure.

But his actions are fucking awful here. And their matter-of-factness makes them doubly awful. Hey there lads" it seems to say, "Love a girl? Here's what you can do! Lie to her, trick her, steal from her, make her obligated to you, then you get to be in a relationship!"

And that's not even touching on the subject that Mrs. Silver is shown to be a complete fucking idiot, who recites a magic spell three times a day to make her tortoise grow. Then fails to notices when her beloved pet of 11 years is exchanged for a completely different animal, not just once, but several, several times….

Suffice to say the next night when my boy asked to read the rest of the story, I deviated from the original script.

This was made a little more difficult by the fact that the book is heavily illustrated. But even so, I was fairly confident I could do better than Dahl's original "trick her into marrying you" storyline.

In my version, in addition to buying a bunch of tortoises and building a tortoise-grabber, Mr Hoppy also goes to the grocery store and buys a bunch of vegetables. He then spends the rest of the week inventing recipes for tortoises and testing them on his new pets, figuring out which ones are the most delicious to tortoises.

Then, every night, he uses his long-armed tortoise grabber to lift Alfie up to his apartment where he feeds him delicious food. And, as we all know, when you eat more, you get bigger, right?

He discovers that what Alfie likes best is some of the flowers Mr. Hoppy grows on his balcony. The flowers Mr. Hoppy loves.

So Mr. Hoppy uses these flowers from his garden in his recipes. (I described these to my boy in some detail to pad out the story. I am a fantasy author after all.) Mr. Hoppy feeds Alfie every night, and Alfie grows bigger and bigger and bigger…

Finally, Mrs. Silver is overcome with joy and invites Mr Hoppy down to her apartment to show off her lovely tortoise. She thanks Mr. Hoppy for his magic spell, and asks him if he'd like to have tea.

Over tea, Mr. Hoppy says, "Mrs. Silver, I have a confession to make."

"Yes?" she says.

"That spell wasn't really magic," he said. "I just made it up."

"Really?" Mrs. Silver said.

"Yes," Mr. Hoppy said. "I've been feeding Alfie special recipes every night so he would grow bigger."

"Oh Mr. Hoppy," Mrs. Silver said. "I already knew that. But I'm so glad you told me yourself."

"You knew?" he said.

"You silly man," she said. "The balcony is right outside two huge windows, just like yours is. How could I not see you grabbing him every night?"

"Ahhh." Mr. Hoppy said, feeling rather embarrassed. He'd thought he was being pretty clever. "You're right of course. I did. You caught me. But I did it because I love you. I knew Alfie was really important to you, and I wanted you to be happy."

"I know that too," Mrs. Silver said. "I'm so glad you're finally brave enough to tell me!"

Then they get married.

I would have preferred for them to go out to coffee and have a date instead, but there was a picture of them getting married in the book, so I had to leave that part in.

In my version, they also worked together to publish a book of recipes for tortoises, and used that money to start a tortoise park, where Mr. Hoppy put his 100 now surplus-to-requirements pets.

But apparently I was pushing my luck there. When I told him the last part, Oot gave me a look. "Did you make that up?" he asked.

"Ahh," I said. "You're right of course. I did. You caught me. But I did it because I love you."
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 10, 2014 – Shelved
February 10, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-50 of 293) (293 new)

message 1: by Tari (new)

Tari Your version is much better! ;->

message 2: by Tim (new)

Tim Johnson And this, my friends, is how you parent.

Good show.

message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris  "Gunner" McGrath Boy, your version sounds like a great book. Hope you write an actual kids book someday (as opposed to a book that looks like one but would actually permanently damage my toddler haha).

message 4: by Sander (new)

Sander Reynders I would pay for this review! Great ending!

message 5: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Wong There are a lot of "problematic" things about Roald Dahl, and his writings.

message 6: by Liam (new)

Liam Johnstone He is going to be so pissed when he goes to read that version to his kids. You should write it down so he has something to go with.

message 7: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Thanks for saving the story! Sort of like what everone has done to Grimm's fairy tales

message 8: by Ann (new)

Ann Did you REALLY watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Because I'm not sure it (either version) is really great fodder for children either. The moral seems to be ' only screw someone over a little'.
Never read Georges Marvelous Medicine because it advocates poisoning your old granny because you don't like her much.
Loved Roald Dhal as a kid, but as an adult... But then when I was wee it was either him or Enid Blyton.
Now, plz go write some decent kids books.

message 9: by Joan (new)

Joan Swanson Wow good for you! I also like your version much better! Thank you for helping to keep some decency in this world :)

message 10: by Tim (new)

Tim Thornburg Good review! Sounds like you're a great father.

message 11: by Carl (last edited Feb 10, 2014 09:54AM) (new)

Carl Phillips You lost me at "I watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and loved it". As far as I am concerned being a fan of Dahl and liking those films are mutually exclusive.

