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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2010 1:38 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Though I like Danny, the Champion of the World and have fond memories of reading it as a class in Year 5, it's not one of my very favourites. It's a bit of an odd one out - there's less raucous humour and caricature in it than there is in most of his other books, but the eventual meting out of justice is no less satisfying than it is in, say, Fantastic Mr Fox or Matilda.


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Melanie D



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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 2:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's great news about your dissertation, Chibiabos! Well done! What a great subject!

I always find it hard to choose a favourite amongst Roald Dahl's children's books. Not only are they brilliant in themsleves - but, like Gul, I associate them with so many lovely family memories...

I think I've shared most of Dahl's stories as bedtime reading with my daughter at one time or another. I must admit, I have a great affection for The Twits (sorry Himadri!) Again like Gul, it's a vivid holiday memory that underlies my attachment to that, I think. I read it every night to my daughter during a rainy, but very happy, week in Wales. Mind you, as beard decorators go, I suppose Mr Twit's a bit of an amateur really - didn't Blackbeard put sparklers in his beard as terror inspiring beard-bling? Not sure who he was terrifying most, though! A bit of a risky business, I would imagine!... Anyway, that's just a wayward train of thought.... back to Roald Dahl.

Though it is so hard to choose, I think Matilda is my favourite. I especially love those early chapters where Matilda discovers the library and is first captivated by the magic of Dickens and other literary greats. The book love going on there - and all that celebration of book-magic and libraries as thresholds to exciting discovery and adventure, is so wonderfully and beguilingly done. A touchstone moment in children's literature, I think...



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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 3:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dahl's very good at fetishising books - in a good way, naturally... There are numerous examples from among his own output, but my favourite comes in The BFG. The BFG has had no formal education, but one night he "borrows" a copy of Nicholas Nickleby from a child's bedroom and reads it many times, thereby teaching himself to read. He doesn't speak or write particularly well, but I can see this might be encouraging to a child who perhaps isn't the fastest learner but is excited by books all the same. The BFG's lack of temporal awareness may be more problematic - he intends to return the book to the boy who owns it, despite having taken it from him 80 years ago. And of course when he has saved the world from child-eating giants, he settles down and becomes a writer! It's one of the most lovely instances of wish-fulfilment in books.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2010 12:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just haven't read enough Dahl to be familiar with The BFG, but this synopsis rather reminds me of Lloyd Jone's Mr Pip, which has Matilda (can there be more deliberation about this than I assume?) in Papua New Guinea learning to read via Great Expectations and finds a great empathy with Pip of that book.  It is an adult's book though though not so happy as this.  (In fact at times very very gruelling to read.)

Cheers, Caro.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Today marks the start of work on my dissertation, to which end I have read three of the handful of Dahl books with which I was not hitherto familiar, to wit, Esio Trot, Revolting Rhymes and The Minpins, with an eye to identifying things small-minded parents might complain about.

Esio Trot is a joy, the story of a lonely man who woos the lady on the balcony below his flat by pretending he knows how to make her tortoise grow. It's such a charming story, and Quentin Blake's illustrations are among the loveliest I've seen. There is a cheeky bit about the word 'up' being spelt 'pu' backwards (hints at the direction Dahl would shortly take with The Vicar of Nibbleswicke), and a moment where Mr Hoppy gets very excited by Mrs Silver's promise to be his "slave for life", but otherwise not much anyone might object to.

Revolting Rhymes, like all Dahl's poetry, I found deeply pedestrian. He is competent at scansion, but his language is so ordinary that it fails to involve the mind. Occasionally he happens on a pretty or clever phrase, which lightens the leaden effect of his writing. The book consists of six nasty retellings of nursery tales - Prince calls Goldilocks a "dirty slut" (!), Ugly Sisters decapitated, Little Red Riding Hood dispatches wolf with a pistol she keeps in her knickers, etc. It would be rather fun if it weren't so dull.

The Minpins, published posthumously, is one of Dahl's sweetest books, and it shows signs of a softening of his sensibilities. There is a fairly gruesome monster who is made all the scarier for the fact that it is never seen due to the cloud of smoke and fire that surrounds it. Little Billy overcomes it with the help of the tiny Minpins who live in the wood and the birds, who carry them about. It's quite beautiful in places, and part of that effect is due to the illustrations being by Patrick Benson and not Dahl's regular collaborator Quentin Blake. I remember loving a book of Robin Hood illustrated by Benson that my teacher read us in school when I was about seven. Benson's drawings are more restrained and less comic than Blake's, which suits this story well.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another Dahl book down - Rhyme Stew. This is his rudest children's book, and bears a warning on the cover that it's not for the very young. His uninteresting poetic style is redeemed here by some racy material. Bare-bottomed girls and the like. There is one poem which culminates in a vicar thrusting his hand into a woman's knickers and another about a schoolboy receiving extra tuition after school from his gym mistress, alongside fun retellings of stories like The Hare and the Tortoise and The Emperor's New Clothes. The biography of Dahl I'm reading suggests his poetry exhibits some of the qualities of Carroll and of Lear, which may explain why I don't much like it, though I'm not convinced Dahl is fit to lick the boots of either of them where poetry is concerned.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 08, 2010 12:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some more Dahl books down in my quest to demolish his entire output.

