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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:05 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Another one read today, Boy. I expect a focus of my dissertation will be overprotective parents wishing to shield their sensitive offspring from frightening stories. That's not an attitude I have much sympathy with where Dahl's concerned, but revisiting this book has made me realise that it was the one Dahl book that did frighten me as a child. My greatest fear as a boy, I believe now, was that I would one day have to fight in the army. It was a scary time in the early 1990s with the Gulf War going on, and I still remember being woken up one morning specifically to be told the war was over. My fears could have been allayed if I had only asked about conscription, but at that age I didn't know how to articulate them. This book ends with Dahl going off to East Africa with the RAF. He writes of it as an exciting time, but the things that excited him - wild animals and flying planes - didn't excite me at all. I hated the sound of all that dustiness. Even scarier were the beatings Dahl suffered at school (which at least I knew didn't go on any longer, at least not at my school - and happily my headteacher Mr Giles was a very benevolent man), and the episode where he has his adenoids out, which still makes me wince. He takes great pains to emphasise that medical procedures without anaesthetic are very irregular nowadays, but that doesn't take the nastiness out of him feeling his mouth is on fire and spitting blood and chunks of flesh. It's a good book, though, this one. Dahl hasn't forgotten the scariness of being a child and he communicates it most effectively. I don't think my own fear of elements of this book caused any lasting trauma, but the memories rereading it has dredged up raises some interesting questions.


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That’s really interesting, Gareth. I find myself fascinated by the subject of childhood fears. What particularly strikes me is how very vivid they are: that aspect disappears in adulthood – at least, it has done for me. As an adult, I experience not so much fear, but anxiety – that slow process that gnaws away inside the brain. It is quite different from the terror of the moment that I still remember from childhood.

Fear, horror, terror … these are strange feelings. For me, they are not evoked by those ludicrous gorefests that modern horror films specialise in: such films do nothing for me at all. No, horror is a certain state of mind – a state of mind that we experience most vividly and most intensely, I think, in our childhood years.

Sorry if I get a bit autobiographical here, but it’s hard to speak of these things without bringing autobiography into it. But I sometimes do wonder whether my love of ghost stories and of horror films is merely some perverse attempt to recapture what I used to feel as a child, but cannot any more. For, as a child, I used to be terrified of all sorts of things. Looking back, my being transplanted from one environment to a very different one at the age of five – my being removed so abruptly from all that I had been familiar with – was a traumatic experience: after that transplantation, I used to get very vivid nightmares – so vivid, that I remember many of them even some forty-five years afterwards. I even remember being afraid to go to bed at night because I knew I’d get those nightmares again. I used to be particularly afraid of school, where I couldn’t understand a word of what anyone was saying. I used to try to fake all sorts of illness to be able to stay at home, but unfortunately, my father was a doctor and there was no fooling him. One of the happiest days of my life was that day when my father confirmed that yes, I really do have mumps, and I have to be off school for the next two weeks!

But that vivid sense of immediate terror is not something I have ever felt in my adult years. Anxieties, yes – but never the immediacy of terror. That’s what is so fascinating about it all – the memory of a feeling one can’t feel any more. Some of the most effective depictions of fear are those that capture that element of childhood fears, I think.


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Evie
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2010 9:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I certainly still experience sheer terror in terms of one or two things - things that have stayed with me from childhood - and I don't really have that sense of having left anything behind.  It is interesting what changes as you get older, and what doesn't.

I am very much enjoying your accounts of Dahl's books, Chibiabos!


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Caro



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2010 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I feel terror sometimes after a nightmare; in fact that is how I define a nightmare.  An unpleasant dream not accompanied by that terror is not a nightmare, just a horrid dream.  And I wonder if that does have some connection with childhood terrors.  I would say if asked that I had an untroubled childhood really (though my mother died when I was only four and my father when I was nearly 16, so that may be some sort of denial really), but I do recall odd feelings at night when the walls would move distressingly and frighten me.  I would sometimes have to go and seek comfort in my grandmother's bed, even though my sister was with me in my room.  Once this happened when I had a friend staying and it quite spoiled her visit for me.  I can't describe it, but the wallpaper seemed to move and it didn't matter if I had my eyes open or shut.  Or perhaps it did, and one way helped.  There was no specific thing to be afraid of, though, it was quite nebulous.  

I don't often feel fear now, though I am sure I would if I heard someone inside the house at night for instance, and I am not someone who travels easily in bad conditions.  Just today there is a heavy frost and I am tense about having to drive after it (even though that won't be till 2pm when hopefully it will have melted).  But perhaps that is just anxiety as Himadri says and not actual fear.  