I would be interested though to see what your thoughts on how literature ages, and especially how it relates to children's books. If you argue that no books that carry a message that is not compatible with modern viewpoints on behaviour, gender roles or the emotional link to pets then you are losing a vast swathe of literature, which would be a great shame.

Esio Trot may be a second rate book by an otherwise great children's author, but I would argue that the themes it explores where valid at the point it was written and it does not deserve the vitriol you have thrown at it.

message 12: by William (new)

William Quinn Patrick, much as I love Kvothe and company, I cannot feel but that you are missing the point of Dahl.

Dahl is dark, even at his lightest. This is a light story, but as you can expect in any of his works there is a twisted element to the story. However consider that in the end, no animals are hurt, a little girl gets a pet, and the couple are happy ever after. That's not bad by Dahl standards.

Sure there is a 'trick' which is the core of the courtship, but really they would hardly have been happy together if that was all there was to the relationship. Really it's an over complex means by which our 'protagonist' can express his feelings to the object of his love. That she isn't the brightest bulb in the box is just a character trait. It's not like Dahl was shy of writing strong female characters.

Further Dahl is being somewhat of a realist. Many relationships in the real world are built on even worses bases than this. You are someone who I would expect to appreciate not feeding sweetness and roses tales to kids.

So sure you might prefer a different story, but then that would be your story, not Dahl's.

Your opinion if of course your own, and no one can expect you to like that which you do not. However I think your critique is simply missing the point of Dahl in general: the world is weird, a bit dark, but despite all of that, and the weirdness of people, you can find happiness.

message 13: by Chêtto (new)

Chêtto Tari wrote: "Your version is much better! ;->"

Yeah, i like this one better

message 14: by Christine (new)

Christine Perry Yes, write it your version down.. Much better telling..

message 15: by Beatriz (new) - added it

Beatriz As a woman who used to read this book as a little girl, I have to say that I only cared about the turtles, not the marriage or the secret love XD I feel awful, Pat, you destroy my childhood, hahahahaha. No, just joking, I LOVE Matilda and I discovered Roald Dahl with that book, but then I read his book about witches and it scared me to death, so I lost my faith, hahahaha.

message 16: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte Austen I have to say, I'd never read this book despite growing up with the "BFG" myself and loving it very much. I'm now rather relieved that I never read it. I'm not comfortable with what's being presented as acceptable in the story and I wouldn't want my kids exposed to it. I'm glad you found a way to change things around and give Oot a better story even if he did know it wasn't the original. One day, he'll read it himself and know you gave him a story that was better than the original and be grateful to have a dad that cared enough about him to make something like that up on the fly.

Also, I'm glad I'm not the only one that didn't love "James and the Giant Peach."

message 17: by Alison (new)

Alison My kids loved most of Dahl's books, but not Esio Trot. They very much enjoyed George's Marvelous Medicine. The grandmother is horrible. Kids understand that there is evil in the world.

message 18: by Kaely (new)

Kaely Good story, I like your version much better. We listen to Audiobooks in the car on the way to and from school and I always skip over this one when we're listening to Roald Dahl.

message 19: by John (new)

John This coming from the author of "The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle." Roald Dahl stories always have darker subtext and twists. I get that your son is very young and that your version teaches a much more simplistic and palatable moral, but your critique is toward young adult books. Terrible stories and terrible morals abound in fiction and reality; yet all can be tools to learn.

message 20: by Lori (new)

Lori Mcauliffe niemtschk So this is the first time in my life that a book review has brought me to tears. Oot and Cutie Snoo will be brought up as people who actually give a shit about the feelings of others. Your writing has always impressed me, your parenting style is EPIC.

message 21: by Moondancer (new)

Moondancer Drake Yep, I have to say your version of Esio Trot is much more to my taste.

message 22: by D. (new)

D. Are Roald Dahl's works public domain yet? Can't you have some sort of "Pride And Prejudice And Zombies" arrangement?

message 23: by Elisabeth (new)

Elisabeth Jewell I always thought it was particularly cruel to Alfie that he was discarded after 11 years.

Lark of The Bookwyrm's Hoard Trust Pat to turn even a questionable book into an entertaining story!

message 25: by David (new)

David Nowlin well done

Paul Martin Have to agree with William Quinn over here: your critique is missing the point :/

message 27: by Amber (new)

Amber LOL, I've never read this Dahl book and I spent some time pretty obsessed with him in the early years. I suspect my mother may have edited this from the collection now, totally going to ask her. Knowing her she probably just didn't like the pet being discarded and knew I'd cry over it for months.
I used to cry over the trix commercials because no one would give the rabbit any trix. *sigh*

message 28: by Matt (new)

Matt Weber John wrote: "This coming from the author of "The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle." Roald Dahl stories always have darker subtext and twists. I get that your son is very young and that your version te..."

