When I was a kid, I devoured Roald Dahl’s books. I started small, with Danny, the Champion of the World and Esio Trot, graduating to his chapter books for children as I grew older, and today I still love reading his short stories for adults. There is a quality to his writing – an ability to blend ordinary circumstances with extraordinary ones, and a willingness to skirt the fine line between absurd and horrifying – that I’ve not quite found in any other author before or since. His words are always a pleasure to read, whether it is a genuine pleasure or a bit of a twisted one.
And this year is a special one for Roald Dahl lovers… it is the 50th anniversary of the release of perhaps his most famous novel:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! Beloved by kids and adults everywhere, and the basis for not one, but TWO Hollywood feature films, it’s a delight to see his work still so popular after five whole decades.
Many of you have probably read this book- maybe you even know some of the songs from the older film, starring Gene Wilder. Some of you may like the earlier film better, and some of you may love the later version, with Johnny Depp. Some of you (like Roald Dahl himself) may wish that a film had never been made – you folks are free to ignore any of the movie links in this post!
In celebration of this terrific novel’s anniversary, I thought I would bring your attention to some of Roald Dahl’s work beyond Charlie. Therefore, I have here a selection of some of Dahl’s other works of varying age and audience- some of it, you will certainly know. Some of it, you may not! Read on!
When a young girl named Matilda learns that she has mysterious, magical powers, she finds a whole world of possibilities opening up in front of her. Finding an ally in her kind and generous teacher, Miss Honey, Matilda takes on her parents as well as her school’s awful headmaster, Mrs. Trunchbull, and manages to improve a good few lives- including her own!
Kiss, Kiss (1960)
It’s well known that Roald Dahl was an author for children, but as good as his novels for the younger folk are, his fiction for adults may be even better. Drawing on the same sharp wit and turns of phrase that make James and the Giant Peach (also a film, by the way) and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar so delightfully addictive, Dahl applies his talent to these more mature stories and subjects to the most tantalizing effect. In “The Landlady,” you are asked to wonder what makes it so hard for an old woman’s guests to leave. In “William and Mary,” a scientist helps William carry on with life after death in a strange and interesting way, and Mary decides she rather likes the idea. “Royal Jelly” is about the poorly-devised experimentations of a beekeeper, and the far-reaching consequences. You’ll come away from the collection feeling like you’ve just read a weird and wonderful cross between Ray Carver and Vincent Price, and in the very best of ways.
The BFG (1982)
A classic, and a prime example of how Dahl can take a normally barbaric subject and turn it into a completely delightful kids’ novel. This time, a girl named Sophie is kidnapped by a Giant- but not just any old giant, but the Big Friendly Giant! Unfortunately, the dream-catching BFG is the only nice one of the bunch, and the rest of them are named things like “Bone Cruncher” and “Child Chewer.” However, with enough snozzcumbers, and some help from the Queen of England, the partnership between Sophie and the BFG proves to be too much for the other nasty giants, and by the end the world is a much safer place for children everywhere.
Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984)
This, the first part of Dahl’s autobiography, chronicles his life through age twenty, with a particular focus on his schooling. You’ll learn about his love of sweets and candy, the most horrible prank he ever pulled on anyone (The Great Mouse Plot of 1924) and the inevitable consequences, a later, equally ill-advised prank with equally inevitable consequences, the car accident which could have ended his life, but in the end only threatened the livelihood of his nose, and other various adventures at school and at home. As he reaches age twenty, he gets his first real job (for Shell oil company) and the book ends, to be continued in…
Going Solo (1986)
Dahl’s employment with Shell Oil took him to Africa, where a large portion of this book takes place. He writes at length about the strange people he encounters in this foreign land, remaining there until he found himself enlisting in the RAF as a pilot. From then on, he writes of his adventures as a pilot in Greece and Vichy France – some spectacular, some harrowing, and all worth reading.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970)
Now a well-received Wes Anderson film, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows its eponymous hero as he steals chickens, outwits farmers, and uses every bit of his wily, foxy brain to give woodland creatures a better life. It is one of Dahl’s earlier works, but already his themes of clumsy, nasty adults, karmic punishment of the greedy, as well as virtuosity, generosity and cleverness winning the day are already visible in full force, carried along from their major debuts in Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
AND NOW, A DRAWING!
In honor of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s 50th anniversary, we invite you to go to our library’s Facebook page, and comment on our Roald Dahl post with your personal favorite Roald Dahl book. On July 31st, we will randomly select two commenters to win a Roald Dahl prize pack. If you’ve got a clear favorite, get to that page and leave a comment! And, if you haven’t read anything by Roald Dahl just yet, pick one of my suggestions from above and get reading!