The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson

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The Gruffalo is an enormously famous book first published by Julia Donaldson in 1999, which spawned an entire Gruffalo series. For everything you want to know about the British author, see the about-page on her website. The artist, Axel Scheffler, is a German illustrator who drew for Julia Donaldson’s first picture book and has worked on every Gruffalo book since.

But, now it’s time to get to business. And I’ll start by clearing up one of the first mistakes that people who haven’t read the book make: the Gruffalo itself is not the main character of the book. This story is actually about a smart, cunning mouse. The mouse is walking through the forest and meets dangerous animals on the way: a fox, an owl and a snake, and each of them invites the mouse to their home for a meal. The mouse knows that they are planning to eat him so he tells them he cannot because he already has dinner plans with his friend, the gruffalo.

Since the mouse invented this animal, none of the other animals have heard of him. So the mouse describes the gruffalo: a huge monster, a mix between a grizzly bear and a buffalo. And it just so happens that his favourite meals is whichever animal the mouse is talking to at the moment. After the animal runs off, the mouse happily continues on his walk. But then the mouse comes face to face with an actual gruffalo. The gruffalo also wants to eat the mouse, but again the mouse is able to outsmart his adversary. He warns the gruffalo that everyone in the forest is scared of him. To prove this, both of them walk back through the forest, and when they encounter the owl, the fox and the snake, they all run away in fear. At the end of their walk, the mouse turns to the gruffalo, threatening to eat him, and the gruffalo flees. And that is the story of how a smart mouse outsmarts everyone in the forest, including the scariest of them all, the gruffalo.

Most children’s stories contain a moral, so I guess this story proves that being smart is a good thing. Thinking things through, and a little bit of cunning can go a long way! It’s actually based on a Chinese folk tale where the mouse is a fox and the gruffalo is a tiger. And why did Donaldson invent a gruffalo? Because she couldn’t think of words that rhymed with “tiger”, so she opted to rhyme a new word with “know”. I found this out while researching for this blog post, and it makes me love the book even more! I love puns and language humour so this makes the story extra special for me.

This book was immensely successful, so naturally it has also been turned into a movie. A movie adaptation I was actually quite happy with. The Gruffalo came out in 2009, with James Corden voicing the mouse, Tom Wilkinson as the fox, John Hurt as the owl, Rob Brydon as the snake and Robbie Coltrane as the Gruffalo. Yes, you read that right: Harry Potter’s big lovable monster of a man Hagrid voices the Gruffalo! The movie first screened on Christmas Day on British television, to very positive reviews. It was so successful in fact that two years later, the second book in the series was also adapted for the big screen: The Gruffalo’s Child came out in 2011 with the same voice actors and featuring Shirley Henderson as the gruffalo’s child. You might know her from Harry Potter as well, she’s none other than Moaning Myrtle!

Happy reading and watching,

Loes M.

 

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