Monday, 13 September 2010

Happy Birthday Roald Dahl

On what would have been Roald Dahl's 90th birthday, it seems fitting to pause and marvel at one of the finest writers Britain has ever produced.

Easily my favourite author as a child, Dahl's books are as captivating as they are surreal; beautifully eccentric characters amongst a world of random extremes and magical wonder. At the heart of Dahl's work is often a dark macabre humour; there's the comedy of a bearded man who manages to contain half his lunch in his beard, or a drink that makes you fly by control of bottom burps, mixed amongst witches, cruel aunts, orphans, and brutal teachers. The world is hilarious, but not always fair, and yet there is a hope that the miraculous can happen to those who are good people.

Essentially, Dahl's books may embrace the fantastical - giants, witches, yet there's an underlying reality to the harshness of real life. His children protagonists often find themselves in horrid situations, through no fault of their own. But it is the belief in hope that shines through as strongly as the Trunchbull herself.

But what made Dahl's writing so engaging, arguably, was his uncanny knack for tapping into the child's point of view, understanding how children view life, their surroundings, and adults. He wrote for children, rather than at them. Adult characters in Dahl's books are often shockingly appalling creatures; cruel, mean, tyrannical (although even some younger characters behave in terrible ways, usually corrupted by the evil adults). The situations his protagonists find themselves in are often horrific, ready to make the reader want to leap behind the sofa for fear of a 60 foot sinister grandma or the giantess Trunchbull flexing her muscles.

Roald Dahl's books were so beautifully textured and descriptive. Dahl paints elaborate pictures of hilariously outrageous human beings (or beans as the BFG would say), comical and yet equally terrifying. Perfect to ignite a child's artistry, or adult for that matter.

His stories were a creative red rag to a dormant bull of imagination to whoever read them. And taught us to embrace the magic of life, even if it was often, just a little bit scary.


Anonymous said...

"Matilda" was always my favourite book. I was probably 7 years old when I first read it. I really identified with her as she was as obsessed with books as I was at the time. In fact, after reading the book I'd always take a mug of hot chocolate into my room with me whenever I read. :) And I wanted a teacher like Miss Honey...


John Greenaway said...

Guy was a genius, especially as pretty different to those who went before him.

Sort of mandatory to read as Cardiffians - we even had to read "Boy" at school.

TrefforestGump said...

Yes Matilda was my favourite. But also The Twits, and to be honest, I loved all the books. But there was something about Matilda.

I blame Roald Dahl for my love of the macabre weird. Snozzcumber!