Horror of Horrors: Roald Dahl
While probably a quarter of what I read these days is labeled as a “young adult novel”, I hate to admit that I have not picked up a children’s book in quite some time. I remember back in second grade when I first became obsessed with reading, and readily found myself volunteering to read stories to kindergarten students, or taking over the responsibility of reading a bedtime story to my little brother instead of my parents. I am glad that the habit has stuck, and while I might not be a particularly fast reader, I find myself engrossed in various novels many times every week. Thinking back to those grade school years and when I first became an avid reader I can remember one author in particular whose work I found myself strangely addicted to: Roald Dahl. Dahl is afterall quite a bizarre writer, whose novels are classified as children’s stories yet have something sinister, terrifying, and electrifying in their pages that warrants this post being classified a horror of horrors. Read on as Lilith reminisces and pays homage to one of her favorite childhood horror authors the infamous Roald Dahl.
Before I dive in to the various stories of Dahl’s that simultaneously terrified and thrilled me as a child, I’ll start with the background investigation I just did on this man in preparation for this post. I was wondering: what happened in this man’s upbringing that led him to write such disturbing children’s stories?
At the age of 3 Dahl’s older sister died suddenly with from appendicitis, shocking the whole family. This was followed a couple weeks later by the death of Dahl’s father who succumbed to pneumonia. His mother decided to stay in Cardiff rather than travel back to Norway and a couple years later is when Dahl’s angst against adults started.
At 7 years of age a young Roald and several of his companions were caught sneaking a dead mouse carcass in to a jar of candies at the local sweet shop. Their defense: the owner was a vile, hateful woman. Of course being caught meant that the boys were caned as punishment, but this did not seem to affect Roald’s resolve to fight back.
Dahl’s childhood continued to have pranks that the young boy would play against those that he felt slighted him. And while his mother was adamant about him obtaining a British education, Dahl seemed to have many bad experiences during his education including frequent canings, though his summer trips to Norway were when he wrote most fondly of his childhood.
Dahl’s adult life was much more entertaining including time in the army as a pilot, travelling for oil companies to Africa and living in the lap of luxury there. It was during his latter years that Dahl had all the time in the world to recollect his childhood and write some of the most timeless children’s stories of all time.
Where to start? Let’s start right away with probably one of my favorite children’s stories of all time, and the first one that I ever red from cover to cover aloud to my little brother: James and the Giant Peach. The story centers around a special little boy, James, who lives happily with his parents until they are horrifingly eaten by an escaped rhinoceros in London. James is then given to his two cruel aunts and they spend several years abusing and torturing the boy. Through a series of unfortunate events (not related to the actual series) James misses out on an opportunity to use a magic potion and accidentally spills the potion on a peach tree, leading to the peach tree mysteriously bearing fruit and growing the largest peach ever: the size of a small house! And inside are a group of ridiculous and intelligent larger than life insects. There is justice as the peach successfully kills James’ evil aunts as it rolls away down a hill, and what follows are the most ridiculous and enjoyable adventures of this giant peach and its inhabitants. Not very horror of horrors sounding, right?
Well, while Dahl does make sure that the young boy who ever so much deserved a better life got his wishes fulfilled, he has a twisted way of getting there. Starting with the violent death of his parents, followed by the torture and servitude of the boy for at least 3 years by his aunts, only when he is accompanied by a group of gigantic and slimy bugs does he get to experience a fun life. Of course this too is paired with dangerous moments and several times James has to rescue the crew from an untimely death, once by the mouth of hundreds of sharks, another time by a group of ghosts living in the clouds. The book is delightful and does have a happy ending, but if you were 8 years old when you first read it like I was you might be in for some scares.
The next children’s book written by Roald Dahl was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a story so twisted in how it treats the children in it that I have already featured it in a Villain Spotlight. You can imagine that any child would love a story centering around a chocolate factory, but sadly this factory also comes with the factory owner, and Willy Wonka is a man not to be messed with.
Another story written by Dahl that would send the shivers down the spine of any child was The BFG. BFG specifically stands for big friendly giant, but what is so terrifying about this story are the other giants in the novel. Our title character is an exception since so few giants are friendly, and the other group of giants in the book love to feast on human flesh, specifically child flesh if possible. They have given themselves names like Fleshlumpeater, Childchewer, and Meatdripper to sound all the more formidable.
And the last children’s story of Dahl’s that I have read I have also mentioned previously: The Witches has some of the scariest witches you could ever write about, let alone ones in a children’s story. Another orphaned young boy in this story ends up living with his Norweigian grandmother, only this caretaker loves her grandson and spends hours with him, often telling him stories. Some of her stories are more frightening, and involve a group of demons in human form that she calls witches. These creatures normally have bald heads, long noses, and long clawed fingers. These witches despise children and spend their life dedicated to trying to murder as many children as possible. And their favorite way to kill kids? By transforming them in to a pest so that the adults kill them unknowingly. The group of witches later encountered by our boy in this story are trying to turn children in to mice so that they will be killed by the other adults in their houses. The book is terrifying and creepy, and the Grand High Witch is one of the most ruthless, disgusting, and scary witches of all time.
There are several other Dahl children’s stories out there that I have not read but being that I loved all the ones written about here, I should really check them out. And yes, in many ways this post is more like a Suggestions post than a Horror of Horrors, but ask any young child who has read Dahl their take on his amazing stories and they will agree there is every bit an element of horror in them all.
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Posted on August 5, 2014, in Books, Features, Geekology, Horror of Horrors, Reviews and tagged children's stories, Dahl, Horror of Horrors, James and the Giant Peach, Reading, Roald Dahl, Villains, Willy Wonka. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.