The Magic Finger

by Roald Dahl

Other authorsTony Ross (Illustrator)
Paperback, 1993



Local notes

PB Dah




Puffin (1993), 64 pages


Angered by a neighboring family's sport hunting, an eight-year-old girl turns her magic finger on them.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

64 p.; 20 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member delzey
This is a story of a girl with anger management issues, a story with a high sense of justice and a low tolerance for senseless violence, and the delightfully quirky world that Roald Dahl excelled at creating. The Magic Finger is a pushing, prodding, poke-in-the-eye, accusatory allegory to war via a
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pointed attack on the tradition of English sport hunting. In the right light, it could also be a call to vegetarianism, though I don't know that was Dahl's intent back in the mid-60's.

Our unnamed antagonist -- who'll I call Zak for reasons to be explained -- is the type of child who is a tempest beneath a barely calm surface. When humiliated by her teacher for spelling cat with a 'k' (and Twain had something to say about this) her boiling point is reached as fast as it takes to point her finger and turn the font of derision into a house pet. In the fantasy world of children's literature this casual power and transformation is presented as a natural occurrence, one in every classroom. Zak's abilities and her unwillingness to be trifled with are the point at which we jump to the real story.

Zak's neighbors, the Greggs, are a typical English hunting family proud to return from the fields with their kill, one duck a piece. The injustice of this needless killing sends Zak to seeing colors, and in her rainbow fury she turns her neighbors into duck-sized, bird-winged humanoids for the night. And because this universe needs balance (and the Gregg's need a lesson) their house is taken over with people-sized, human-armed ducks. As the humans are chased out and fired at with their own guns they quickly take to the trees and learn the obvious but valuable lesson of seeing the world from the eyes of the hunted. Come morning the world is set to rights and the Greggs set about atoning for their hunting sins while Zak goes of in search of another family that needs a lesson.

The joy I had discovering this shortly after it was first published left a lingering mark. In some ways I prefer this to Dahl's better-acknowledged classics James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that it distills the lesson and entertains without unnecessary baggage.

Sadly, modern editions of this book no longer contain the original illustrations by du Bois, favoring instead more cartoony illustrations by Quintin Blake who has illustrated (or reillustrated in this case) all of Dahl's books currently in print. This apparently was Dahl's illustrator of choice beginning with The B.F.G and presumably the earlier books were reillustrated with his approval. One of my favorite parts of the original is the doubled page that allows you to watch the school teacher turn into a cat. There is also a multi-page spread where Zak's fury changes color but are presented in black and white ink wash that may be the result of economics (color being more expensive to print) but force readers to translate colors to emotions in a way that is more internal (and less obvious) than a similar expression in Leo Lionni's Frederick.

As for Zak, unless you read the original edition you won't see a little girl wearing a sailor's hat with that name on it, pointing at the reader in an homage to James Montgomery Flagg's Uncle Sam posters of the early 20th century. This closing image appropriates the iconic military recruiting image and transforms it into an accusation addressed to the reader. Is Zak attempting to teach you a lesson for your unknown sins, or is she merely warning you to beware your actions. Written and illustrated early in the Vietnam conflict the message isn't overt in Dahl's text but du Bois illustration appears to draw a connection between the senselessness of sport hunting and mindlessness of war.

