Sunday, November 19, 2006

Roald Dahl - Wicked Bedtime Reading

Reading bedtime stories with my kids is one of the best things about being a parent. I love nestling with the boys and a book; they're calm and completely absorbed in the present moment. It's a bonus when the books we're reading make us giggle senselessly. It's a special treat when the books are darkly humorous absurd tales featuring horrid, gruesome characters, what a bonus!

I always had my nose in a book as a kid in the 70s and 80s, but I never read anything by Roald Dahl. I asked my mom why I never read any Dahl books and she claimed not to have heard of him even though she's a bibliophile and a retired elementary school teacher. Sure I watched the odd and menacing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory anytime it was on tv. Does that count? Did I judge books by their covers? Of course. Anyway, I was a fan of mysteries, paranormal stories and girly books. I was too immersed in Nancy Drew, Agatha Christy, Madeleine L'Engle and Judy Blume to notice these quirky books with the squiggly line drawing covers.

I read an article about Dahl's complicated life and prickly character in the New Yorker earlier this year (I identified with his dark humor and sense of social justice - I'll ignore the other parts). Now that I've discovered the pleasures of his dry wicked wit, I'm anxious to tackle the whole Dahl library with Elliot.

We started with the Enormous Crocodile about an ill tempered croc who has designs to eat "a nice, juicy child" and spends the whole tale tricking and deceiving everyone in order to get a child. Elliot thought it was hilarious. Next we read The Twits about Mr. and Mrs. Twit who are indeed grotesque, they never bathe or brush their hair, play mean and horrible tricks on each other endlesslly (worm spaghetti, frogs in the bed). Our most recent read was George's Marvelous Medicine, in which George makes a disgusting magical potion that ends up killing his beast of a grandmother. This story was particularly misanthropic, no one cared that grandma died, she was nuisance. But as with all Dahl stories, if you're a mean, nasty person who's cruel to kids then you'll get your due.

Roald Dahl died in 1990. According to his granddaughter, the family gave him a "sort of Viking funeral. He was buried with his snooker cues, some very good burgundy, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw."


Michele said...

Hi - found your Blog as a result of the current Children's Lit. Carnival... You're in for some treats - Roald Dahl has written some marvellous books ! My own particular childhood favourites were Charlie and the Chocolate and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (with the vermicious knids !

And as an adult I fell in love with Matilda, a marvellous magical tale that appeals to my remembered book-mad child self...

Nancy said...

Great post. What fun to find Dahl now!

Sheila said...

I also love Dahl's books. I love the way he combines the fantastic with just the right touch of dark humor. Matilda is my favorite, and my son also loved The BFG. I read a biography of Dahl a while back, and he certainly seemed to have some rather... unpleasant ... qualities, but that doesn't diminish my enjoyment of his books.