Literary Love: Roald Dahl

Big friendly giants. Chocolate factories. Telekinesis. Witches. Abnormally large fruits.

They are all odd things—but also magnificent, wondrous things. If one was so inclined, one might even call them scrumdiddlyumptious.

And the man who dreamed them all up was really quite scrumdiddlyumptious himself. In fact, if you're anything like me, he might be the person who shaped much of your childhood reading habits, the person whose books you dog-eared and whose autobiographies you all but memorised. If you're anything like me, he might even be the person who pushed you down the mad and wonderful path of writing.

Rather a lot of power for a man who regularly used the word "gobblefunk", don't you think?

Literary Love (affectionately known as #litlove) is a feature wherein I and friends around the blogosphere extol the virtues of various bookish topics. This month's topic: Roald Dahl! Don't forget to check out the others' posts on this topic: Alyssa on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Christina on Matilda.

My mother is not a fan of Roald Dahl.

This is something she shared with me as I was rambling about the latest book of his that I read: The Great Automatic Grammatizater and other Stories. The conversation went something like this:

Me: It's amazing, Mom. It's creepy and thought-provoking. Seriously, you need to read it. I'll even lend you my copy, if you want. Or I can pick it up from the library for you. You really, really have to read it. It's vitally important.

My mother: I'll pass.

Me: ?????????????

My mother: I don't really like Roald Dahl.

Me: ?????????????

My mother: I don't know, he's just... weird.

Me: ?????????????

My mother: Please stop looking at me like I just kicked your puppy.

You see, the reason why I was so muggled (adj. confused) is because Roald Dahl's "weirdness" is the very trait that makes him so endearing. Could any other author pull off a giant with huge ears and a penchant for giving people good dreams? Could any other author write so well about the Trunchbull, that hated and feared woman who, for some, odd reason, decided to become an educator of small children?

Could any other author introduce concepts so fantastic, so out of this world (yes, sometimes literally. Looking at you, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), and somehow make them seem not frothbuggling (adj. silly), but perfectly logical, and even—dare I say it?—real?

I think not.

One of my absolute favourite books by Dahl is the lesser-known—but certainly not lesser-loved—Danny the Champion of the World. It's a rollicking story following Danny and his father and their adventures through the world of poaching. Although I so desperately love all of Dahl's other stories, it was this one, when I first read it, that snitched (v. stole) my heart.

I must admit that it's unlikely. I'm the self-proclaimed book lover and fantasy addict. Wouldn't something like Matilda or The BFG catch my gogglers (n. eyes) rather than a book about—oh, the horror!—poaching?

And yet, there's something different in a book like Danny that sets it apart from the rest. At first glance, it doesn't seem like much: a little boy who worships his father, a man with a deep dark secret, countrysides, forests, automobiles. Not exactly a time-twiddler (n. immortal thing) of a concept. Forgettable, even. And, above all: so painfully, deceptively ordinary.

Or not.

I think perhaps the reason why I love Danny so much is that, with this book, Dahl took a different turn than his usual stock. Rather than writing about so obviously fantastic things—giants! Witches! Talking insects!—he set out to prove that one does not have to be extraordinary to be magical.

Because yes, there is magic woven into the cracks of this book: in the bedtime stories; in the gypsy caravans; in the almost otherworldly high of pheasant poaching; and of course, of course—in the relationship between Danny and his father.

In the books that Dahl writes, it's so easy to get jumbly (adj. all mixed up) in the surreal situations the characters are in, pulled into the zany goings-on instead of focusing on the inner workings of the story. With this book, though, Dahl stripped it down to the very basics in terms of world-building and instead chose to put the brightest spotlight on the close bond between Danny and his father. The writing is pure and unadorned: rather than the made-up words that so often grace his books, it's lyrical without being ostentatious, uncomplicated while remaining profound.

As one follows Danny and his father through their daily lives, there's something so deeply beautiful about the simplicity of it all. Although there still remains a touch of flamboyancy that makes Dahl's stories so whoopsy-wiffling (adj. amazing), what's all the more gorgeous is that Danny leads a remarkably ordinary life. He goes to school. He adores his father. He is rash and naive and afraid of the dark.

Paradoxical, perhaps, but no less true: Danny is a gloriumptious (adj. glorious and wonderful) example of the genius of Dahl's writing. It's a reminder that with or without telekinesis and talking animals, magic can be found in the most ordinary nooks and crannies of life—if only we take the time to look.