This Sunday is Roald Dahl day. Generations have grown up on the author’s delicious, mischievous tall tales and lovable (and hateable) characters. We asked Standard Issue writers to pick their favourite stories and tell us why. There was a veritable stampede of Dahl love.
For generations, children have successfully put aside the notion of orphans all over the world being eaten by giants and enjoyed this heart-warming tale of night-time abduction. Sophie’s kidnap and subsequent imprisonment by a 50-foot man-child is my favourite of all Roald Dahl’s stories. Despite its frankly terrifying start, The BFG somehow becomes the most beautiful tale of friendship. An entire chapter is dedicated to the joy of farts – or ‘whizzpoppers’ as my child now calls them.
The BFG’s idiosyncratic way of speaking somehow seeps its way into everyday language when you read it to a child. Vegetables are routinely called ‘disgusterous’ and ‘sickable’ in our house, and my own dad will still drop a BFG word into conversation (and I’m 33 years old, same as the book). The giant’s speech patterns are known as ‘gobblefunk’ according to the Roald Dahl Museum’s archive, and Dahl himself had a well-known affection and affinity for the story.
As a child I hoped a big friendly giant was on the loose around my neighbourhood, blowing lovely dreams into my head while I slept. Not too bothered about the Bonecruncher or the Fleshlumpeater though. I wonder if the upcoming feature film will capture the imagination of a whole new set of kids. Maybe so, but I still remember The BFG in the gentle pastel tones and quick lines of Quentin Blake’s illustrations rather than anything on the ‘telly-telly bunkum box’.
George’s Marvellous Medicine
A solitary child, I could often be found (or, in fact, purposefully not found) wedged in the tiny gap between the garage and the garden fence, reading. Roald Dahl was a constant companion. He never spoke down to me; instead I felt like Dahl saw us kids as equals, and encouraged a healthy imagination and sense of playfulness. The tricksy Fantastic Mr Fox and the naughty, gross-out The Twits were thumbed so often the pages were grubby.
Then Rik Mayall read George’s Marvellous Medicine on Jackanory and eight-year-old me was smitten. Silly, rude and hilarious, Mayall gained a permanent place in my heart and my once third favourite Dahl story barrelled straight to the top spot.
“Looking after that grizzly old grunion of a grandma all by himself was hardly the most exciting way to spend a Saturday morning…” And so George invents his own mischief – and his own medicine, a magic potion comprising splashes of this and that found in the bathroom and kitchen cabinets.
On drinking it, George’s mean ol’ granny swells to an enormous size and his dad gets over-excited about ending world hunger by creating massive farmyard animals. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t pan out.
I drove my mum to despair creating ‘marvellous medicines’, emptying bubble bath, shampoo, vinegar and, to her chagrin, various odds and sods from the booze cupboard, into beakers and bottles. Luckily, I was savvy enough not to drink them or feed them to the cat, but for the curiosity, devilry and playfulness – traits that remain with me now – I thank you, Mr Dahl. (And Mr Mayall.)
I KNOW it’s all the rage right now and it’s the best show ever and I haven’t seen it and yadda yadda yadda but it was genuinely my favourite Dahl book. And do you want to know why? Because, like so many of Dahl’s children, Matilda was alone. Alone against the world. And for a desperately unhappy only child (granted, I wasn’t super-intelligent and I couldn’t knock jars over with my mind BUT…) she was a superhero.
Without anybody’s help (apart from Miss Honey, later on) Matilda read her way to a better future; she quietly and confidently knew she was cleverer than everyone and she did REALLY bad things (like bleaching her dad’s hair and gluing his hat to his head) and we, the readers, were allowed to cheer her on because most of the adults in her life were fucking idiots.
Apart from Miss Honey, that is. Now in any other book, then OR now, Miss Honey would forge some sort of resolution; she’d make Matilda realise that her parents were the only parents she had or she’d make them change their ways and all would be well. Screw that: she says, “Your parents are massive bellends. You’re coming to live with me. I’ll sort the paperwork.” And so she does, with not a second thought for Matilda’s folks. And Dahl’s world is so delicious that it’s all OK. The Wormwoods can go hang and Miss Trunchbull has to leave the country, never to return. And the kid wins. Beautiful.
One of the most famous quotes from The Twits is: “If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
I can see why people like it, but I’ve never found it very comforting. Perhaps their thoughts are lovelier than some of the ones I have while I’m stuck in traffic with idiots.
If I could choose a message for people to take from the book instead it would be: The world is full of awful people; some of them have beards. Awful people are awful to everyone, even each other. Then they die (sometimes at the hands of an aggrieved primate).
As morals for children’s stories go it’s enough to drive Katie Morag to drink, but at least it’s honest. This book is disgusting, brutal, stinky, unjustifiably cruel, violent and hilarious. It’s everything that children’s books should be, with added pranks. Unsuitable for vegans.
Ten things about James and the Giant Peach that make it a peach:
1. This was the first book I ever read unaided and of my own volition.
2. This was also the first book I couldn’t put down and read in a day.
3. It made me realise that everyone has a talent, even if it’s being giant shark bait.
4. I learned that it’s OK to feel lonely and it’s OK to want to have friends.
5. After reading this I perfected the art of shoelace tying, should I ever befriend an enormous centipede.
6. Seagulls have their uses, specific though they are.
7. Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker were arseholes and they got squished, as they deserved. They also never laughed – never trust a woman who doesn’t laugh.
8. If someone calls you a pest, grin and wear it as badge of honour, just like the centipede.
9. I learned that sometimes you need to be brave for other people.
10. If you push yourself to go on a very big adventure you can end up with some cracking friends/living in New York. I like to imagine that James was a very young Andy Warhol and the peach stone became The Factory.
Join us tomorrow for some more of our writers’ favourite Roald Dahl stories, poems and more grownup stuff.4538 Views
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.