Don’t be fooled by the sweet, family-man exterior. This man terrified you when you were a child. Image: Dahl with his family, wife Patricia Neal and children Olivia, Tessa and Theo, on New Year’s Day 1961 (PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images)
WHILE ENID BLYTON satisfied our more gentle side as children, Roald Dahl understood a youngster’s love for all things gross, grizzly and gruesome.
His countless books were magic and mayhem, all at once.
Here are eight recollections from his collection. Be warned: this is where your dreams and nightmares were concocted.
1. The Twits were terrifying
I, for one, couldn’t eat spaghetti for months after this:
The next day, to pay her husband back for the frog trick, Mrs Twit sneaked out into the garden and dug up some worms. She chose big long ones and put them in a tin and carried the tin back to the house under her apron.
At one o’clock, she cooked spaghetti for lunch and she mixed the worms in with the spaghetti, but only on her husband’s plate. The worms didn’t show because everything was covered with tomato sauce and sprinkled with cheese.
The hairy-faced people were just nasty, nasty, nasty.
2. As was Miss Trunchbull
Do we have to remind you about the torture device that was the Chokey?
And her hatred of pigtails?
We never were quite able to look at female hammer throwers in the same way again.
3. REALLY bad things happened to bad people
Although some people complained that Dahl’s writings were too violent for kids, he argued that children love scary tales and frightening situations, as well as seeing bad things happen to bad people.
From The Twits:
If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
Seven of the spoiled children who gained entry to the factory came to their end there. Violet turning into a blueberry was a particular favouite.
4. Every little girl wanted to be Matilda*
Come on, she is supremely smart and she only had to look at something to make it move.
*Well, every female staffer at TheJournal.ie did anyway
5. Wishing the BFG existed
He was all kinds of everything – massive but bumbling, loving but rude, kind but scary – and he didn’t care about grammar. Plus, the snozzcumber.
“But if you don’t eat people like all the others,” Sophie said, “Then what do you live on?”
“That is a squelching tricky problem around here,” the BFG answered. “In this sloshflunking Giant Country, happy eats like pineapples and pigwinkles is simply not growing. Nothing is growing except for one extremely icky-poo vegetable. It is called snozzcumber.”
“The snozzcumber!” cried Sophie. “There’s no such thing!”
The BFG looked at Sophie and smiled, showing about twenty of his square white teeth. “Yesterday,” he said, “we was not believing in giants, was we? Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers. Just because we happen not to have actually seen something with our own little winkles, we think it is not existing.
Other made up words in The BFG included humplecrimp, wraprascalm, bogglebox, crabcruncher, frothbungling, gloriumptious, lixivate, jumpsquiffling, trogglehumper and crumpscoddle. The language was called Gobblefunk.
6. Making marvellous medicines
We don’t think our colleague Emer McLysaght was alone on this one?
“George’s Marvellous Medicine was my favourite book for a while. I had my mother driven spare mixing up bits of her makeup and Ponds cream making my own concoctions.”
Remember George Kranky was an eight-year-old who lived with his parents and his “grizzly old grunion of a Grandma” on a farm? She wanted him to stop growing, insisting that chocolate would make him go “up instead of down”. He wanted to cure his grandmother of her nastiness and fondness for dark magic and thought the following mix might work:
- Shampoo, toothpaste, shaving foam, face cream, nail varnish, sheep medicine, pig pills, cow medicine, horse medicine, curry powder, other spices, automatic washing powder, floor polish, flea powder, brown shoe polish, lipstick, perfume, hairspray, engine oil, anti-freeze, grease and dark brown gloss paint (to get the colour right).
Well, he only had an hour.
7. Dahl was not a fan of the beard
Do you like a man with a beard? Then you probably weren’t an avid Dahl reader. He came up with concept for The Twits after deciding to do something against beards. This may be why my father shaved off his beard in 1992 (I was seven and was scared of those “very hairy-faced men”).
Mr Twit felt that his hairiness made him look terrifically wise and grand. But in truth he was neither of these things. Mr Twit was a twit. He was born a twit. And now at the age of sixty, he was a bigger twit that ever.
