Roald Dahl: The real BFG

Roald Dahl was a literary magician, celebrated for his children’s classics and dark-humoured short stories for adults. His books have become timeless additions to bookshelves the world over, treasured by children and adults alike. As the centenary of Dahl’s birth, 2016 is set to be a jam-packed celebration of all things Dahl: embark on a voyage through ‘The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl’ at the Southbank Centre; enhance your vocabulary with The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary; and join the party on Roald Dahl Day (September 13th), pitched as “the biggest ever global celebration of Roald Dahl’s birthday” by organisers.

Born in Llandaff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, Dahl’s childhood would later colour his fictional worlds: his love of chocolate was the premise for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; his years of misery at St Peter’s boarding school were exposed in Boy: Tales of Childhood. Before he became a successful children’s author, Dahl served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War; having attained five aerial victories throughout his wartime career, he qualified as a flying ace. With the exception of Shot Down Over Libya, an anecdotal tale about his time in the RAF, Dahl did not explicitly write about his military exploits, although implicit references playing upon stereotypes of military personnel can be seen in a number of his characters, notably Miss Trunchbull from Matilda.

Dahl’s humour, wit and wordplay work harmoniously, creating stories with universal appeal. As a child, my father read me The Enormous Crocodile on an almost weekly basis at a local café; years later, it remains a story that makes me smile. The first story to be illustrated by Quentin Blake, The Enormous Crocodile sets itself apart from other Dahl books. The protagonist is the eponymous Enormous Crocodile who tries his hand – or rather, tail – at being a picnic bench, a see-saw and a seat on a merry-go-round in his desperate attempt to find a “nice juicy little child” for his lunch, and gets his comeuppance in a hilarious, though child-like, way. Dahl’s ability to not just tell stories but show them, from a child’s perspective of the world, is arguably what makes his tales so endearing.

Whilst Dahl’s own original stories cannot be faulted, his mastery of rhyme and ability to create side-splitting humour makes Revolting Rhymes arguably one of his best, though lesser-known, works. Revolting Rhymes is a collection of fairytales, reworked into verse, and complete with alternative – and entirely unpredictable – endings: in short, hilarious parodies which outshine the happily ever after nonsense of the traditional fairy tale world. Of the six stories, ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf’ is, hands-down, my favourite. I remember performing it with a friend in primary school, in fits of giggles over the ending. Spoiler: Red Riding Hood – in feminist form – “whips a pistol from her knickers”, shoots the wolf and makes off with a wolfskin coat. Dahl’s magic comes under many guises, and there truly is no better time to rediscover it.


Rosemary Maher


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