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Feb 08, 2008

Roald Dahl -- Recommended

Archives_dahl Thanks to Celeste for asking for some Roald Dahl recommendations.

Dahl's most famous works were written for children*, but he also wrote many stories for grown-ups, and he wrote some nice memoirs.  Of these less-famous works, I recommend the following:

Boy -- memoirs of childhood and the public schools of England.  Canings, bowel movements, licorice from rat's blood, adenoid removal without anesthetics of any kind, goat droppings for tobacco... How Dahl (and any children of the 20s and 30s) survived these schools is beyond me.  Read these memoirs for good stories, a view into the last years of England and the world's most powerful country, and insights into how Dahl came to be so wonderfully twisted.

Going Solo -- memoirs of life in Africa just before the start of WWII, and of life as a fighter pilot.  Old nudists, poisonous snakes, sword-wielding Africans, dead Germans, and plane wrecks... As I plan my own international wanderings, I dream of adventures like Dahl's.  But I don't want anything nearly so scary.

Switch Bitch -- a collection of four short stories, two about "Uncle Oswald", a very wealthy character** who lives his life collecting walking canes, raising spiders for silk, and seducing women.  The two "Uncle Oswald" stories were first published in Playboy magazine in the 60s and 70s.  In Bitch, Uncle Oswald funds a scientist who is trying to synthesize the human sex pheromone.  In The Visitor, other things happen.  Remarkable, sensual, dangerous things.  In Egypt.

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life -- a collection of seven short stories from the 40s and 50s, inspired by (or true reports from?) Dahl's time in a rural England town.  He went there intending to spend some quiet time writing.  Instead, he fell in with the best of the locals: dog-racing cheats and gamblers, poachers, and freaks who play with rats.  An antiques dealer poses as a parson to swindle suspicious farmers out of a valuable piece of furniture.  Parson's Pleasure is required reading for fans of Antiques Roadshow.  Especially the British edition.

Going_solo Tales of the Unexpected -- many short stories published in various collections (Tales, Complete Tales, Tales I and II, etc.).  Some were produced in a BBC television series, which Quentin Tarantino refers to in the movie Four Rooms.***  In his Four Rooms sketch, Tarantino's characters remember one episode (Dahl's Man from The South, which becomes The Man from Rio by the time it gets to Tarantino) and decide to copy the storyline.  Tarantino's risk-taking pal bets that his trusty lighter will light ten times in a row without fail.  The wager?   Tarantino's 1964 red convertible Chevy Corvelle against the man's little finger.

I liked stories in Tales of the Unexpected, but reading them in a collection was not so great, as I quickly tired of the repeated rhythms: introduction, set up, clever twist revealed in the last two or three paragraphs...  You can ruin anything if you do it too many times in a row.


*Many were made into excellent and faithful movies, such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with Gene Wilder, which I prefer to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp, which was good but unnecessary for me), Matilda, and the often-impressive The Witches (with Angelica Houston). 

**In The Visitor, Uncle Oswald makes at least one more observation about The Very Wealthy (cf. yesterday's post about the rain). I like how Dahl describes the wealthy -- not as better or worse than you and I, but simply for the interesting ways in which they are different.

***Four Rooms is a rich movie.  I didn't like every part, but some of the vignettes (or scenes within vignettes) are masterful.  And man, is this movie full of talent (or at least full of interesting people doing things you haven't seen them do before).  Combustible Edison (Esquivel disciplines whom I once saw at the Cat's Cradle) provides music for animated title sequence.  Four Rooms screenplay at IMSDb.

Photo credit: Roald Dahl Museum, Buckinghamshire, England, open since 2005, I'm told.  One more good reason to visit that country.

Info credit: RoaldDahlFans.com is a great site with a Bibliography and extensive story notes.  It even has classroom ideas for teachers using these stories either with children or with adults learning English.

07:04 PM in Reviews | Permalink


Awesome, what a great summary! I'll add these to my reading list. :)

Posted by: Celeste | Feb 9, 2008 8:47:52 AM