Remembering Roald Dahl

Today, if you didn’t already know, is Roald Dahl day. Born on 13th September 1916, this wonderful children’s writer would now be 94 years old. 94! If his last full-length work is anything to go by (Matilda, published in 1988), the old man still had plenty of story-telling juice left in him by the time he passed away in 1990.

I have a huge personal investment in Dahl, as it was his books (and his wonderful, funny poetry) I was weaned on from a young age. Not unusually for a child growing up in the north of England in the 1980s, Dahl was the first author I fell in love with. I have strong memories of leafing through those slim paperbacks, finding myself wowed by Dahl’s vivid imagination and delighted by Quentin Blake‘s enchanting drawings (Dahl and Blake are utterly inseparable in my mind). I finished James and the Giant Peach and The BFG in two days each, The Witches in one.

Essentially, a large part of why I read today is down to Roald Dahl. I still recall a news report announcing his death at my grandparents’ house. Oh that’s a shame, commented my grandmother.

Over the years, Dahl has become a multi-million dollar industry. Figurines, board games, DVDs, stuffed toys, greeting cards, Hollywood movies, even kitchen towels. I would love to know what the man himself would have made of that. After all, a fascinating dark streak runs through most of Dahl’s work, a preoccupation with greed, revenge, social class, and the very darkest side of human nature.

Inspired by the abuse he suffered in boarding schools, Dahl turned his back on sentiment and embraced black humour and gruesome tongue-in-cheek violence, and millions of children – myself included – loved him for that. This, for me, is what immortalises Dahl, and will ensure his work is passed on for many generations to come.

I returned to Roald Dahl just a few months ago, after picking up a cheap copy of George’s Marvellous Medicine. Typically, it effortlessly penetrated my veil of adult cynicism. I was eight again. I was back at my grandparents’ house. It was summer 1988, dogs were barking outside, and I read from noon until late evening, with not a care in the world.

Chris Greenhough

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