The Princess & Mr. Whiffle has a sticker on it that says "This shit is not for kids." (Which is perhaps why my two-year-old daughter refuses to open it.)

message 29: by April (new)

April You are an EXCELLENT parent. And not a half-bad writer...

message 30: by Jbarth (last edited Feb 10, 2014 10:09AM) (new)

Jbarth Your story reminds me of the Grandpa (I miss Peter Falk!) reading The Princess Bride to little Fred Savage. He only read the good parts of the book..... you just had to insert your own. :)

Athena Shardbearer Beautiful review! My daughter is 4 years old and I try my best to filter out the garbage they consider literature. The other day she asked me to read Dracula to her. I told her she needed a few more years to read that one. Great review!

Amanda Allen Yes. I read it to my kid. Thankfully he was like, I think I'll play with my cars and ignore you while you read, but don't leave because then the lights go out and I can't see my cars. In the end. Huge, huge, creepy mehs.

message 33: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Have you started on the Shel Silverstein books? A hell of a lot better than Roald Dahl and there is always Steven Manes's Chicken Trek. I fondly remember this insanely weird book from childhood.

message 34: by Gabrielle (new)

Gabrielle Harbowy Well done, sir. :)

message 35: by Angie (new)

Angie Keyes I love your rewrite. Brilliant!!

message 36: by Elika (new)

Elika I'm thankful there are parents (and authors) like you out there.

message 37: by Emelie (new)

Emelie Haha! You are amazing. I loved the ending of your review. :-)

message 38: by Jana (new)

Jana Knight Your version is much better. But you know when he grows up you are going to have to come clean all the way before he picks that book up to read to his own son, because you love him, you did such a good job.

message 39: by Ken (new)

Ken You are my hero for telling it like it is Pat. Kids books are not supposed to be stupid. They are not supposed to be full of plot holes or the kind of junk you pointed out. Amen.

message 40: by Paul (new)

Paul If you read other Dahl stories (and his Revolting Rhymes) you will see that he is deliberately subverting the idea of childhood innocence, and appealing to the devilment in children. It is entirely tongue in cheek. If the child is old enough to read it themselves, then they know this; if not then the parent does and uses their tone of voice to portray it. Children's literature has come a long way since the days of monotonous moralistic and instrumental works like Little Women (and your version above).

I am a great fan of your work (and usually your blogs) but if I'm honest I think your version is tedious and insipid. As a parent you have to think about your child and obviously their age needs to be accounted, I don't know how old your child is but I will continue (like tens of millions of others) to read Dahl to my kids, and not the drivel you came up with.

If you don't want your child hearing it, then don't tell it. Your aggressive rant is completely inconsistent with the context, and aside from the swearing you sound like(ironically) a ranting child.

message 41: by Thea (new) - added it

Thea I agree that Esio Triot is not Dahl's best work, and I do like your version better. However, if you've only ever read one other Dahl book, you're missing out.

He has written some wonderful, empowering, exhilarating fiction for kids. I hope you'll try Matilda, or Fantastic Mr. Fox, or especially Danny the Champion of the World.

I also hope you don't keep Oot and Cutie from reading any of his other books, based on your experience with this one.

message 42: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Woah! As someone who also grew up reading the BFG (along with my 4 siblings) I can't believe this is now what's flowing from this author's pen. I would never read that to a child - I think what you did was great, but it's really absurd that it had to be done at all. Who "green lights" a book like that???

message 43: by Tia (new)

Tia Have you read The Boxcar Children? Or Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys? The Boxcar Children has some pretty obvious gender roles, but that was due to when it was written I think. Has some wonderfully strong child characters, and a lesson that just because someone might seem scary at first doesn't mean that they aren't nice. Canary Red is a fabulous book about a girl who's mother is dead and her father gets out of prison and has custody. Only he went in when she was a baby and they don't know one another. And yes, it's YA. Another book that teaches tolerence and understanding.

message 44: by Phezh (new)

Phezh If it only would be so easy between Kvothe and Denna :P

message 45: by Evan (new)

Evan Kennedy This makes me think about that article where Michelle Nijhuis talks about gender-swapping the main characters of books she reads to her kids, most notably making Bilbo a girl in The Hobbit. Thought it was a fascinating kind of reversal, and intriguing food for thought. :)

message 46: by Sally (new)

Sally Myers Loved your rewrite!

message 47: by Jennifer (last edited Feb 10, 2014 10:51AM) (new)

Jennifer What a wonderful story you created out of an unpleasant beginning! I second the comments here when people urge you to put your version of the story in writing -- for Oot if not for the rest of the world. I never read much Dahl growing up - I was more of a Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, Grimm's Fairy Tales (the original versions) and Shel Silverstein person growing up. Thus, those are the authors I read to my son as a child.

message 48: by Riff (new)

Riff Pat. Can you rewrite the Twilight books before your son is old enough to read them? ;)

* I've not read them, just about them.

message 49: by Elena (new)

Elena Im just stopping by to say that it is pretty cool to see a bestselling author (even better - a good one) write a book review, Ive been following your reviews for a while and Im really impressed by how down to earth you are as a person :))

message 50: by Allan (new)

Allan Verdessi You're awesome, Rothfuss. Even with reviews you can do something nice.

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