Tomorrow is Roald Dahl Day, and Sravasti Datta speaks to a few who grew up with his books full of quirky characters, dark humour and unforgettable moments
“And Charlie,” wrote Roald Dahl, “Don’t forget about what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted. He lived happily ever after.” These lines from the legendary writer’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory must have undoubtedly brought a smile to your face. Your eyes must have lit up thinking about Dahl’s incredible characters and stories, full of magic, quirky, often dark humour and unforgettable moments. There can never be another Roald Dahl. So special is this master storyteller, that every year we celebrate his birth anniversary — September 13 — as Roald Dahl Day.
The author of Matilda, The BFG, The Twits, James And The Giant Peach, The Witches, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, Dahl set his stories in a most unbelievably believable world. He “watched with glittering eyes the whole world around him” and not just “found the greatest secrets in the most unlikely places” but even brought alive “the magic” in his characters and stories.
Did you, however, know that his English teacher didn’t think much of his writing? But Dahl — who was also an RAF pilot — would prove his teacher wrong by becoming the most well-known novelist, poet and short story writer.
Niveditha Subramaniam, author, illustrator and associate editor at Tulika Books, says she read Dahl as a child. “He empowered his protagonists that made his stories magical. He is quirky and fantastical and at the same time there’s a sense of warmth and whimsy in his books. His stories are at one level highly improbable, and yet you can’t help but believe in the magic that happens to the characters in his books. He also really understood children, I think.” Author Jahnavi Barua says Dahl’s characters are appealing because of their “curious blend of quirkiness and down-to-earthedness”.
“I like that in his writing children are credited with being clever and inventive and gentle and also vile and cruel and unkind,” says writer Arthi Anand Navaneeth. “His world of imagination is filled with real children and that always makes for interesting reading, doesn’t it?”
Media professional and writer Mahithi Pillay refers to Dahl as one of her childhood idols. “One of the first books I bought with my winnings from school poetry and essay competitions was an omnibus of Roald Dahl’s stories — musing, frightening, expansive — and, as I was to later learn, wholly inappropriate for a 12-year-old! So, I basically read Dahl in reverse, starting from the bone-chilling Skin and ending at magical Matilda. Either way, it just doesn’t matter. No matter how much of a doddering old fool I turn into each year, I’ll still share my birthday with Dahl, and he will still be my most inspirational literary influence.”
No discussion on Dahl is complete without a reference to the illustrator of his books — Quentin Blake. The duo’s association, which began in 1976, gave a whole new dimension to Dahl’s books. “Complemented by Quentin Blake’s illustrations, Dahl is a wonderful pick,” says Arthi. Niveditha adds, “Quentin and Roald are inseparable. Blake’s unfussy and beautiful illustrations give warmth to Dahl’s stories.”
Dahl passed away in 1990, but his books continue to transport readers “into new worlds” and introduce them “to amazing people who lived exciting lives”.
This article has been edited for a spelling error.