Roald Dahl – A Storyteller’s Legacy

Roald DahlBorn in Cardiff, on 13th September 1916, Roald Dahl is most well-known for his books for children. My favourites include Fantastic Mr Fox, The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me, and The BFG. I grew up thoroughly enjoying literature in all its forms, but especially the splendiforous stories and revolting rhymes of Roald Dahl. I am proud to share a birthday with a master storyteller of gargantuan proportions, and have thoroughly enjoyed the recent centenary celebrations… but who was the real Roald Dahl?   

He was not only a dynamic raconteur, but also a keen traveller and an RAF pilot during the Second World War. He survived great personal tragedies including the loss of his eldest daughter, aged only seven. He helped invent the WDT Valve (a device for draining water from the brain) after his son developed hydrocephalus, and wrote over 39 separate published works during his lifetime, including screenplays and biographies, as well as fiction.

An Outrageous Imagination

The Twits

An extract from The Twits

Dahl has been, at times, a controversial figure (being accused, on occasion, of misogyny, racism and anti-Semitism). The description of George’s Grandmother as an “old hag”, the rather un-PC Witches and Oompa Loompas, the cruel, ugly characters in positions of authority – Roald Dahl was not afraid to take imagination to its extremes, despite what anyone might think. But he wrote for children, and he was certainly conscious of impressionable minds, as illustrated in The Twits.

Stories for Adults

Dahl also wrote short stories for adults, with a similar outrageous, sadistic (occasionally risqué) irreverence. Some of these were recently dramatised on Radio 4. I particularly enjoyed the squeamish suspense of Poison, a story set in India, in which a doctor attempts to rescue a man lying in bed, frozen in fear, aware that a deadly snake has crawled between the sheets…

Roald Dahl's Giant Peach

The Giant Peach lands in Cardiff city centre

Stories for Children

It seems that adults look back at Dahl’s stories for children with a mixture of adoration and horror. We balk at the macabre, the brutality and the grotesque. But we also remember something of what it was like to be a child, to triumph over the nasty farmers with Fantastic Mr Fox, to revel in the simple joy of catching dreams or eating sweets. I think it’s important to realise that these stories were written for children, and to enjoy them as such.

A Legacy for Cardiff

Roald Dahl was born to Norwegian parents in Llandaff, a suburb of Cardiff, and baptised in the Norwegian Church, which still exists in what is now called Cardiff Bay. Although he lived the majority of his life elsewhere, the people of Cardiff were determined to make the most of this centenary year by putting on a performance like no other. City of the Unexpected last weekend was a spectacle of Dahlesque imagination brought to life. You can read my review of Saturday’s events here…

Fantastic Mr Fox on Cardiff Castle

Fantastic Mr Fox on Cardiff Castle

And see my Facebook page for more photos from City of the Unexpected, the biggest arts spectacle Cardiff has ever seen.

Other celebrations include an exhibition of Quentin Blake’s illustrations at the National Museum of Wales (running until 20th November), as well as a variety of Dahl related events throughout 2016, including during the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival, where Damian Walford Davies chaired a discussion on the question “How Welsh is Roald Dahl?” ahead of the publication of a new collection of essays – Roald Dahl: Wales of the Unexpected.

Celebrating 100 Years

The award-winning biography Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock, was re-released in May, along with the publication of a selection of Dahl’s letters to his mother, Love from Boy. There has even been a Scots translation of some of Dahl’s work, creating Chairlie and the Chocolate Works with Wullie Wonka and the Heedrum-Hodrums…

There is an archive of Dahl centenary radio programmes on the BBC website, as well as a documentary about his Welsh childhood which is still available on iPlayer. Alongside all this, there is a wealth of information, images and recordings on the official Roald Dahl website.

I’d say we’ve had a pretty good go at celebrating one of Britain’s most famous storytellers, and I have no doubt that Dahl will be as popular and controversial as ever when we celebrate again, in another hundred years.

One thought on “Roald Dahl – A Storyteller’s Legacy

  1. As a very young child being read Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in school, a chapter at a time, I was gripped by the urge to get hold of the book and not have to wait so long to find out where the story would end up going.

    Dahl gave me the work of his imagination, which was at least, in part, the catalyst for the ‘playfully transgressive’ aspects of my own imagination.

    My momentary thoughts of ‘uh-oh, this crowd is getting a bit crushy’ as people converged on Cardiff Castle from every available direction AND taking over half an hour to extricate myself from said crowd (subsequent to which great escape people were apparently unable to get out of the area for around two hours), all that aside,City Of The Unexpected was a joy for all ages.

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