Sunday, 7 April 2013

Re-reading Roald Dahl - Josh Lacey

A survey was reported this week which proclaimed Roald Dahl as the favourite author not only of children, but their parents too. According to the Guardian, half of kids voted for Dahl; about a third for JK Rowling; and the rest for Beatrix Potter. Their parents voted Dahl first, Enid Blyton second and Rowling third.


I wouldn't take the survey too seriously; it was conducted by some PR company to promote something or other, and surely wasn't in the least bit scientific. But there's no doubt that Roald Dahl is enormously popular among children at the moment; perhaps more popular than he ever has been.

Was he so loved and respected when he was alive? He certainly didn't win any of the major children's book prizes. Was that simply because he was loved more by readers than "gatekeepers"? Or has his status grown in the years since his death in 1990?

I've been thinking a lot about Dahl recently. I'm working as Writer-in-Residence at the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, a wonderful little museum packed with his possessions and full of displays about his characters and books.


I visited Dahl's grave the other day; it's a short stroll up the hill from the museum.


I was very surprised to see who inhabits the plot next door to Dahl's: it belongs to someone who shares my surname. As far as I know, we're not related.


I'd like to know more about Dahl himself. A few years ago, I read Jeremy Treglown's biography, which was a clear case of a biographer growing to dislike his subject more and more as he learnt more about him. I'm going to read Donald Sturridge's more recent Storyteller: the Life of Roald Dahl, which was authorised by the family and is apparently much more sympathetic, perhaps too much so; and Michael Rosen's Fantastic Mr Dahl, which was published last year.

Before reading either of those, I've been re-reading Dahl's own books. I've also been reading The BFG to my daughter. She loves it so much, she takes it to bed.

The other night, I tiptoed into her room before going to bed myself and found the book nestling on the pillow beside her, the pages crinkling under her cheek.

She's only four, and on her first reading of Roald Dahl's books, but he has already taken his place in her affections and imagination.


Josh Lacey
http://www.joshlacey.com

8 comments:

Catherine Butler said...

Congratulations on being writer-in-residence, Josh! May I add to your list of Dahl books the one I co-edited last year - Roald Dahl: A New Casebook - which is the only book of critical essays on Dahl? Considering his output, popularity and controversiality, I find it astounding that such a book had to wait until 22 years after his death.

jongleuse said...

What a fantastic job! My 4 and 7 year old love the BFG too-there are rumours of a new film adaptation which would be very exciting.

Penny Dolan said...

I feel sure the fact that his books are promoted through the Foundation itself, as well as being read as part of the primary school curriculum and that many have also been interpreted through film means that his work is part of the current child's world.

His biig boost is of course the use of the fantastic and sympathetic Quentin Blake artwork!

Emma Barnes said...

Hmm...seems only a couple of weeks ago that I was reading a news report of a new survey claiming that children no longer love Dahl, and he's no longer in their Top Ten...

(I'd post the link if I could remember where it was!) So much for surveys.

I admire Dahl's work but I must say wish it wasn't always considered automatic that "all children love Dahl" - just by virtue of being children. I was read aloud about five of his books when I was at primary school, and still visit plenty of schools where he is invariably the read-aloud class novel, and takes up most of the class bookcase. Yes, lots of children love him, but some really don't: children have diverse tastes too.

Josh Lacey said...

Thanks for all these comments. Cathy, your book sounds fascinating; I'll order a copy.

madwippitt said...

Congratulations on your writer-in-residencing! I've always wondered what this actually means though: do you live in the museum, scribbling notes on the back of old ticket stubs and subsisting on a diet of gooey cakes from the café?

C.J.Busby said...

I agree with Emma about Dahl love being mixed - even with respect to different books. Mine loved BFG and Danny Champion of the World, but could take or leave James and the Giant Peach or Charlie - while positively hating Matilda who is too damn good at everything to be loved by another child....

Alycia said...

This is cool!