My friend Bunny over at the reading blog: ‘Books With Bunny’, shared her memories of two Roald Dahl books that have particularly vivid memories for her from her childhood.
You can read about her experiences here.
Like Bunny, I am old enough to have been around when Dahl was still alive and still writing. A new book by him was a big event, and we would eagerly wait for the next book to be published.
My absolute favourite Roald Dahl book as a child was James and the Giant Peach. I had this version:
I have extremely vivid memories of reading it. I can still see the pages in my mind’s eye. It was one of the first non picture books I read to myself, as well as having it read to me, and I remember well the frisson of horror, reading that James’s parents had been eaten by a rhino while out shopping one day. It is still one of the clearest memories I have of the whole story. I totally believed that it could happen, even though it seemed rather unlikely. It was an idea I liked to revisit in the long dark reaches of the night, worrying about ways my parents might leave me.
It sounds macabre, and it is, but I have always found that children enjoy a bit of darkness in their reading and imagining, and I was certainly no different.
There was nothing I didn’t like about the book. It seemed about as close to literary perfection as you could get. I never, ever tired of the story, and every time I read it I would look forward to getting to a certain part; Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker’s horrible poem about their own loveliness for example, or the sharks eating the peach, or the Centipede being pelted with paint by the cloud people. The book was just full of fabulously exciting incidents that were delightful way markers on my way through the story. Even the ending didn’t disappoint, as some books so often do.
I wanted to go to New York and visit James in his peach stone house.
It could have happened, because at that point in my life I totally believed in magic, and Dahl did nothing to disabuse me of that belief.
For which I am extremely grateful.
I read the book so many times that in the end it literally fell apart. It was lovingly reconstructed with sellotape, but after the third or fourth time it fell to pieces I was given a new copy which I carried with me into adulthood, and which my own children read until it fell apart because of their readings.
The other Dahl book I hold in huge affection is The BFG.
By the time The BFG came out, I had moved on from Dahl and it is a book that I didn’t actually read until I was an adult. My oldest daughter, Matilda, became obsessed with the film of The BFG and I bought the book and read it to her when she was about three. We loved it.
I was entranced by it. I appreciated it in a totally different way to how I read James and the Giant Peach as a child.
This time I was able to appreciate things about the story that would have completely passed me by as a child.
I loved the bittersweet nature of Dahl’s story. I love the fact that in just a few penstrokes he is able to completely to capture the loneliness of Sophie and the glaring unfairness of the hand life has dealt her.
I loved the way he adds such beautifully unexpected twists to the story, so that Sophie finds her twin and her salvation in such an ungainly and wonderful creature as the BFG.
His use of language in this novel is absolutely masterful. The way he plays with words, his creativity, the humour and skill with which he creates the language of the BFG shows him at the pinnacle of his writing talents.
The metaphorical language of dreams is beautiful, and I love the positive and clever messages he embeds in the text to children about their dreams and what they mean.
I also love the fact that he has resurrected the BFG from a bit part in one of my other favourite Dahl books, Danny Champion of the World, and given him star billing. It reminded me to go back and read Danny and become reacquainted with what is one of his lesser known, but no less brilliant books.
Danny, Champion of the World was one of the few books that my dad would read to me as a child. He preferred making stories of his own up to tell us, but if he did read to us from an actual book, he always picked this one, and I have extremely fond memories of him barely able to read the chapters where the drugged pheasants begin to wake up and escape into the town, for laughing.
Reading Dahl is a delight, and some of my finest childhood, and adult memories of reading a book for sheer enjoyment and pleasure are inextricably linked with his name and work.