Perhaps it is time to re-release the original edition.
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LibraryThing member ChristineRobinson
Another classic Dahl, this book is filled with hilarious antics and lessons about right and wrong. Told from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl who “put the magic finger” on her neighbours for hunting birds, the book follows the Greggs as they shrink, grow wings, live like birds and deal
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with their farm being taken over by giant ducks. As per usual Blake’s illustrations add just the right amount of fun and the ending is satisfying and provides the reader with the sense that the magic finger wasn’t all that bad after all.
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LibraryThing member the_hag
This is the story of the Gregg's...mostly of the male Gregg's, the father, his son's and their love of hunting. When their unnamed 8 year old neighbor gets fed up with asking them nicely to stop killing birds and deer, she does the only thing she can...she uses the Magic Finger on them. We learn
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exactly what result befell the teacher how dared tell her what a stupid little girl she thought our nameless girl was in front of the whole class...and now it's the Gregg's turn to find out what it means to get the Magic Finger...I bet it's a lesson they won't soon forget! This is a fairly short book, slim on the characterization...but with loads of quirks and twists that make for a good fun read! Just the right length that we could all enjoy it and the Magic Finger would also make a fine read aloud book (for reading over a couple of nights). I give it a B+, great fun for young readers with just the right amount of hilarity to go with the lesson being taught here.
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LibraryThing member mspioneer
This book is about a little girl who discovers she has a magic finger. This little girl doesn't get along with her neighbor because the neighbor hurts animals. She uses her magic finger to get "revenge" on her neighbor.
LibraryThing member paroof
Good story, that makes you see things from alternative perspective. However, I hate when it feels like I'm getting someone else's political message thrown at me in the form of a children's story and well this one sort of feels that way... to me anyway. Its a bit anti-hunting for my taste.
LibraryThing member Black_samvara
Re-read and always enjoyable. Our heroine's magic finger only activates when she is cross but the justice it deals out seems to know what it's doing.
LibraryThing member kellyholmes
Not my favorite Dahl story, but still very cute!
LibraryThing member bookworm12
A young girl decides to teach her hunting neighbors a lesson. The hunters quickly find out what it feels like to become the prey.
LibraryThing member tashabear
Wonderful commentary on the idiocy of hunting.
LibraryThing member AmberTheHuman
While I do agree that hunting is wrong ... I'm not sure that turning hunters into ducks is the solution.
LibraryThing member angel96
The magic finger is a wonderful book. this book makes me feel magical and helps me think that i am powerful. This book is about an amazing girl who has magic in one finger. She does amazing things.
LibraryThing member be252000
The Magic Finger was a bit on the boring side because it is meant for younger readers, but it was quite funny too.
LibraryThing member 2pigs
It is funny. Not as good as some of the other Roal Dahl books but it is still good.
LibraryThing member derbygirl
(easy, chapter book, young reader, fiction) A young girl has a magic finger. Whenever she gets mad or is confronted with an injustice, her finger starts tingling and...blammo! She gives someone the magic finger, kind of like an evil eye. The recipient of the magic finger has the tables turned on
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them. In this story's case it is a family of hunters who spend the night being the ducks that they hunted the day before. When the new day dawns, the family becomes aware of what it must be like to be a hunted duck and vows to never hunt again. They are returned to their former human state. They even crush their guns with hammers and bury the ducks they shot the day before. A good story for helping children to develop empathy and understand that others have viewpoints that may be different from theirs.
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LibraryThing member Alexandra1600
Be careful what you wish for as ducks are turned into hunters and hunters into ducks, great first chapter book for kids.
LibraryThing member Caitlin_Rinner
A young girl becomes angered by a neighboring family's sport hunting, so the eight-year-old girl turns her magic finger on them! This books is a fun and easy read for children and I would recommend it because it is a great way to get children involved in reading because the story is filled with
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comical scenes!
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LibraryThing member DonnaChoe
A great book about a young girl who has special magic powers and cannot control them, but uses them for the good of the environment. Teaches moral is in a very subtle way, good story/chapter book to read with older kids (3-4th grade) who will understand the lesson behind the story.
LibraryThing member asomers
This book was written back in 1966. In his typically offbeat way, Roald Dahl tackles an important issue that is still controversial and in the news today.
LibraryThing member sriemann
More Dahl to amuse and distract - I love the warped flip-flop that Dahl does in this book. Is his moral really really overstated? Yes... but it's hilarious and absurd to make a point.
LibraryThing member SadieReads
"The Magic Finger" is the short story of a girl with an amazing talent. When she gets mad and starts to see red, her Magic Finger takes over and changes the people who upset her. When she can't maker her neighbors change their ways about hunting, her Magic Finger changes the family, giving them
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wings instead of arms, and changes four ducks, giving them arms instead of wings. Soon, the Gregg family finds themselves having changed places with the ducks who are now hunting them! Will they see the error of their ways and change back?

