Sunday, April 14, 2013

Roald Dahl

There are a couple authors who impacted my childhood deeply. Walter Farley, Arnold Lobel, Dr. Seuss, Julie Edwards (Andrews), and of course Roald Dahl all wrote the kind of books that I wanted to read as a child. There are few books from any of these writers that I haven't read. And no one was better loved in our household than Roald Dahl. We each came home after listening to The BFG in school and demanded that my parent read us the rest of his books. There's something magical about that man and his mischievous books. As a child I judged him by his stories, recently I learned a little more about the man behind the writing.

I just finished a very good Roald Dahl biography called Storyteller by Donald Sturrock. I'd heard plenty of rumors about Dahl, his prickliness, his questionable past, and his even more questionable views. I'd never seen any of these in his stories, but this book did a lot to set me straight on Dahl's personality. What I encountered was a character in his own right.

I'd read Dahl's two "autobiographical" books (Boy and Going Solo) but Sturrock informs us that much of those stories were fabricated (or tweaked a bit) by Dahl to make more interesting stories. But the real story is fascinating enough. Dahl was not only a RAF pilot during World War 2 but a spy for the British in the US after the war. He seduced numerous women (some quite well known) and ended up married to a famous actress. He invented and patented a valve that saved many brain injured children after his child was involved in an accident. He raced greyhounds, married twice, and managed to father a couple children. Oh yeah and he wrote some of the best loved books of all time. A recent poll just listed him as the most popular children's book writer ever. This almost three decades after his death.

Dahl had his prickly side and loved to stir up controversy at the dinner table. But many of the rumors about his controversial views are a bit misguided. Dahl may have been controversial in his conversations but he seems tame in his actual views. He reminds me a bit of my father, who loves to see if he can rile people up. Like my dad, Dahl would play devils advocate for hours just to get a flush out of people. And that earned him a reputation for prickliness.

No matter what your view on the man, you have to give him credit for his books. As a child we listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and of course The BFG. We sat spellbound as bad people got their just desserts, and good children prevailed against evil. We fell in love with his characters, his wording, and his imagination. I can still read Dahl's work and be spellbound. Even his adult fare is seductive. A prolific writer and a consummate storyteller who lived a life almost as exciting as his books.


Fumiko said...

I only know the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" but I will try to read other books.

Partly Cloudy Knitter said...

I read "The Irregulars" by Jennet Conant. It's about the spying parts. Now I need to go read it again. I really learned a lot from it.

Cat B said...

Fumiko, I've never read a bad Roald Dahl book. He has well over two dozen books for you to read. Most are quick reads. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of his better but for my favorite is either Fantastic Mr. Fox or The BFG (short for Big Friendly Giant). Wonderful.

Cathy, I haven't read The Irregulars. Now I'll have to put that on my stack to read. I love a well written book where I also learn something. Thanks for the recommendation!