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Autumn2016

Why Dahl is the perfect autumn companion

Roald Dahl is known the world over for his children’s storybooks. This September is the centenary of his birth, although he died aged 74 in 1990. Many of us will have grown up reading his books as children and teenagers, and you may very well have noticed events and mentions have been springing up all over the place.

I think that if you find yourself on a grassy river bank with a bottle of ginger beer and a few hours to spare as summer creeps into autumn, Dahl would be your perfect companion.

 

Throughout his extraordinary life, he has written books for children; adults and autobiographies. He has worked on scripts taken up by Hitchcock and Tarantino, and has produced information leaflets for the government. Born with Norwegian heritage in Wales 1913, he went to a boarding school, forwent University in favour of travel and adventure and went out to Africa with Shell with the last waves of the Empire builders. During his time in Africa, Europe kicked off and he enrolled in the RAF and flew Tiger Moths before crashing in the Libyan desert, convalescing and heading off to America to rally the troops. And that just takes us up to the 1940s!

I know I’m one for romanticising men of the past, but an extract from Dahl’s second biography ‘Going Solo’ pulls my heart strings:

“Once we went out to ground-strafe some Vichy French planes on an airfield near Rayak [Lebanon] and as we swept in low over the field at midday we saw to our astonishment a bunch of girls in brightly coloured cotton dresses standing by the planes with glasses in their hands having drinks with the French pilots.”

“Every single one of us held our fire on that first pass over the flying field and it was wonderfully comical to see the girls all dropping their wine glasses and galloping in their high heels for the door of the nearest building. We went round again but this time we were no longer a surprise and they were ready for us with their ground defences and I am afraid that our chivalry resulted in damage to several of our Hurricanes, including my own. But we destroyed five of their planes on the ground.”

For me this is a reminder of why I focus so much on the 1940s- it brought out the worst in people (certainly) but also the best.

The way he writes emotion is incredibly engaging, he never shies away from being honest about his own emotions and he draws you in and allows you to feel them too.

 

Six of the Best

CjiM-kZWYAENItqThe Gremlins, 1943
The Magic Finger, 1962
Danny the Champion of the World, 1975
Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, 1983
Going Solo, 1986
Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary, 2016

He displays a wide range of emotional situations, from circumstances that provoke soul-wracking grief to rib-tickling joy. His books are never boring, always emotionally accessible, and always sympathetic. To me he comes across as a man of great empathy and great human consciousness.

However his books are always light-hearted. Whether he is dealing with serious issues like death and injury, complex issues like war or just wants to entertain us with a giraffe and a pelly, you can rely on his writing to be cheerful. He draws you in, allows you to feel emotion and to engage with a serious issue, and then slowly releases you with a reflective and feel-good attitude. Dahl never goes too far, he wants you to be satisfied in reading his books, perhaps to take a lesson from them, but ultimately to walk away with lighter shoulders. This kind of author is rare and very skilled, and it’s probably why he was such a brilliant children’s writer!

Dahl wrote for 50 years of the 20th century, his first publication was in 1942 and his last was published posthumously in 1991, he also wrote about his childhood/young adulthood from 1913-1940. As retrospective enthusiasts this offers us a wonderful insight into his perspective on the last century. He takes us on a journey from Edwardian beginnings (and Victorian throwbacks) to the politics and the turmoil of the 1930s and 1940s, and right on to some childhood adventures in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Pick an era from the 1900s, and Dahl covered it somewhere and somehow.

 

Ava Aviación is an English vintage model and historian living in the 1940s! She is interested in social history, specifically women’s lives during the Second World War.