Saturday, February 24, 2018

Roald in Gold - the Man, the Myth and the Monsters

To bring you these pieces on writers and their books, I prowl the Web promiscuously, poking my nose into media garbage cans - old and salacious news articles about their lives - and pedantic prose about their professional prowess. So, what you will find below is an attempt at outright voyeurism, parading as an exercise in punditry. Or vice versa. 

Roald Dahl's life and career read almost as engrossingly as any story of his. Not only was some ancestor of his gruesomely executed or something of the sort, one of his children met with a frightful and almost fatal accident at a tender age. It is the way these varied experiences hue his writings that bring us pleasure. And then there's his background as war pilot, and even as spy.  

The storyteller weaves from the threads of experience. Tragedies Dahl encountered in the course of his life shaped his tales. More fascinating, however, is the fact that his celebrated inventiveness was not exclusive to words. To counter his son's medical condition, he is credited with creating a device to drain brain fluids, as you will read in the links given under Browse.

All authors are wordsmiths. Many even forge new terms. Dahl does that with delightful dexterity. There is much evidence in his creations of his engagement with language and its use. The best way to learn how this master of the craft wields his talent is to read his writings.  

When I came across Roald Dahl for kids in my thirties, I had already read some of his short stories for adults, years earlier. Those were like dark chocolates - with absinthe fillings...


Dahl's terse tense Poison is classic

As is the delectable Skin


Televised versions of some of Roald Dahl's short stories on Youtube:

Lamb to the Slaughter (1979)

There are a whole lot of them, there, titled Tales of the Unexpected

The Man made Mythical Monsters

To some in his life, as is true for all of us, the man was a monster. Though it is true that there is a guide book for stroke patients that was made with his help, he was extremely harsh to his wife whom he nursed through her convalescence. The silver lining, here, was not only her rapid recovery (perhaps due to his bullying?) but the sparkle of some of his fantabulous vocabulary. It is claimed that his wife's garbled stroke induced speech stimulated some of that brilliant output of his. 

It is reported that he had a bitter childhood. That could explain his nature in person as well as the warped weft of his creations. It is easy, in perspective, to make myths of molehills in a master's life. Perhaps it's better to try and enjoy the work before seeking to enhance it with dubious information about the person.

What is undeniable is that it is no myth that the man moulded many a marvellous monster!


Great authors are generally prolific and Dahl has an output of nearly fifty published works including stories for children and adults, as well as some scripts and screenplays.

At, you will find a fabulous annotated list of his stories.

Surely his years as pilot and in espionage lent colour to his tales: 

While his books mostly make us merry - albeit with macabre strokes, Dahl's own life is punctuated by tragedy: 

Writers of worth have a way of sublimating the unpleasant by internalising experience and outputting excellence. Dahl engaged with the world around him to entertain us, lightening life's heavy load.

That's not all. The medical conditions of his family were grist to his mill but it is not fair to say that he exploited them. The regurgitations of those sad events in his words must surely have cheered up a lot of invalids around the world.

However, this is not the only benefit he brought to the world. He used his marvellous genius to invent something to help his own child and that gadget now brings relief to other patients around the world.

My Usual Sour Tippani:

It is rather more than a pity that Roald Dahl is dead and gone but nothing of his is there for us, for free. Do we really do any good by fattening publishers, spouses or descendents of deceased authors? None of Dahl's surviving close family seem to have liked him so much, after all. Of course, there is my friend who says that it is, perhaps, good that he is not freely available. I do not agree - all that there is to be read should be accessible without cost to all. The human animal requires all existing information to grow in excellence as a species. 

While Dahl retains some popularity, the author we tackle tomorrow has suffered more gravely.

Not Dull at All - Dahl for the Young

Last saturday, on the Facebook Page, Writer Rites, the daily literary article, short story and poem showcased three writers, each embodying a specific mode or modes of humour. 

Roald Dahl's sinister hues coloured many a world view, for sure. Here's a rather long glimpse of the fascinating life of a fascianting writer:
The Marvellous World of Roald Dahl BBC Documentary 2016

George Mikes giggled us around the globe.   
How To Be An Alien Audiobook | George Mikes

Seuss bent our world with defining words and graphics. 
Mini Bio: Dr. Seuss

One fascinating detail about all literary genius is that it is bountiful. Profuse output characterises Dahl, Mikes and Seuss too. And so I have to offer them to you all pre-chopped up - just like my father would do for me with food when I was little. Fried egg, French fries, fried tomato, toast - all cut up, bite size. 

