Did you know that today, Sept. 13, is the annual celebration known as Roald Dahl Day? If he were alive today, the beloved (and controversial) children’s author would be celebrating his 107th birthday.
Dahl’s children’s books include “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Witches,” and more, published between 1943 and 1988. A classic Dahl recipe for a story would include one curious child, one disgusting villain, and one character or band of friends to provide a dash of warmth.
Readers of his stories were regularly introduced to new words and names. According to NationalToday.com, Dahl created more than 500 new words (“frobscottle”) and names (Oompa Loompas) to embellish his vividly original worlds with his invented “Gobblefunk” language.
Dahl’s whimsy is balanced with darkness, which is not unfamiliar in other classic children’s stories like “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll or even the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. (For a walk down a very dark storybook lane, look up the 1845 German children’s collection “Der Struwwelpeter,” for some cautionary tales and moral lessons portrayed in the most exaggerated ways – keep it to the grown-ups, though, and spare the kids the nightmare.)
Dahl’s work has rarely been without controversy and his personal character was riddled with statements of anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, publisher Puffin released the 2023 printed editions of Dahl’s books with potentially offensive words changed or deleted altogether, insisting that the changes were necessary to ensure the works’ ongoing relevance. Readers requiring the original texts would still be able to purchase them as part of “the Classic Collection” if they preferred.
Roald Dahl Day is just one example of how authors, their works, and their personal character can create a mixture of many feelings in one person. Multiply this by a global community who has been affected by the author’s writings and we have a bundle of strong — and often divergent! — feelings on our hands.
What are libraries and readers to do with such strong feelings? Generally, we first suggest that you give the author a read and see for yourself how you sit with their writings. Next, take a look at how the works have been adapted. Modern takes on the stories through film, television, or even the stage may have renewed the sentiment of the story while removing some of the pieces that didn’t “age well.”
Finally, if you’ve decided that the author is not for you, or if you’ve read and loved their book and now want someone else to enjoy it, you can donate the books in your collection. The Friends of the Delaware County District Library accepts donations at the Delaware and Liberty branch libraries during regular operating hours.
If you like Roald Dahl’s books, but are looking for another writer with similar whimsy, wit and darkness, try one of these and see what you think.
• “The Ice Monster” by David Walliams. When Elsie, an orphan on the streets of Victorian London, hears about the mysterious ice monster – a woolly mammoth found at the North Pole – she’s determined to discover more… Luckily, a chance encounter brings Elsie face to face with the creature, sparking the adventure of a lifetime – from London to the heart of the Arctic.
• “The Secret of Platform 13” by Eva Ibbotson. Odge Gribble, a young hag, joins an old wizard, a gentle fey, and a giant ogre on a journey from their magical island kingdom to London through a tunnel that opens every nine years for nine days, to try and rescue the young prince who had been stolen as an infant nine years before.
• “The Bad Beginning” by Lemony Snicket. The start of the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” stories – after the sudden death of their parents, the three Baudelaire children must depend on each other and their wits when it turns out that the distant relative who is appointed their guardian is determined to use any means necessary to get their fortune. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent children. They are charming, and resourceful, and have pleasant facial features. Unfortunately, they are exceptionally unlucky.
• “What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy” by Gregory Maguire. As a terrible storm rages, ten-year-old Dinah and her brother and sister listen to their cousin Gage’s tale of a newly-hatched, orphaned, skibberee, or tooth fairy, called What-the-Dickens, who hopes to find a home among the skibbereen tribe, if only he can stay out of trouble.
If you have a question that you would like to see answered in this column, mail it to Nicole Fowles, Delaware County District Library, 84 E. Winter St., Delaware, OH 43015, or call us at 740-362-3861. You can also email your questions by visiting the library’s web site at www.delawarelibrary.org or directly to Nicole at [email protected]. No matter how you contact us, we’re always glad you asked!