One hundred years Roald
Reading Roald Dahl is as much a part of growing up as wobbly teeth and the eternal torment of calling your teacher ‘mum’. 44’s Sarah takes a trip around the office to find out why the author’s appeal is as enduring as an everlasting gobstopper.
It’s Roald Dahl day! Across the country, human beans will be dressing up as their favourite characters to celebrate what would have been the author’s 100th birthday.
His children’s books (although I still love them as an adult) have been translated into 58 languages and are consistently voted in must-read recommendations. The BFG, Matilda and The Witches all earned a spot in the Book Trust’s 100 best children’s books from the past 100 years – the only author to have three entries in the list.
So, as Roald Dahl is one of the most significant communicators of the last century, I asked team 44 what it is about his stories that we love so much?
I’ve always been a huge Roald Dahl fan – I was addicted from the first time I read George’s Marvellous Medicine. I remember being cross at how George was treated, loving how outrageous his idea was, being nervous about what would happen to his Grandma and excited when George didn’t get into trouble – so many emotions from such a short story.
I think that was one of Dahl’s great skills – being able to create these strong connections to characters and take you with them on their weird and wonderful journeys.
And now, as a mostly-grown-up, I get to read the same books I loved as a child with my own kids. Although, if they ever present me with a spoonful of medicine, I will most definitely not be swallowing it!
My favourite book is Matilda. Being a young and bookish girl myself, I think I must have identified with the character. My favourite quote from the book still is: ‘And don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music,’ which I think is wonderful.
I also spent many an hour when I was younger trying to move things with my mind – just like Matilda. Later on, when I became a Star Wars fan, I was convinced I could acquire ‘the Force’ – so a lot of my childhood was spent just staring at things intensely (I think my parents were quite concerned at one point).
I will never forget trying to recreate the giant Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake from Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes. It didn’t go well – I got in quite a bit of trouble for making a lot of mess. And I still remember feeling disappointed when my attempt to clean everything up with my mind didn’t work…
My favourite Roald Dahl book is the BFG! As a child I was always drawn to illustrations and unusual typefaces – or ‘pretty letters’ as I called them – so I loved that the dream descriptions were written in a different font to the rest of the book. Quentin Blake’s stunning illustrations brought the story to life, and to this day I still avoid looking out of the window during witching hour, in case someone huge is looking back!
I loved them all, but I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just about edges it. What really captured my imagination when I first read it was the fact that I could really, really relate to the idea of an eight-year-old being completely enthralled by the prospect of visiting a chocolate factory. I also loved just how outlandish and over the top each character was and how they’re fuelled by gluttony, yet Charlie is the complete antithesis and brings a sense of humility and normality to the story.
The fact that the book is now more than 50 years old, but remains as popular as ever, is testament to what a good story it is. Oh and it spawned a fantastic film too!
I only knew about Roald Dahl from Tales of the Unexpected until I had children. Then I learned how brilliant it is to read Roald Dahl stories with your kids.
It took my daughter Daisy and me ages to read Matilda because we spent so long creased up with laughter. Miss Trunchbull launching Amanda Thripp into a field was a particular hit.
Our two youngest, Jack and Alfie, would rush to bed to hear the latest chapter of Fantastic Mr. Fox – and they loved the Quentin Blake illustrations too.
I haven’t plumped for a book, but instead an entire museum – the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden.
The museum brings Roald Dahl and his stories to magical life. For example, did you know he was injured serving as a fighter pilot during World War II? Or that he wrote the screenplay for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? I took my daughter when she was seven and she loved it. My big takeaway from our visit? If ever I become a writer like Roald Dahl, I’d want a shed like his too. Down the bottom of the garden, wingback chair, pencils in a mug, manuscript perched on a homemade, green-baize board and back up the garden in time for lunch. Definitely the writer’s life for me…
Have you got a favourite we haven’t mentioned? If you longed to be part of the cleaning crew in The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me or if your teacher wore gloves and you were convinced that she was really a witch, then let us know.