But I certainly don't seek out terror in books or television or movies - though I do love crime novels.  But I am sure that's more for the puzzles and characters.  I don't really enjoy those movies where the music goes odd and you are expected to be terrified.  I haven't seen one for a long time, though.  Obvioiusly many people do like this sort of pseudo-terror as they seek them out.  I tend to talk about terror movies where sometimes I think they are called horror movies.  The difference for me is that a horror movie is more imaginative or magical - vampires, werewolfs etc, whereas a terror movie is like Gaslight (there must be hundreds of modern ones, but I don't see them)  or those movies where people are trying to escape someone creeping up on them.  

Cheers, Caro.


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Mikeharvey



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PostPosted: Thu Jun 10, 2010 8:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gareth, your remarks about dreading having to fight in the army I found very interesting.  I had to do National Service in the R.A.F. when I was 18, but I can't remember now whether I had any dread or fear of conflict breaking out somewhere and being involved in it.  But it's so long ago that maybe I just can't remember.  The whole experience was interesting and opened my eyes to a lot of things.  As for other childhood fears, I remember being afraid of both dogs and cats up to the age of about six. Where that came from I don't know.  It disappeared when we acquired a cat of our own.  
Michael


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 10, 2010 5:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

E/V (and Himadri on another thread), I'm delighted that I'm not writing these things purely for my own benefit, though they may prove useful reference points for my essay. I am making more copious notes on each book as I go along too, but wouldn't wish to subject anyone to them.

Mike, I was terrified of cats and dogs and most other animals as a child. We only had goldfish in our house, which I liked (no need to make physical contact with them, which may have been what i dreaded with other animals) and later on rabbits which I found very annoying (my father and brothers thought it would be lovely having rabbits but didn't realise quite how much looking after they required, and nobody minded too much when they eventually joined the choir invisible). The only dogs I ever encountered as a small child tried to knock me over, and my neighbours had a cat that scratched me and drew blood. Understandably I'm not much of an animal person even now, though I have always loved hedgehogs, birds and butterflies dearly.

Today's haul: firstly, James and the Giant Peach. I must have been really quite little when I read this. My suspicions as I approached it this time were that it started to sag a bit once the peach escaped from the garden, purely on the basis of not remembering any of the story past that point. I'd even momentarily forgotten the peach's eventual fate (being impaled on the spike of the Empire State Building), though I remembered what was going to happen before I reached that bit. The ending where the children of New York rush to eat the peach before it goes off is delightful. The final conceit - that James settles down to write a book, and that book is the one you have just finished reading - was repeated twenty years later almost word for word at the end of The BFG.

This was the book that really made Dahl's name as a children's writer, and the first Charlie book a few years later cemented it. What I found most impressive about this book is his prodigious imagination, which I think is at its most extravagant. The idea of animals setting up home inside the stone of a freakishly large peach is inspired. The animals are well characterised, there are a couple of fine villains in Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, and the story is well paced, not outstaying its welcome. Perhaps it drags a little in the middle, but I don't notice that so much now because I can read a lot faster than I did when I was 7. The edition I read contains the original illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. They're beautiful. I cede to nobody in my admiration of Dahl's partnership with Quentin Blake, but a regrettable side-effect of it is that the two are now so inseparable that after Dahl's death Blake was commissioned to provide illustrations for practically all the Dahl books he hadn't done at the time of publication. (The Minpins is the only exception I can think of, and the volumes of autobiography which have mainly photographic illustrations). This means it's difficult to get hold of Dahl books without Blake illustrations nowadays, and, good though Blake is, this book proves he doesn't - and shouldn't - have a monopoly on illustrating Dahl.



Secondly, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, written about elsewhere. I was going to read Fantastic Mr Fox too, but I want to leave it until later. Better to get some of my less favourite ones out of the way first. Think I'll give Going Solo a go tomorrow - not sure I've read it cover to cover before.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

More Dahl books finished since Friday:

Going Solo, his second volume of autobiography. I don't think I had read the whole thing before, but I must have read some of it, otherwise how would I have known the Swahili word for cook? I must confess, the story of a young man working for Shell and then piloting planes in East Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean did not fill me with any great enthusiasm beforehand, but in the event I liked it quite a lot. Its success lies primarily, I suspect, in the fact that Dahl has good stories to tell and is a great storyteller, whatever else one may say about him. It's quite violent for a children's book - there is one episode where a man gets shot in the face - but the tender moments abide after reading it. A couple in particular I expect to remain in the memory - the part where Dahl delivers a secret package to a soldier who is about to go underground, and suddenly realises this man will almost certainly die; and the part where, quite some time into the war, Dahl comes across a group of Jewish refugees and suddenly discovers about the Holocaust, having been conscious until that time that he was fighting against Hitler's Nazis but still unaware of the full horror of what was being perpetrated.

George's Marvellous Medicine is a fun book, but I wonder if familiarity has dulled its power over me. I rather expect the same to happen with The BFG, which is one of the handful I have left to read. I had both of those books on story tapes when I was a child and as a consequence know them back to front (or frack to bunt, as the BFG says). As I read this one I could hear the every cadence of Richard Griffiths' voice in my head. Still enjoyable, but I think it might have had more effect if I hadn't known exactly what was going to happen on every page.

