To the Gregg family, hunting is just plain fun. To the girl who lives next door, it’s just plain horrible. She tries to be polite. She tries to talk them out of it, but the Greggs only laugh at her. Then one day the Greggs go too far, and the little girl turns her Magic Finger on them. When she’s very, very angry, the little girl’s Magic Finger takes over. She really can’t control it, and now it’s turned the Greggs into birds! Before they know it, the Greggs are living in a nest, and that’s just the beginning of their problems….
Written in 1962 but only published after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sent Roald Dahl’s profile soaring through the roof like a great glass elevator, The Magic Finger now lives in the shadow of Dahl’s later attempt at telling the story of a clever, troubled young girl dealing with telekinetic powers. While there’s no doubt that the earlier book isn’t as emotional or well-rounded as Matilda, it has a flavour of its own which deserves renewed appraisal. Its nameless narrator is eight years old, the same age as Lisa Simpson, and like her she manages to be wise beyond her years and believably child-like at the same time. As she enlists her magic powers to make life hell for a family of local hunters, she comes across as sincere and passionate, yet the sheer vindictiveness of her mystic punishments might inspire sympathy for her victims – not an unusual feeling to have when reading Dahl. It might be deliberate here; certainly it’s strange to imagine the author of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Danny, the Champion of the World is actually taking a moral stance against hunting. Either way, it’s shot through with Dahl’s usual wicked humour and the gift for breakneck pacing that’s made his work last for generations.