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Thoughts on “The Witches” and the Roald Dahl Audio Collection

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! Today I am home with my family. It’s the first time my parents and all four siblings have been together since Christmas 2009. In honor of our family gathering, I’d like to share with you a set of tapes we loved as kids. I’ll also add some thoughts on one of Dahl’s novels I missed as a child and only just read.

Roald Dahl Audio CollectionThe Roald Dahl Audio Collection includes abridgements of five of Dahl’s beloved stories, read by the author himself. I remember listening to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Enormous Crocodile, and The Magic Finger as a kid. But no story is clearer in my mind than Fantastic Mr. Fox, which we listened to again and again, rewinding the tape each time. I can clearly recall Dahl’s voice describing Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, the disgusting trio of farmers who serve as the tale’s villains. I remember the farmers’ determination and the foxes’ triumph. Roald Dahl brings his own stories to life the way Neil Gaiman does his: perfectly.

A few years ago for Christmas, I received my own copy of the Roald Dahl Audio Collection, now on CD. Listening to the stories took me back to my childhood, to hours spent listening to those same stories while surrounded by family. I realized that Dahl’s fantastic tales are just as fun now that I’m an adult as they were when I was a kid.

I remember reading others of Dahl’s novels as a child: The BFG, Matilda, Esio Trot. But there are a few I missed, somehow; one of these was The Witches. While browsing audiobooks at my library a few weeks ago, I came across a recording of The Witches and decided to try it out.

The Witches by Roald Dahl (cover)My, what fun! It’s wonderful to know that even those of Dahl’s novels that aren’t steeped in childhood memories can delight. The Witches begins when our unnamed young narrator, newly orphaned, goes to live with his grandmother in Norway. She tells him about five strange disappearances that she can remember, all children and all attributed to witches. She explains how one can identify a witch, a procedure which is imprecise and unreliable, yet better than nothing. The grandson hardly believes his grandmother, sure she is merely trying to scare him, but he pays attention anyway. Good thing he does–sure enough, the information his grandmother passes on comes in handy before long!

I love Roald Dahl’s imagination. He claims the most outrageous things, yet you find yourself nodding along, sucked right into the world he’s created for you. I loved his portrayal of the witches as well as the characters of both the narrator and his grandmother. The scenario is delightful, unpredictable, and not nearly as dark as I’d have expected from a novel entitled The Witches. I also enjoyed how not everything was explained; often the narrator would say “somehow I managed to…” or “I’ve no idea how it worked, but…” and I could accept that. Because really, in life, can we always say just how something ends up getting done?

The narrator for the version I listened to was Ron Keith. It took me a chapter or two to get used to his narrative style and voice, but–as often happens for me with first-person narratives–his unique voice soon became the voice of the novel’s main character in my mind. After that, I didn’t have any problems.

Revisiting the Roald Dahl Audio Collection and experiencing The Witches for the first time has made me want to catch up on the other Dahl novels I missed: Danny, the Champion of the World, George’s Marvelous Medicine, The Twits. I’d like to read The BFG again; my mother read it to us when we were kids, and I remember it being one of my favorites, though I don’t remember why. I’ve read several of Dahl’s autobiographies, but I’ve not yet read his novels and short stories for adults; I’ve heard they’re quite different.

Do you have a favorite Roald Dahl novel? Is there an author in particular that you remember vividly from childhood?

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  • http://www.thebooknerdclub.blogspot.com mummazappa

    I loved Roald Dahl’s books as a kid, my favourites were Witches, the BFG, Danny the Champion of the World and Esio Trot, but I missed a couple too, like Fantastic Mr Fox and James and the Giant Peach – never read them but you bringing that to my attention has made me want to go get some and complete my RD collection! I have an omnibus of his short stories for adults, and have read his autobiographical work, both of which are amazing. His short stories are hilariously malicious.

