On this day in 1916, the great writer Roald Dahl was born. He wrote some of my favorite books when I was a child like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox. But by far my favorite book was James and the Giant Peach. I don’t really know what about the book so captured my imagination. It’s especially odd because I was no fan of insects — giant or otherwise.
I always associate Dahl with E B White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. But there isn’t actually any comparison. Dahl is a far more imaginative writer. And just as important: Dahl knew how to finish a story. I still read Dahl. I don’t much pick up White, although I did recently revisit Charlotte’s Web and I revisit Elements of Style from time to time.
When I was in the fifth grade, our class did a segment on tall tales. And at the end of it, we were all forced to get up in front of class and tell one of them. There was a lot of repetition with most students doing Paul Bunyan and similar stories. I fretted over this for days, knowing that if all else failed, I too could do Paul Bunyan or John Henry. And as I walked up to the head of the class, I still hadn’t made up my mind. And I remember having an epiphany: James and the Giant Peach was a tall tell.
Most of the kids had spent less than a minute giving their little speeches. Although I was a shy child, nothing inspired me so much as a captive audience. So I told the entire story from James and the Giant Peach. I was up there ten minutes. No one seemed to mind (not that I would have noticed). It is likely that everyone was relieved that they didn’t have to hear another story about a lumberjack or railroad worker.
Anyway, when I was that age, everyone loved Roald Dahl. This was when everyone was just starting to read Tolkien and more adult books. Although, if you ask me, he was a distinct step down in terms of telling a great story. But I’ve never really grown out of Dahl and John D Fitzgerald and John Christopher (Sam Youd).
Happy birthday Roald Dahl!