This week marks the 101st birthday of the peerless Roald Dahl. In an effort to articulate what he meant, we asked our young (and young at heart) writers to honour him.
Roald Dahl, the much-loved storyteller was born on this week in 1916. Happy 101st birthday Mr Dahl! From The Twits to The Enormous Crocodile to The Minpins, most of us have a favourite Dahl work. We decided to find out what those favourite Roald Dahl books might be, so in a cross-generational exercise, we asked some of our writers to help us make a list and to also say something about the man.
Ingeborg van Teeseling, TBS writer
I must have been in my very early twenties when I had a chance to interview Roald Dahl. We sat in his office, a shack in his backyard where he was wrapped in an old horse blanket and I nearly froze to death. But his stories warmed me. He told me about his childhood, speaking his “secret language” of Norwegian, and losing his father and sister at a young age. And he made buzzing noises imitating the plane that crashed in the Libyan Desert while he was flying for the RAF during World War II. Not long after our talk, Dahl published Boy, quickly followed by Solo.
I was sold forever.
Eloise Viera, aged 9, TBS Next Gen writer
My two favourite Roald Dahl books are George’s Marvellous Medicine and Matilda. George’s Marvellous Medicine is really funny, especially when his grandma grows super tall. Matilda is inspiring because it shows you that you’re never too little to stand up and fight for what is right. I like Roald Dahl’s descriptive writing and how he makes up his own crazy words.
Alexandra Tselios, TBS Publisher
I was ashamed as a child that I didn’t feel a devoted love towards Roald Dahl. Every other student in my school would wax lyrical about Matilda or The BFG, yet I wanted to read about Nancy Drew and anything by Enid Blyton. I loved Gene Wilder but always found the premise of Willy Wonka annoying, so have never even read the book. So as an adult, it was not his fiction that has shaped my view of him but actually his own life and ability to create the world he wanted. A lot of people don’t know this but he was a World War II spy, and invented hundreds of new words. There’s even a Roald Dahl Dictionary produced by the Oxford University Press which took five years to compile, such was his impact to humanity’s lexicon. Like most brilliant people, he was a complicated man who overcame great childhood tragedies, saw humanity do terrible things to each other and navigate unhealthy relationships; and like most brilliant people these things didn’t hinder his ability to create a unique and interesting world for children to cherish throughout time.
Giselle Atlas, aged 12, TBS Next Gen writer
My favourite book of his has always been Matilda. I relate to her because she stands up for what she believes in and loves reading as much as I do. Her story made me feel empowered. So, I give thanks to Roald Dahl and his wonderful characters that brought happiness, and a sense of belonging to me and many others. I hope his legacy will resonate for years to come because there will always be young people who don’t fit the mould.
Mathew Mackie, TBS Editor-in-Chief
For the generation ahead of me, Roald Dahl is my JK Rowling. That one writer who allows you to look back on yourself. I can almost pick at the rigid red and yellow pinstripe spines of his books, catch my fingers in the elastic brown carpet of my nan’s library, or pull my arms into the sleeves of the faded burnt too-large orange jersey that belonged to a sport I didn’t play, but always read in. His work exists as a museum, with the fox in the ramshackle blazer working as the tour guide.
As for what work I enjoyed most, I’m unsure. There has, however, been a section that has managed to sear itself into my brain. It involves a surreptitious hunt for pheasants, the sun flitting through the dense verdant forest, the crunch of leaves under deliberately light feet, the threatening groan of a passing car, and the whispering thunder of looming danger. It’s staggering how that fictional square of greenery has maintained itself, growing as an oasis in the mind that has changed so much. A worth which is hard to put in a sentence, but speaks volumes about Dahl’s volumes.
(Edit: A snap piece of Googling filled in the two-decade long mental gap, but the above belongs to Danny the Champion of the World)
Josie Jakovac, aged 17, TBS Next Gen writer
Roald Dahl’s stories have never fallen short of brilliant. From the moment my 7-year-old hands opened Matilda, I was captivated by his beautifully fabricated world of wit, magic and unpredictable surprises. By exploring the far-off lands of Giant Country, Dar es Salaam and The Forest of Sin through Dahl’s neat, typeset pages, I learnt the power of the imagination and the value of writing. Each of his works is unique and unapologetically funny. Yet, more than that, they contain truths which timelessly resonate with people of all ages: “If you have good thoughts … you will always look lovely”; “watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places” and, above all, “somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world”.
Valerie Buhajiar, TBS Next Gen mentor
My favourite RD book is The BFG, although I must confess I read this as an adult. It immediately captivated me and held my interest right to the happy ending. The language used by the BFG was wonderful and funny at times, and I could easily imagine his home and surrounds. The book made me both happy and sad for his predicament. I especially enjoyed the growth of the friendship and trust between Sophie and the BFG and her determination to help her friend. All in all, it was a magical and great read with a story line that will always stay with me.
Loretta Barnard, TBS Editor
I have a soft spot for The Vicar of Nibbleswicke. When my boys were little, they loved the vicar’s “back-to-front dyslexia”: he said dog instead of god, stinks instead of knits and so on. When the vicar instructed people to pis the wine and krap the car, they roared with the rude hilarity of it all. My favourite adult story is Lamb to the Slaughter, where a pregnant woman unpremeditatedly kills her husband. The choice of murder weapon and its disposal are ingenious.