It’s 13th September today. You know what that means, right? That’s right – it’s Roald Dahl’s birthday. And you know what that means, right? Yep! It’s Roald Dahl Day! It’s a chance to celebrate with many different events and things going on – including the Dahlicious Dress Up Day in schools – and you can even download a Roald Dahl party pack from their website. How exciting is that? I know who I’m going to be. I’m going to be an Oompa-Loompa – I’m short enough and my hair’s a funny colour already, that’s half the work done for me.
Roald Dahl’s books played a big part in my childhood. I remember them fondly and they helped catapult me into a life of dedicated book-worming. There was The Twits, which I would read aloud in drama class, and James and the Giant Peach, which I would read under the covers at night. There was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and then Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the dangerously delicious George’s Marvellous Medicine. I was a little frightened by The BFG, no matter how friendly he was, my nana bought me Esio Trot on holiday and I was innocently awed by the cleverness of the title, and I found fun in the naughtiness of Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Matilda was quite the inspiration too.
I grew up with this great author, whose ability to invent nonsense words that made perfect sense is still rather impressive (he invented over 250 words, ya know – and you can find them in a special dictionary). I was thrilled by his silliness and amazed by his complex and imaginative tales. He, along with a few choice others, sparked in me not only a love of reading, but a love of writing too – of putting words together in such a way that you’d want to read them out loud and test yourself to see how much you could read before doubling over with the giggles. What’s even more impressive is that he is still wooing children today with his seemingly timeless novels and stories that are as relevant as ever.
It’s no wonder, then, that when I discovered his adult books in my tender teenage years (okay, so maybe I was more like 25 or so, but I was still tender), that I was left aghast and shocked. My gentle, loving author, the one who helped guide my reading habits through my early years, the one who entertained children the world over, was actually a dirty old man, like those my mother had warned me about.
Stumbling upon My Uncle Oswald and Switch Bitch in a charity shop one afternoon, I was initially overjoyed (yay, he wrotes books for adults too!) and then shocked (they’re…oh…oh my…can he really say that?). They, along with his other adult tales, are about aphrodisiacs and sexual preferences and wife swapping. They’re explicit, debauched… perverted, even. I was far from a prude, even then, but finding out that Dahl was not all sweetness and light was a little like finding out that your parents have just had sex. It’s just not right. You don’t want to hear about it and you certainly don’t want to think about it. It’s a crumbling of the mind, a beating down of the innocence you believed existed in the world. It’s obvious why his adults books are not as famous, I thought. It’s because they are disgusting.
Of course, that’s not why. The why is quite simple actually – his adult books are not as famous because they are simply not as good as his children’s books. They lack the magic and joy that his children’s literature offers the world. They don’t have quite the same shine and they don’t invoke the same smiles or mischevious giggles. They’re not bad, but they’re not Dahl.
Now, as a 30-something who has got over the inital shock of Dahl’s other personality, I can see that his adult books don’t change the wonder that he was in my childhood either. His children’s books are just as good as ever, and I still enjoy listening to the rhymes and reading his words. My tumultuous relationship with Dahl has settled down to a calm awe and a gentle gratitude that I’ve had the opportunity to know his work.
So yeah, you left me speechless for a while their Dahl, but wherever you are now, and whatever you’re doing, have a good birthday, won’t you?
On a less personal note, here are twenty facts that you may not have known about Roald Dahl.