Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Bad Boys of Children's Literature

Yesterday was Roald Dahl Day. It marks what would have been the old boy's 90th birthday. There have been blogs and celebrations aplenty regarding the World's No.1 Storyteller.
Apparently Dahl was, not to put too fine a point on it, a fairly unpleaseant b**tard in real life. A new book by Donald Sturrock recounts a life of more than mischief making, bullying, philandering and monumental egotism.
For Heaven's sake, look at the photo! I'd be scared.
Have you read the Fantastic Mr.Fox? I listened to it, narrated by Dahl himself, over the holidays. I've never suffered an anxiety attack before but that probably was the closest. I was more disturbed by that than when I read 'Silence of the Lambs.' Mutilations, brutality and in one scene, Mr. Fox's children fear they will have dogs set on them.
What modern author could get away with that? What modern author would even think of it?
Maybe he was a bad boy, so what? Maybe that's what made his stories malicious, despairing and cruel. And brilliant. If there was any quote that first intrigued me with Harry Potter it was a very early one which compared Philisopher's Stone to Dahl. I agree, Rowlings' first few Potters were my favourites and do have a strong Dahlesque flavour. The later books got too caught up in the setting than the plot, IMHO, but to be compared to Dahl is a great compliment indeed. Perhaps the greatest.
Next up is Phillip Pullman. Now if you're a regular reader you know I love his Northern Lights trilogy. Those books CHANGED MY LIFE. I would not be a children's writer if it hadn't been for Pullman's work, his is a major inspiration. DEVIL'S KISS would not exist if not for him. And boy, do I agree with him on things like age banding, that shambles last year about security checks for authors visiting schools and the dogma that dominates religion.
He's become a bit of a grumpy old man, hasn't he? Sort of 'rent-a-rant' author. I don't mind him venting but where are the books? I haven't read his Jesus one (lack of armoured bears put me off) but it's a bit disappointing when he says he doesn't write fantasy, even though he's written the best fantasy trilogy since Tolkien and seems to be distancing himself from what he did best, write children's stories.
Still, his immortality is assured. He, like Dahl, has written tales that look at the dark heart of children's tales and do so without sentiment and with honesty. For that I can only admire them as two of the greatest children's writers ever.


DOT said...

I do agree with you. Kids love to be scared.

I used to get my kicks out of the Brothers Grimm stories - the unbowdlerised version - tucked up in bed with Mum and Dad a scream away, just in case.

Thomas Taylor said...

I sometimes think I won't get any serious writing done until I become an unpleasant bastard myself. It certainly helps to be self-centred and intolerant of distractions *looks round to see if wife's looking*

john said...

There is a resemblence.

SarwatC said...

Yes, I know exactly what you mean. My wife's standing over me with a frying pan as I type...

What d'you mean there's a resemblence? I assume you mean the similarities in literary genius, ratehr than being a bit of a complete b**tard.