The sixth annual Roald Dahl day falls today, on what would have been the author’s 95th birthday.
It’s been quite a delight to see such an outpouring of love for Roald Dahl on twitter today. Though often a controversial and divisive character; his books seem to be near universally loved – indeed the vast number of tweets that I’ve seen have been from people totally unable to limit themselves to just one favourite book or fictional character. As soon as you mention one, ten more pop into you head, clamouring for attention and equal acclaim!
Part of the generation who can’t recall a time before these seminal children’s books, I have such fond memories of being taken by my parents to the local library on a weekly basis to seek these out. We worked our way through the set – in agony when a particular title wasn’t on the shelf. In fact, I’m a little ashamed that I used to try and hide them in odd places around the children’s section – determined to keep one I couldn’t borrow safe until my next visit! For almost every birthday or Christmas, I was sure to have been gifted the one that I had particularly loved – though I’m pretty certain that this choice often corresponded with the one that my parents quite fancied a re-read of themselves! (My father once lent my copy of the BFG to a friend of his who never returned it. Twenty years later – often during a heated (read wine fueled) debate – this gross betrayal is still raised!!)
While all of his works are intelligent, funny and scary; I hold a special place in my heart for his three books focusing on poetry for children – Dirty Beasts, Revolting Rhymes and Rhyme Stew. Dahl’s alternative look at Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and Aladdin had me in stitches. Additionally – in the copy I had of Rhyme Shew; he included some less than flattering report cards from his school days. What a relief it was to discover that he hadn’t been a perfect student (either!) and still made good in the end! While I did enjoy his adult works – particularly Henry Sugar – in my mind, he will forever be linked with my mostly carefree and very happy childhood years.
For me, it’s impossible to mention his works without acknowledging the wonderful partnership between Dahl and his primary illustrator Quentin Blake – who created such fantastic images that encaptured the spirit of the words so very astutely that I spent as long pouring over them as the words. For many years I was convinced that Dahl actually looked exactly like the BFG.
Roald Dahl also chartered the details of his own fascinating life in two books – Boy and Going Solo – which are as entertaining as any of his fictional works. Never an author to shy away from terrifying his audience – his stories frequently make use of sadistic elders, absent guardians and the trials that children must tackle alone in order to grow – he uncompromisingly recorded his difficult school years and the often brutal punishments doled out by adults and older children.
His books were adapted onto the silver screen. I am still incapable of flicking past Willy Wonka at Christmas or Matilda at any time of the year (despite the quintessentially English story being made American!), managing a slightly less affection for James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox and the more recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While the casting of the Witches was perfect; I never quite forgave them for changing the story so much! He even wrote a James Bond film!!
As I mentioned earlier, Dahl often seemed to be embroiled in polemic issues. In public he has often been criticised for the break up of his first marriage; his closing down emotionally after the death of his daughter and his criticisms of Israel (which he always insisted was distinct and separate from anti-semetism, of which he was accused).
To be honest, I’m not entirely au fay with these arguments. I tend to allow creative works to stand for themselves, usually avoiding learning too much about the private lives of the creators. Just look at how Enid Byton’s works have been publicly slammed as her private life has been explored, despite no reduction in their popularity.
In this case however, I’m prepared to make an exception. After all, Dahl did write two auto-biography’s himself. I will be reading a biography of the man behind the laughter this week. I’ll let you know how it goes!