This story was pleasant enough. It was a quick read with many illustrations throughout. The fantasy element comes with the Magic Finger that transforms the Greggs into human birds. It allows for an interesting way to teach the lesson of the story, which is to consider the other person's perspective. Until they know what it's like to be hunted, the Greggs never considered how the animals they've killed feel.
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LibraryThing member rata
Ever got red hot angry about something and pointed your finger at the target of your anger? This is exactly what happens to an 8 year old girl who lives next door to the Greggs, Mr & Mrs Gregg and their 2 sons Phillip and William. The girl ( as she is known in the story) is angry with the way Mr
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Gregg and his sons recklessly shoot ducks. One day as she witnesses them shooting 16 ducks and ready to aim at another 4, she admonishes Mr Gregg for his cruelty, he in return tells her to get lost! Feeling so angry, in fact red with anger she points her finger at him and storms off home. Mr Gregg and sons continue to aim at the 4 ducks who fly back and forth taunting the Greggs. Try as they may they cannot hit them. Later on that night strange things happen for the Gregg family. When they wake up they find that their arms have become wings and the 4 ducks have arms and their places of habitat have been exchanged. The Greggs busy themselves building a nest while the Ducks make themselves busy making themselves at home in the Gregg house. After spending a stormy night in the nest, the Greggs come to the realisation that hunting is a cruel, needless act. Vowing to change their ways, they revert back to humans and the girl marches off to point her finger to another shooter she can hear in the distance. This book can be used to question the right to shoot or not to shoot and why? It would be a great starting point to bring up this debate.
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LibraryThing member ChazziFrazz
The Greggs think hunting is fun and do it daily. The little girl next door thinks it is terrible and tries to talk them into stopping. One day the Greggs bring home their catch and the little girls gets so angry that her Magic Finger takes over and the Greggs find life has drastically changed.

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from the little girl's viewpoint, it is an entertaining story. A short read of 63 pages I finished it in probably an hour or less.

I am coming to realize that there are some serious adult themes that can be found in his childrens' stories. In this one I think it is the senselessness of harming others for no other reason than your own enjoyment. When the Greggs find themselves in the position of the prey they hunt and the prey are now in the Greggs' position the world is upside down and there is a huge lesson to be learned.

Told under the guise of a children's tale with fantastic and magical bits, it seems to slide in and register after you have read the tale.
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LibraryThing member Lukerik
A story about a girl who takes vengeance with her magic powers. Quite obviously the inspiration for Stephen King's Carrie.
LibraryThing member tsmith44
This was a really great book. I liked it because it was engaging for the reader and had a great message. I really liked how Roald Dahl keeps the reader interested the book right from the beginning. For example, when the Girl uses her magic finger when the boys went hunting, I wanted to know what
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happened to them. She talked about she “saw red” and then she could not control what happened. As a reader I wanted to quickly read through the book to see what was going to happen. The sentences were also very short. This let me read through the book quickly and it kept the action alive. For example, “ they had wings and no arms. And they were really tiny. They were about as big as robins.” Also, there weren’t a lot of long description paragraphs in the story, which also helped with being engaged in the book. The message of this story is important to the plot. This book really shows how terrible hunting animals can be and what it would be like if the roles were reversed. We need to be careful about what and who we hunt because we wouldn’t want to ever be hunted like that.
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LibraryThing member nosajeel
A short enjoyable novella (or really short story) by Roald Dahl, is a nice version of his vicious moralizing as a family of hunters is forced to experience what it is like to be hunted--and unlike some other Dahl villains they end up redeemed by the experience.

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½ (544 ratings; 3.5)
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