The Great StoryTellers –Series pt. 3 Roald Dahl

the Great Storytellers Series

greatest storytellers all time

Willy Wonka and Charlie

Yes, For a time during WW2 Mr. Dahl was a spy. His job, unfortunately, seemed to be having affairs to gain information. Roald worked with Ian Fleming, the James Bond creator.

Roald Dahl, a Welshman born in 1916, is our hero and death is the villain. In this story, the villain is a disastrous factor in the creation of the man, Roald -one of the great storytellers all time. After reading about his tragic life you may wonder how Roald avoided becoming another of death’s victims. How did he remain the hero? Or did he? Not the entire Roald Dahl life story, but some flashy bits, and phizzy clips.

Roald Dahl

Keys to Every Great StoryTeller: Let’s put Roald through the following gauntlet of inquiry

  1. Was the StoryTeller controversial?
  2. Were they fun?
  3. Did they have a dark side?
  4. Were they well known?
  5. What was their best trait or skill?
  6. What made them famous?
  7. What makes them so good?
  8. Was their family life good, bad, or scary?
  9. Did they have a happy ending?

Roald Dahl

Joseph Campbell, the famous scholar of comparative mythology, observed that stories need not be factually true to be effective as long as they resonate as emotionally truthful. That’s one thing that makes them so powerful and dangerous.

 

  1. Was the StoryTeller Controversial? Yes, for Roald Dahl controversy was strong in all his dealings in life. With some calling him a raging bigot for his supposed lifelong disdain for the Jewish and other minority groups of people. Steven Spielberg, probably the most successful Jewish filmmaker in Hollywood history was not aware of Dahl’s antisemitism before he directed BFG.

 

Some of the statements attributed to Roald clearly indicate a lack of awareness and a lack of involvement with minorities he spoke of with that all too familiar and repugnant English sense of entitlement and superiority that thankfully has diminished along with time and empire. Having lived there in the late 60’s to early 70’s I experienced that in far too many English people. Themselves members of any and all walks of life.

 

So we, his fans wonder what kind of person would he have been had he been given a more comprehensive social education as a child. Or I say with the desperation of the forever loyal fan who wants his hero to be perfect pray he actually learned with a more sensitive less judgmental eye himself in this wonderful but divergent world throughout adulthood. Would that have ruined his talent as a writer?

 

Some of his contemporaries claim his bigoted remarks reflect his sense of humor more than his real views. He was known to say things simply to get a reaction according to Steven Spielberg who felt the need to research this great storyteller after he made the BFG movie.

BFG

‘The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. […] She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.’ Roald Dahl

 

  1. Was Dahl fun? I say anyone who can create more than 500 brand-new fun words for his stories must be fun. I mean Phiz-whizzing? Come on. But it certainly doesn’t end there for Roald. He was also a spy during a war. Which is cool, not fun but close to fun because well James Bond was fun and cool. He was a fighter pilot during that same war and participated in some important battles. More super-cool.

Roald Dahl

From the look of it, Roald had a lot of fun in his storytelling hut. He also had fun telling his children stories.

The Storytellers Hut

Why else keep your hip bone on display? Funny and comfy is more appropriate than simply calling it fun when I think of the garden shed he reportedly wrote most of his books in.

The Storytellers Hut

Oh, and he made a large and odd looking ball out of chocolate wrappers he kept from his childhood. Who keeps chocolate wrappers from childhood and then for life?

the candy wrapper ball

So yes I’d have to give Roald Dahl an A for being a fun guy. However, we all have many sides or facets that make us who we are.

Roald Dahl was an unpleasant man who wrote macabre books – and yet children around the world adore them. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us, writes Hephzibah Anderson.

  1. Did Roald have a dark side? Does everyone have a dark side? It is well reported that he did. Dahl’s wife Patricia Neal, the famous Hollywood star wrote a book called “As I Am” a few years after Dahl died letting the world know how she did admire him for his brain and drive for life, however, he was an ass.

The words she used were “Rude, arrogant, disloyal, and controlling” Most psychologists who write about the dark sides of people content that we all do have a dark side. Some of us let it out more than others.

His difficult ways of interacting led to one publisher (Alfred A. Knopf) dropping him. They made a lot of money from his books, but could no longer take his abuse.

