Book Talk: Roald Dahl, a misanthrope who adored children

Wed Sep 29, 2010 9:39am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Children's book author Roald Dahl's literary reputation, two decades after his death, has been enhanced by movie adaptations of his books, like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

More adaptations are coming, says Donald Sturrock, author of a new, authorized Dahl biography, "Storyteller," which explains the author's penchant for the fantastic and the macabre and his talent for seeing the world from a child's perspective.

Sturrock, who had complete access to Dahl's papers, reveals a man shaped by his experience as a Royal Air Force pilot during World War Two, who was frustrated for years by his inability to break into the British literary establishment.

Q: You call Dahl a family man, an outsider, a fierce moralist, egotistical self-publicist, misanthrope, a provocateur, and an overgrown child. What was he like?

A: "He was all those things, larger-than-life. He was a big guy physically but he was also a big personality. When he walked into a room you noticed him. He was a bit of a showman. He was a bit like Willy Wonka, he didn't like to be ignored. He could be enormously charming and entertaining. But he was also distant. I only knew him the last five years of his life, but if he was tired, at the end of a meal he'd get up and go. He was somebody who basically did what he wanted to do."

Q: During the war, Dahl only spent four weeks at the front, but it seems to have been a formative experience.

A: "The war shaped him hugely. The bash on the head that he received when he crashed his plane, allied with the four weeks spent in Greece and Palestine, made an enormous impact. His sisters all told me he returned changed from the war. Those events made him into a writer."

Q: To what extent was the writer of macabre tales for grown-ups separate from the eventual author of children's stories? Or do kids need that hint of the macabre?   Continued...

<p>The cover of authorized Roald Dahl biography, "Storyteller," by Donald Sturrock is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Handout</p>