Dirty Beasts gets the poetry out of the way, thankfully. It's not engaging stuff. About half of the poems end with people being eaten by animals, though the brighter points include a morality tale about a girl who gets a porcupine stuck up her bottom because of sitting down without looking first, and one about a spoilt American boy who refuses to give his pet anteater any food, then introduces the anteater to his aunt (which the anteater hears as 'ant'), and ends up as lunch himself along with the grouchy relative. A couple of moments of dodgy xenophobia, which might not be quite so problematic if one didn't have the feeling that they were heartfelt.

The Enormous Crocodile is a fairly slight and not entirely satisfactory story, though beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake. It's about a crocodile who wants to have a child for lunch. He poses as various inanimate objects, his schemes foiled each time by the other animals who do not like him. The story ends gratifyingly nastily, with the elephant flinging the crocodile round and round and letting go so that he flies directly into the sun and explodes. Not very likely, no, but then my suspicions of inauthenticity were aroused early on when the animals started talking to each other.

Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety was published posthumously in 1991, a commission from the British Railways Board. The text consists largely of dos and don'ts, but there is an introduction where Dahl apologises in advance for the sermonising that will follow, and writes about how adults forget what it is like to be a child, which could come in handy when I eventually get round to writing this dissertation. There are lovely illustrations by Quentin Blake of, for instance, a child being graphically decapitated by a post when he leans out of the window of a moving train, and a railway porter being unwittingly drenched in urine.

The Gremlins is Dahl's first published work. It originally came out in 1943 and spent many decades out of print until it was reissued in 2006. It seems an odd document now because it was a collaboration between Dahl and Disney, and for a couple of years was intended to be made into a propaganda film. Merchandising was even produced based on the preliminary designs, but in the end the film was abandoned and the book was all that came of it. The story's frankly not very good. Dahl's plotting is poor, his prose dull and his characterisation nonexistent. It's about the little 'gremlins' that RAF pilots believed tampered with their engines. Dahl would later claim to have invented the term 'gremlin', something which is demonstrably untrue. The most endearing thing about the book turns out to be the Disney drawings, which are sweet. The gremlins occasionally resemble the Disneyfied Piglet, though obviously they are much more morally defensible.

I've also just finished Jeremy Treglown's unauthorised biography of Roald Dahl, which came out in 1994, four years after Dahl's death. I don't know if one should be more sceptical of an authorised biography or an unauthorised one, but even the least sensational biography of Dahl would surely have to conclude that he was an immensely dislikeable man. His anti-Semitism is quite well known and has never been satisfactorily disproved, but he seems to have been disagreeable on almost every conceivable level. Treglown recounts a meeting between Dahl and Salman Rushdie in which Dahl pointedly held forth on what a wonderful man Enoch Powell was. The various nastinesses are complemented by entertaining stories of Dahl's many practical jokes, which still can't have been much fun if one found oneself on the receiving end. An interesting thing to come out of it is just how many of the most memorable and amiable elements of Dahl's books resulted from the suggestions of his editors, particularly in later years when his regular editor was Stephen Roxburgh, a real unsung hero. The first drafts of a good handful of the best books Dahl produced in the '80s sound quite awful compared to what they became after Roxburgh's judicious suggestions were incorporated by Dahl.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 08, 2010 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another to add to the list - The Magic Finger. I remember reading this as a child and not taking to it, but revisiting it now I can see a charm and felicity of storytelling that endears it greatly to me. The nameless narrator is a girl who, infuriated by her hunting neighbours who flaunt the corpse of a deer they have shot, puts "the magic finger" on all of them. They awake to find themselves transformed into the ducks they have been using for target practice. They fly out and try to make a nest, while the real ducks take over their house. Some bargaining ensues, with the ducks making it clear how unfair it is to kill them. The family sees sense and there follows a lovely passage where we see them at one with nature, and resolving to change their surname from Gregg to Egg. It's not a long book, but it's one of Dahl's most likeable.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 08, 2010 10:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wonder why you like that more as an adult than as a child, and if that would be typical, Gareth.  I haven't read it, but from you write it may well be a message that would appeal more to an adult than a boy.  Girls might feel differently.

As regards railway safety - there's a lot to be said for keeping yourself inside a train.  I remember being on a tourist train just doing a short circuit at a historical theme place near where we lived.  My son, can't remember his age at the time, but perhaps 9, insisted on putting his hands out to grab the leaves of trees or something.  Eventually a branch struck his hand and left him with little cuts and scratches all over it.  My son as a child 'saw colours' when he got shocked and that day he 'saw colours' and we had to curtail our visit.  Silly boy - hope it taught him a lesson.

Cheers, Caro.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2010 12:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think what you write about the book's message appealing more to adults than to children is probably quite right. I didn't have any strong feelings on the matter as a child, but as an adult the central message of being nice to each other - live and let live, I suppose - is something I feel strongly.



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