Schools that Roald attended in England often had very mean teachers and headmasters he said. It obviously influenced his writing deeply. Caning was a regular occurrence. I can personally attest to this culture in English schools having attended an all-boys School in Barnstable, England.

The culture was quite odd for an American to walk into at that age. With older boys given far too much authority over younger boys, it was a recipe for lifelong trauma. Head boys, Prefects, and a culture of obedience for obedience sake were not anything I had any experience with and I struggled with it all.

I remember a distinct feeling or atmosphere of the underpaid, overworked teachers being given a cane and permission to use it as a source of relief for those teachers. Maybe not relief, but a release is better.

I am not an apologist for Dahl, but it should be noted how he may have been shaped towards this difficult nature he wrought then delivered to the world. His childhood was full of death and tragedy.

It began right off for Dahl losing his dad at 3 and half years old. Then losing a sister and brother.

These tragedies made their mark early. But they weren’t over yet. During some difficult years as an adult, he wrote some of his most popular books.

at the Storytellers hut

  1. Was Roald Dahl Well Known? That depends on your definition of well known. He was certainly known in the literary world. Parents and children knew his books, but did they know him? Even his name?

 

Roald’s first book that was written for children James and the Giant Peach came out early in my life. My mother brought me stories routinely. From libraries, stores, her travels, and friends collections but never did that story appear. James and the Giant Peach was not among them but the Charlie Bucket book was.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox was part of the collection of children’s books I was given to read as I recall. I believe that Roald Dahl has become much better known since his death than he was during his lifetime. Not among all groups of people, but in general he has because of the movies.

Movies add such a new layer of awareness to the already popular stories.

Roald Dahl

  1. What was Roald’s Best Trait or Skill? Some like Robin Swicord claim “He is keyed into the psychological life of a child better than any other writer. He brings their fears right to the surface, whether it’s about the first day of school of saving your grandparents form death.” 

Even with that accepted Dahl’s greatest skill is probably that he knew just what children wanted to read somehow. If he thought like they do, and his imagination works like children’s do then he only had to write what he wanted to read.

  1. What Made Roald Dahl Famous? We could cheat and just say his book James and the Giant Peach published in 1961 made him famous. But that just isn’t good enough. It doesn’t really cover it does it? How can writing one book however good it was be all that we say about how a man became famous?

Roald was a war hero, a spy, an inventor, and he was an incredible survivor of multiple tragedies. He overcame so much in his life to get to the point of writing that first bestseller that I can’t help but define his fame in that way. As the whole, not the thing.

The world’s greatest StoryTeller was famous because he was so much more than just a storyteller. He had life to put into his stories. Real experiences to add honesty to his stories.

Dahl's family

  1. Was Roald Dahl’s Family Life Good or Bad? He was married for thirty years to Patricia Neal. Some would say that is a successful marriage and family. Being married for all that time would have given him some stability to become a great writer. He had a base, or foundation to work from.

If you listen to Lucy Dahl talk about her father you would walk away thinking he had a good family life. Was a good dad. I hope it is true.

  1. Did Roald Have a Happy Ending? Well if we count his exact and final moment it probably wasn’t so happy because he reportedly said “Ow fuck.” When his nurse injected him with Morphine to ease his passing. Odd last words for the greatest storyteller ever.

Roald reportedly said something along the lines of ‘I am not afraid of death, it’s just that I will miss you all so’ just before the injection.

His last book published? Esio Trot. A lonely man loves his neighbor who gives all her love to a turtle.

Roald Dahl

Final Notes: I was introduced to Roald Dahl’s work as a child. The age of humans that from all the evidence I gathered suggests he was always very nice to. I would have loved to meet him. He told stories that children wanted to hear.  

“The keynote of Dahl’s children’s books is delight in wild invention—and delight, too, in the way that invention manages to braid the two opposed strands of his personality, the nasty and the charming, into something unique in the history of storytelling. The endings of Dahl’s stories are almost always surprising, even when we know the twist is coming.” Sam Anderson

*If you liked this weeks episode of “The Great StoryTellers” please take a look at some of the others. Aesop is the first storyteller I focused on.

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