As you know, an ordinary unhairy face like yours or mine simply gets a bit smudgy if it is not washing often enough, and there’s nothing so awful about that. But a hairy face is a very different matter. Things cling to hairs, especially food. Things like gravy go right in among the hairs and stay there…
If you looked closely (not that you’d ever want to) you would see tiny little specks of dried-up scrambled eggs stuck to the hairs, and spinach and tomato ketchup and fish fingers and minced chicken livers and all the other disgusting things Mr Twit liked to eat.
“If you looked closer still (hold your noses ladies and gentlemen), if you peered deep into the moustachy bristles sticking over his upper lip, you would probably see much larger objects that had escaped the wipe of his hand, things that had been there for months and months, like a piece of maggoty green cheese or a mouldy old cornflake or even the slimy tail of a tinned sardine.
Because of all this, Mr Twit never went really hungry. By sticking out his tongue and curling it sideways to explore the hairy jungle around his mouth, he was always able to find a tasty morsel here and there to nibble on.
“What I am trying to tell you is that Mr Twit was a foul and smelly old man.”
Yeah, kids love gross.
8. Shit got weird
And the ending of The Twits when the monkeys and birds (with the help of Roly-Poly) glue the carpet and furniture to the living room ceiling while the couple are out of their house. On their return, raves swoop over the Twits and drop glue onto their heads. When they go inside and see their furniture upside down, they stand on their heads and remain stuck that way. The kicker? Their bodies eventually disappear and only their possessions are found by police.
Pertinent quotes from TheJournal.ie staffers:
“I was convinced if I tried hard enough I could levitate annoying persons Matilda-style.”
As a kid I wanted to be Matilda and so spent an afternoon trying to make things move by staring at them. Needless to say, it didn’t work. I also wanted the BFG to exist too, but not the Twits, because they were scary.
“I was a really fussy eater as a child and James and the Giant Peach was paramount in my trying more exotic fruits.”
I always thought the idea of sticking all the furniture to the ceiling in the Twits was genius and at the time considered the logistics of doing it to my living room.
“I was even scared by the book cover of The Witches when I read it.”
Special mention to Quentin Blake’s illustrations and a genuine fear of the Chokey.
Illustrator Quentin Blake at the opening of Snozzcumbers and Frobscottle! The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake at the V&A Museum of Childhood, east London in May 2009. (Image: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire)
And did you know?
1. Roald Dahl wrote back to his fans
This letter has done the rounds on the web but it highlights that Dahl’s whimsical side wasn’t just bottled away for his own novels.
2. The Wade-Dahl-Till Valve
When Dahl’s son Theo was in a car accident in TK, the author helped develop a valve to drain liquid from the brain. Although his son recovered without needing the valve, it was used to treat thousands of children.
The shunt was developed in 1962 with engineer Roald Dahl and neurosurgeon Kenneth Till.
3. No Sir
Roald Dahl was one of a number of authors who turned down the Queen’s honours. He declined to accept an OBE during the New Year’s honours of 1986.
There were more “weird and wonderful facts” about the storyteller included at the back of some of his books, including:
- He was very tall – six feet five and three-quarter inches, or nearly two meters. His nickname in the RAF was Lofty, while Walt Disney called him Stalky (because he was like a beanstalk!)
- His nickname at home was the Apple, because he was the apple of his mother’s eye (which means her favourite!)
- He pretended to have appendicitis when he was nine because he was so homesick in his first two weeks at boarding school. He fooled the matron and the school doctor and was sent home. But he couldn’t fool his own doctor, who made him promise never to do it again.
- He was a terrible speller, but he liked playing Scrabble.
- He didn’t like cats – but he did like dogs, birds and goats.
- He wrote the screenplay for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.
- He once had a tame magpie.
- His favourite colour was yellow.
Have any more memories? Share them with us in the comments section ….
Also in TheDailyEdge.ie‘s nostalgia series:
- 8 memories and 2 little known facts about the Famous Five books
- 8 memories and 2 little known facts about Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s books