Rosen on Dahl

I wonder if Roald Dahl caused Bookwitch to be born? (Yeah, I know. It was Meg Rosoff.) But even so. It’s because I am old. So old that I never read Roald Dahl’s books as a child, and it was this deficiency that made me read some of them when Son was Dahl-age. I had to know if they were any good, because you can’t leave it to those little boys who read nothing but Dahl.

And if I hadn’t done that bit of catching up, I might not have continued on a life of reading children’s books, third time round.

Michael Rosen, Fantastic Mr Dahl

For Roald Dahl day this coming week, there is a new biography by Michael Rosen, Fantastic Mr Dahl. To me this is one funny man writing about another funny man. And in a way there is nothing new here. Michael says he has based the book on what you find in those other biographies, which I have also read. But he writes in his own kind and thoughtfully funny way, adding his own experiences at times. (Like when Dahl talked to Rosen Jr about his dad’s beard. Or comparing his own father’s life with Roald’s.)

Because Michael is writing for young readers, this biography is probably more accessible to fans than Roald’s own Boy, for instance. And as befits a Dahl/Rosen book, it has been illustrated by Quentin Blake. Obviously.

Michael likes the way Roald (as I write this, I find myself saying Roald in my head, the Norwegian way, and not ‘in English’) made up his own words. I wonder if it is actually less strange than he thinks. It feels natural to me, and perhaps also to a fluent Norwegian speaker?

There are Roald’s letters home to his mother, both amusing and a little heart-breaking. I remember feeling desperately sad when reading his own book about his time at school, but Michael has thought about this, and has some comfort to offer.

Divided up into three parts, boy, man, writer, Michael finishes by teaching his readers literary analysis. It might not be necessary, but it happens so rarely that I found myself quite fascinated by it all. And it goes well with the way Michael and Roald both treat their young readers as intelligent individuals, with feelings, and a sense of humour.

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3 responses to “Rosen on Dahl

  1. I don’t think I actually read Dahl when I was a kid, but I know James and the Giant Peach was read to us in class, and I think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But like most kids of the era, a lot of my Dahl formation comes from movies. His work was very adaptable, which is among many good things you could say about it.

  2. I was about to say I was surprised that you got Dahl in school, considering our ages, but it’s most likely the difference between reading in English and getting a translation.

    • Yes, I think that accounts for it. I think Dahl had his heyday here at just about the perfect time in my life, although many years later, I can still remember my then three year old nephew greeting some strangers on the beach by calliing, “Excuse me–have you seen James and the Giant Peach?”

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