Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Happy Roald Dahl Day! What does Dahl mean to a pair of book bloggers?

Roald Dahl means many things to many people, but for us he's still the children's writer whose books we genuinely return to again and again.

For me, growing up in the 1970s meant that most of Dahl's most popular books were already published and ready for a bookworm to consume at leisure. Our favourite Roald Dahl titles both stem from the 1980s though, where Dahl's powerful and sharp observant wit and peerless characterisations led to some truly scrumdiddlyumptious books that have gone on to become well-loved classics.

Pretty much everyone will knee-jerk mention "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" as their favourite Dahl title and that (and its sequel, The Great Glass Elevator) were the two Dahl books I read first as a child. It's almost impossible to read passages of the first book without salivating like a rabid dog, particularly if (like me) you lived in an era when the sweet shop was still somewhere magical, filled with chemically-laden (and by now, probably banned or virtually unrecognisable) favourites to tickle a sweet tooth into an early grave in the dentist's 'rotten tooth' jar.

Reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Charlotte when she was younger, I remember being slightly shocked as an adult at how 'cruel' Wonka seems to be, he genuinely has an air of merciless abandon about him as he ruthlessly dispatches the rotten kids, leaving (of course) Charlie as the only good egg in the bunch.

I also remember the crushing disappointment at the "weird" sequel which I again read to Charlotte fairly soon after. "The Great Glass Elevator" remains (imho) one of Dahl's weakest books, almost written as a needless afterthought. It interestingly never seems to crop up in anyone's Dahl top ten.

Charlotte obviously went on to develop her own reading tastes, and without a doubt her favourite Dahl book is "Matilda", the story of a little girl with exceptional powers, but above all a deep love of books (just like Charlotte herself). Children need to see themselves in books, but with a twist. They really love to see themselves as they'd imagine they'd love to be. So even though Matilda's life is far from perfect, she's got her telekinetic powers to fall back on. An ordinary everyday little girl with an exceptional brain and the power to move objects with her mind? What kid wouldn't love that!

But of course, above all it's again Dahl's characters that make this such a winner. Matilda herself, perfectly portrayed. The divine Miss Honey, the sort of teacher-and-surrogate-parent any kid would love to have. Then there's The Trunchbull. Miss Trunchbull, easily one of the most villainous and terrifying baddies ever to grace the pages of a children's story. Though Charlotte obviously identifies with and loves the movie version of Matilda, she equally loves the book version - both as captivating as each other to her.

My favourite Dahl book again didn't come along until the 80s but it was actually far from my favourite Dahl book until a certain few episodes of Jackanory, and a (sadly late) comedian's spirited reading of this uber-subversive story of a young boy exacting a pretty nasty revenge on his nagging and nasty Grandma to really win me over.

Rik Mayall's "all or bust" reading of "George's Marvellous Medicine" is legendary (and if you haven't seen it, and have any interest in reading aloud to kids, that's pretty much how you do it!)


I like GMM mostly because it's basically a "List" book where Dahl mines his own imagination for an ever-increasing array of ridiculous things to add to the concoction - before revealing the effect on Grandma, and George Kranky's pet chickens. It's probably the only book that comes with a "Don't try this at home" from Dahl himself. He's fine with you using your magic finger on people to turn them into birds (love that book also) or letting nasty spoilt children take a swim in a chocolate river or get turned into blueberries, but please treat your elderly relatives with a little more respect.

We've read most of Dahl's books and there are still more to read. "Matilda" and "George's Marvellous Medicine" are definitely our favourites and I'd love to see you comment on your own faves below.

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