I came across the Roald Dahl website celebrating 50 years since the release of James and the Giant Peach. This got me thinking about the magical world of Roald Dahl.
Many have tried their hands at writing childrens’ books, what may look easy is indeed a complex genre to get right. Roald Dahl’s stories are a favourite with his intended audience and his peers, and is often referred to as being ‘one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th Century’.
I think his greatest strength, and thus his greatest appeal, lies with his ability to write absolutely from a child’s point of view. Welcome to Dahl World where:
- Nearly all grownups are, at best, boring or (more likely) evil. Being a standard grownup means telling you what to do and insisting on order and discipline (for grownup convenience). The only good grownups are the ones like Willy Wonka who know that having fun and exploring are the things that life is all about.
- Bad people get what they deserve, often in suitably gory ways. Overweight people in particular, are guaranteed a delightful demise tailor-made for the greedy.
- Conforming to a Disney ideal of beauty doesn’t give you a “get out of jail free” card. In “Revolting Rhymes” the notorious housebreaker and vandal Goldilocks gets eaten, as she should be. On the other hand, some villains do look suitably villainous, such as the Child Catcher in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, who was the scariest thing ever when I was young.
- Dirt is good and bodily functions are hilarious, as seen with the BFG’s wind problem. Flatulence is always funny and scabs, pus etc. are described in the language of the true connoisseur.
Dahl’s stories are deeply (and often brutally) moral, but never preachy. They have a great balance between the real world and the magical which makes them engagingly believable and fantastical at the same time. As texts they are so beautifully written that film adaptations have never captured even a fraction of their true essence.
It is rare for an author’s work to be considered “timeless” so soon after that person’s death but it is obvious to even the most casual reader that there is something that sets Dahl apart from other twentieth century children’s writers (let alone his adult fiction which deserves a completely separate post). He was a creative giant in an area of literature that many intellectual pygmies have tried, and failed, to master.
What are your feelings around Roald Dahl and his creativity?
Do you have a favourite children’s author?