Danny, the Champion of the World, on the other hand, I didn't remember well, and hadn't read it since I was 9 and my class read it together. I'd forgotten - or perhaps never realised, given that the characters are not as grotesque or comic as usual and the book as a result is less assuming - how delightful it is. The villain, Victor Hazell, is a marvellously dislikeable man, and his eventual comeuppance is exhilarating. Dahl's love of nature comes through very strongly, and I can quite imagine the success Gul had, reported earlier in the thread, when reading it to his family on holiday. It's difficult to resist a book of such warmth.

The Witches is the book I expect to have most to write about in my dissertation. It may be Dahl's most gruesome. Tremendous fun, anyway. I couldn't help thinking of Nic Roeg's enjoyable film version. I can think of very few cinematic grandmothers more enchanting than Mai Zetterling in that film. It ends disagreeably, though, with Luke (who is an unnamed narrator in the book) being transformed back from his murine incarnation into a boy by renegade witch Jane Horrocks. I much prefer Dahl's sweet but morbid conclusion, that the boy as a mouse, with his shortened lifespan, has the same amount of time left to live as his grandmother, and they will live out their final few years in each other's company.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a book I know better through its filmic manifestations than through the book, and very fine both films are, if flawed. It may be sacrilege, but despite Gene Wilder and those lovely songs I think I prefer Tim Burton's vision of the book. The book, when first published in 1964, described the Oompa-Loompas as being not from Loompaland but from darkest Africa. One of the children (I suspect Charlie, though I don't have the original version to hand at the moment) suggests they may even be made of chocolate. Understandably the Oompa-Loompas in the film were made orange and green and the book was swiftly revised. The first film was released under the title Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory because of Charlie being a common slang term for a black man. I'm not sure the new title is much better. There is a horribly saccharine moment at the end which Dahl detested. It's certainly deeply un-Dahl-like:

Wonka: But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he he always wanted.
Charlie: What happened?
Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

Never mind Charlie Bucket, a sick bucket's what's required. Anyway, I'm neglecting the book, which is quite rightly considered a classic. It's a morality tale, I suppose, about the good being rewarded and the bad punished. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the chocolate factories. Veruca Salt is a particularly objectionable creation, and one feels quite heartened by her eventual assault by squirrels and subsequent journey down the garbage chute. Wonka's a lovely character, jokey and capricious. My memories of the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, are of it being a massive letdown. I'll have to see whether they are accurate or not.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 15, 2010 11:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I didn't think Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator could be as disagreeable as I remembered it. In fact it is so, so much worse. One of its greatest flaws is that it's simply deadly dull. There are interminably tedious scenes set in the White House and featuring the President and his various aides that I cannot imagine could possible hold the slightest appeal to even the oddest of children. Dahl's plotting is atrocious judged by his normally very high standards, and the limp punning jokes that appear throughout fall abysmally flat. The cumulative effect of all the things wrong with this book is to produce a kind of sub-Lewis Carroll mush. I cannot conceive of a single reason for this book to have been written, it's so devoid of ideas, other than for the sake of having a money-spinning sequel to the fantastically successful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As it is I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Fortunately all the books left to read I already know to be good.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A rather better haul to report since getting the last one out of the way:

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke is a lovely little story that Dahl wrote shortly before his death for the Dyslexia Institute, who received its proceeds. It's about a priest whose latent dyslexia is triggered by the stress of taking a vicar's job in a country town. It manifests itself in his pronouncing important words as if they are spelt backwards. It all begins innocently enough with him saying "Good god" as he pats dogs and so on. When he tells a member of his confirmation class in response to a question about communion etiquette that she should "pis gently" eyebrows are raised, and when he announces to his congregation that they are not to "krap" all along the side of the church there is uproar. Fortunately a kindly doctor diagnoses the problem and it is remedied by the installation of a rear-view mirror. All very sweet and good-natured stuff.

Fantastic Mr Fox is quite as enjoyable as I recalled. The three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, are angered by Mr Fox appropriating their livestock and arable produce to feed his starving family, and set out to catch him, but while they are tracking him down he and his subterranean chums are burrowing into their secret storerooms and divesting them of more food and drink. It's a splendidly fun story, superbly executed. The descriptions of food, as is habitual with Dahl, are quite mouthwatering.


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Apple



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PostPosted: Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My favourite Roald Dahl book was Danny Champion of the World (which made my number 8 of favourite childhood books on the other thread).  I loved the close affection shared between Danny and his father, the characture that was Victor Hazell and as I said in my sum up of the book on the other thread, my abiding memory of it is crying with laughter at the scene near the end where the drugged pheasants are starting to awaken.



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