And talking of little, I met my first Dahl for children with my son when he was a little boy. And we both seem to concur that it was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

There appear to be films of the story - not just one but at least two. There, most probably, are movies or filmed versions of other Dahls for children as well.

Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971) Official Trailer

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) Official Trailer 

And, of course, there's the book:

The Wikipedia entry for children's books by Dahl comes to some 22. And that must make it a tough choice for when one goes shopping to buy a young friend or relative a book as gift. 

Pages such as Roald Dahl's 11 best — and worst — children's books, ranked form a useful resource for such an endeavour. And, when I last looked, it's still a fairly respectable and acceptable gift for a young person.

Unfortunately. I'm sorry to admit that a Dahl of any sort would not figure first or high on my list of books for the very young. That does not mean that I do not like the author or his works. 

After all, he is a very natural descendent of the grim Grimms Brothers, in his own bizarre sort of way. 

It's not just prose that he has output for a young readership. He has poems on animals and insects and reptiles as well as parodies of fairy tales which are just more evidence that here is a writer who earns his place in the galaxy of the stars of literature.
Roald Dahl - The Ant Eater

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Having strolled you through Roald for the kids, I plan, tomorrow, to introduce you to his writings for adults. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

My First Durrell - An All Time Favourite for All Ages

My Family and Other Animals must have been my first Gerald Durrell. Having been raised in a somewhat similar fashion to what young Durrell experienced, I spent time observing the fauna around me - mainly frogs and ants - but, as the years wore on, I also got to keep and observe rabbits and cats and some birds. Apart from keeping creatures, I spent a good deal of time observing them (mainly Indian squirrels) in the "wild" - the boughs of a large network of bougainvillea. It was in such a setting that I often dipped into favourite chapters of the book.

There are absolutely memorable sequences in the book which I cannot ever forget not only for the sheer beauty of the language but also because they tickle every funny bone.

My inner world is still rich with the book right down from the opening chapters where the family is first sketch etched on memory. The setting is a drear and drab England and the family suddenly decides to leave - lock, stock and barrel - for Corfu. There is a delightful mother, two eccentric elder brothers, and one pimply sister. The Internet will inform you that the sister protested that description. So did at least one brother, to my knowledge. 

It was, apparently, Lawrence Durrell, the brother who was and went on to become a minor noise in literature, who chose where they were to go.  At that point in my life I lived a delicious Jekyll and Hyde existence - one me was a character in my version of one of the books in the Alexandria Quartet (Justine?). The other was a female Gerald Durrell. 

As a matter of fact, however, it is the Gerald book or parts thereof that form some school coursework. Alas. If you want to know why I have this reaction, visit an earlier blog post.

Of course, today, all sorts of things, on the Net, might colour your ability to relish his writings. I point you back to what I have to say in that regard in the link given above: "good writers tend to be vilified by the media..."

Corfu, the idyllic Greek island - I'd dearly love to visit it - came alive for me in My Family and Other Animals. As did the characters. Such as Gerald's tutor. Durrell's is an unforgettable description of a typical scholarly man. 

Of this menagerie, I most cherish the Turk who came to date Durrell's sister. It gained a special place in my heart in adulthood when I not only met a man who is so true to the stereotype Gerald portrayed but a whole tribe of such people! There is nothing such beings cannot do that is not perfect. I'm sorry to say it is perfectly miserable to have to spend time with such characters but the memory of the book helps me smile through it.

At length the Turk turned to Larry:
  'You write, I believe?' he said with complete lack of interest.
  Larry's eyes glittered. Mother, seeing the danger signs, rushed in quickly before he could reply.
  'Yes, yes' she smiled, 'he writes away, day after day. Always tapping at the typewriter'
  'I always feel that I could write superbly if I tried' remarked the Turk.
  'Really?' said Mother. 'Yes, well, it's a gift I suppose, like so many things.'
  'He swims well' remarked Margo, 'and he goes out terribly far'
  'I have no fear' said the Turk modestly. 'I am a superb swimmer, so I have no fear. When I ride the horse, I have no fear, for I ride superbly. I can sail the boat magnificently in the typhoon without fear'
  He sipped his tea delicately, regarding our awestruck faces with approval.
  'You see' he went on, in case we had missed the point, 'you see, I am not a fearful man.”

Enchanting and hilarious!

There are some film versions of the story such as the one below:

In future blog posts, I hope to tell you something of other books of his that I have read. And I would dearly love to reread those or something new of Gerald Durrell.