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.
The 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.
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?