    • Erin

      I need to read Danny the Champion of the World! Fantastic Mr. Fox is absolutely delightful. So is James and the Giant Peach, of course, but for some reason that one always creeped me out a little more than the others. I think it had to do with the insects! I think I’d like to give Dahl’s short stories a shot. “Hilariously malicious” sounds very intriguing!

      • http://www.thebooknerdclub.blogspot.com mummazappa

        Heh! That’s the best way I can think to describe them – I love them!

        • Erin

          I’ll add them to my TBR list :-)

  • http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/ Bibliophile By the Sea

    Happy Thanksgiving Erin!

    • Erin

      You too :-)

  • http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com Amanda

    You know, I never read Roald Dahl as a kid at all. I read my first book by him in 2005.

    • Erin

      Huh! Crazy! Did you find you enjoy him as an adult?

  • http://www.bostonbibliophile.com Marie

    I don’t have a favorite Dahl but I’d have to say the authors I remember most from childhood are CS Lewis and EB White. Gotta love Narnia and Charlotte’s Web :)

    • Erin

      Oh, great books! I’m just reading Narnia now, for the first time! I loved Charlotte’s Web, though — I always loved Templeton, for some reason. I loved the movie as well; I can still hear all the characters’ voices!

  • http://www.fizzythoughts.com softdrink

    I must’ve been hanging out with Amanda, because I didn’t read any of his books either. I don’t remember any childhood books until Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and the Secret Garden.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Erin

      Interesting…I wonder how you guys missed Dahl? I need to reread Little Women — I don’t remember it well. Anne of Green Gables was one of my friend and my favorites. We even did a project in 8th grade on LM Montgomery.

  • http://homeofaimala.blogspot.com/ Amy

    Happy Thanksgiving! It sounds like you had a great family holiday!

    I have always loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. But I wasn’t familiar with Fantastic Mr. Fox. This morning I watched the movie & just loved it! I’m going to get a copy of the book soon because the story was so charming and so intelligent!

    Roald Dahl is a wonderful author.
    ~ Amy

    • Erin

      I did! I hope yours was wonderful as well!

      I always wanted to visit Wonka’s factory when I was a kid. Especially the area with the chocolate river, where Augustus gets sucked away! I bet we were watching the same showing of Fantastic Mr. Fox. This was the first I’d seen the movie, which was pretty cute, I must say. The book is short and quick and really fun. I hope you enjoy it!

  • http://fatbooks.org Ellen

    ahhh, roald dahl…definitely one of my favorite authors, when i was growing up and still today. every couple years i go through a major roald dahl binge when i reread all of his books. my favorite is still The BFG. I love how, like you write, events in his books manage to be simultaneously believable and ridiculous. i think he does a better job capturing language (and creating new words that are somehow entirely appropriate for the things they’re assigned to) than any writer i know of.

    now that you’ve got me thinking about this, i’d love to reread danny, champion of the world, too.

    • Erin

      Dahl does do a magnificent job “capturing language,” as you say! I think all the words he created were why I loved The BFG so much. I really need to revisit that one especially!

  • http://jennysbooks.wordpress.com Jenny

    Happy Thanksgiving to you too! It took me a while as a kid to like Roald Dahl, because I saw the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka movie and it scared the hell out of me and put me off Roald Dahl for ages. James and the Giant Peach is special to me — I had bits of that book memorized. I didn’t kill spiders for years because that book said not to. :p

    • Erin

      Ha, I can see how Gene Wilder would be freaky…though I thought Johnny Depp was creepier when I watched the remake as an adult! I loved the ladybug in James and the Giant Peach. Some of the other bugs scared me, but she was so nice! I’m sure all those spiders you didn’t kill were grateful to Roald Dahl :-)

  • http://lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    I can’t wait until my son is ready for Roald Dahl!! Those will be fun to read with him.

    • Erin

      Oh, yes!! I bet it would be so much fun to experience Dahl with a kid!