Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A Century of Roald Dahl

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.” 

Today, 13 Septemer 2016, would have been author Roald Dahl's 100th birthday. Most famous of course for the great children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl was one of my favourites for his impish sense of humour and crypto insubordinate wit.

It's hard to pick a favourite - who doesn't love Charlie, where craven and nihilistic kids (and their parents) meet with almost karmic endings? 

Veruca Salt, the little brute,Has just gone down the garbage chute,(And as we very rightly thoughtThat in a case like this we oughtTo see the thing completely through,We've polished off her parents, too.) 

But now, my dears, we think you mightBe wondering–is it really rightThat every single bit of blameAnd all the scolding and the shameShould fall upon Veruca Salt?Is she the only one at fault? 
For though she's spoiled, and dreadfully so,
A girl can't spoil herself, you know.

There is of course, the charming James and the Giant Peach, which I enjoyed equally because of the incredible, giant insect characters as well as the fact that the eponymous character shared his name with my baby brother.

Perhaps the most deliciously miscreant is The Twits, or perhaps Matilda, which was recently made into a stage play.

My own little son Alastair, whose most favourite thing in the world is to read, loves Dahls perhaps even more than I did. We were thrilled during our time living in Europe to take him to see Matilda on the stage in Covent Garden.

If you want to throw the hammer for your country
You have to stay inside the circle ALL THE TIME
Apply just one simple rule
To hammer-throwing, life, or school -
Life's a ball, so learn to throw it
Find the bloody line and TOE it.
And always keep your feet inside the line

For a change of pace, I suggest people to pick up a book of Dahl's short stories.  Within the pages of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, are two not at all humourous works.  One is called "The Boy Talked to Animals." It tells the story of a snapping turtle that winds up - through no fault of its own - stranded on a beach, overturned on its shell.  The crowd gathering round has decided that the beast is dangerous and deserves to die. As the parents are haggling with the crowd over the price required to save it, the little boy whispers to the turtle's ear....

In the second, "The Swan" also concerns a little boy quite sensitive about animals. Some school bullies first capture and torture him, and then set about to kill a nest with a mother swan and its babies. 

The stories are not at all like Dahl's others, and that's perhaps why I find them poignant 35 years later.

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