Dahl, Roald

About the Author:

 

Roald Dahl was born in Wales in 1916 of Norwegian parents, who named him after Roald Amundsen.  He spent his childhood in England and was educated at Repton.  At eighteen he joined the Shell Oil Company in Africa and when the Second World War broke out, he became a fighter pilot for the RAF, serving in Syria and Greece.  In 1942 he went to Washington as Assistant Air Attache and it was there that he began to write.  He later lived in Buckinghamshire and eventually died in Oxford in 1990.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

4 out of 5

(2 books)

The BFG

Sophie is snatched from the orphanage where she lives in the middle of the night and whisked off to Giant Land.  Terrified that she is about to be eaten, Sophie is soon relieved to find that she has been taken by the only Big Friendly Giant in Giant Land.  As she learns about the BFG and his monstrous child-eating neighbours, Sophie formulates a plan to put a stop to the cannibalistic activities of the likes of the Bloodbottler and the Fleshlumpeater.

This story will always hold a special place in my heart as it, and the fantastic animated film featuring the voice talent of David Jason, were a Big Friendly part of my childhood.  To this day I always describe unpleasant-tasting things in the terminology the BFG uses for snozzcumbers.  Anyway, enough gushing and on with the review...

Like all truly great children's authors, Dahl doesn't shy away from dark and horrific concepts, clearly understanding that they're an important part of all lasting fairy tales.  Here it is the activities of the bad giants which provide the horror, with gruesome descriptions of the way that they devour children whole.  Some (foolish) adults may think that this will make the story unsuitable for children, but the truth is that without some real danger this book would be little more than a shallow skip through lovely land which children would find uninteresting.  Also, having that darker element means that there's something to genuinely send shivers up the spine of adult readers too.

Of course, most of the book is not grim.  Instead we get whimsical elements like the BFG's jumbly speaksing which is most insuredly growsing on you.  Don't get me wrong, at first it makes the book awkward to read, but when your brain gets to grips with it, it becomes a lot of fun.  It also helps if you've seen the animated film and can put David Jason's BFG voice to it in your head.

This book is still, of course, intended for younger readers and that in itself will mean that some adult readers will find it unpalatable.  However, if you can set aside your pretensions and your years of cynicism then you should find this to be a very enjoyable modern fairy tale.

4 out of 5

 

The Witches

A young boy is taught about the dangers of REAL WITCHES by his grandmother.  When they go on holiday to Bournemouth together, however, he soon discovers that the very hotel they're staying in is playing host to the annual meeting of all England's witches and their terrible leader, the Grand High Witch herself.

Dahl has a talent for taking a children's story and planting in it some seeds of genuine horror.  As a child your mind doesn't dwell too much on the implications of the gory details, but as an adult coming back to this story after quarter of a century, you may find yourself genuinely shocked.  I have to say that I was impressed by just how gruesome the beginning of this book is, where the main character is taugh all the various ways that witches like to do away with children (including being turned into a pheasant, shot and then fed to their family!).

After the grim introduction, the rest of the book is less horrific and instead becomes a classic story of a young boy and his iron-willed grandmother trying to defeat the evil witches.  It's good fun to read, albeit not too challenging for an adult.

One interesting element for me was that Dahl taps into his own Norwegian ancestry for some inspiration here, giving it a nice personal touch from the author.  Also, otherwise odd details like the cigar-smoking made me wonder if this book is also partially a loving ode to Dahl's own grandmother.

4 out of 5

Read more...

Fantasy (here)