Roald Dahl – Five of the best

A short while ago, fellow blogger “The Color Lime” posted on reading “James and the giant peach”, the fabulous children’s book by Roald Dahl. This book reminds me of being at school aged around 7 or 8, having this book read to us over a number of story time sessions. Sitting with a class full of 20 to 30 other children, the book still kept me captivated, and brought colourful and interesting imagery to my mind,  something the memory of, triggers even now. It was quite a reading moment. Many of his books have the power to do this. The word “fabulous” could be applied to most all of Roald Dahl’s books for children and adults with imagination.

A few years ago when still living in England, the firm I was working for had a small book club. Various books would appear on offers, and if you wished, you could buy them at a bargain price. For the most part, it was not the sort of books I would want or read. But on one occasion, a box set of Roald Dahl’s books was there. The books still contained the illustrations by Quentin Blake, just like the originals. These days, I feel the illustrations alone are worth the price. I told my wife I was going to buy the set so if we had children, when they were old enough they would have a good start on books to read. She liked the idea because I had given her “The BFG” as a gift, and had enjoyed that. It was a good excuse to buy it, no? We now have a small child.

Roald Dahl was also involved in British television series from the eighties “Tales of the Unexpected” based on some of his short stories for adults. I believe he introduced each episode. On wikipedia stories are described thus: “The stories were sometimes sinister, sometimes wryly comedic and usually had a twist ending”. I recall this show being interesting, and fun, but little details about the stories themselves. The children’s books on the other hand are rich with memories. The boxset contained the following books:

  • The Magic Finger
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Esio Trot
  • Fantastic Mr Fox
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
  • The Twits
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Danny, the Champion of the World
  • George’s Marvellous Medicine
  • Going Solo
  • The Witches
  • Matilda
  • The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
  • The BFG

In all seriousness, I’m looking forward to my son getting a bit older so we can read these together, or more likely me reading them before he can read them himself. Either way, it should be fun. With that in mind here are the five I would pick first. I’m going to exclude Charlie and the Chocolate factory for being over familiar with the recent film, and (my preferred) the Gene Wilder one. Also I haven’t read these in years so I’m relying on the younger me i.e. memories, to inform the older me which ones to go for. When I do get chance to go through them again, I might have another opinion. Anyhoo:

  1. The Witches – “This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches.” I must have borrowed this from the library several times when I was a child. The version which is pictured above. It considers the bond between a boy and his Grandma (the boys parents had died). I was close to my Grandma as a child, having lived very close. That never occurred to me at the time. I loved the descriptions of the witches, the long gloved hands, the wigs, the larger nose holes than ordinary. I still think someone with large nose holes is a witch now. Sort of. There could be one living next door to you.
  2. The BFG – The Big Friendly giant who collects good children’s dreams in a jar, so he can distribute them later. He is different to the other giants who eat children. He meets a small child Sophie, and together they plot to stop the other giants. The book is populated with terms such as “snozzcumber” and “whizz popper”. You can find out what they are for yourself. I used to work at a firm where one of the directors was a tall bloke with big ears. Many staff kindly referred to him as the BFG.
  3. James and the Giant Peach – Poor James Trotter, sent to live with his horrible aunts after his parents were eaten by a Rhinoceros. After a weird spell transforms a giant peach outside their house, he crawls inside and befriends six anthropomorphic insects. An adventure begins. The book gives you an odd respect for insects (or at least giant ones). It is fun and amusing, and emotional.
  4. Danny, Champion of the world – A book more grounded in realism (to a point) featuring the boy Danny and his widowed father, a pheasant poacher. Danny finds him missing one night, drives out to the woods and finds him. Thus begins a plot to humiliate the “evil” Mr Hazell, enemy to the two of them, and rich neighbour, about to host his annual pheasant-shooting party. Unless Danny and his father can get the pheasants first. I think this book may contain a small story which formed the basis for “The BFG”, but I’m struggling to recall how much of that is in there. Another story playing on the bond between close family members.
  5. The Twits – About a gross elderly couple who are stupid and always playing tricks on each other. No-one likes them much. Some birds and monkeys take their revenge. I remember the book being short and funny, and some of it being in the descriptions of the filthy state of the Twits. With its length, it would make a good starter book.

I’ve seen a few people like this around…

I’m aware that many of these books have been turned into films. I have not seen many of them. Even at a young age I realised that it won’t be as good as the book(s) and I had no wish to spoil it or them.

What do you think of my choices? Would you have chosen differently, and is their a favourite for you?

Lexicon word of the day: anthropomorphic.


16 comments on “Roald Dahl – Five of the best

  1. Smaktakula says:

    Love Roald Dahl! He was a spy you know.
    My faves are “Danny, Champion of the World” where I first heard of poaching, and of catching a pheasant with a raisin with a horsehair through it. Also James & His Colossal Fruit . Mr. Fox & Charlie were also good.

    • Elliot says:

      A spy of sorts. I think the guy tended to be well respected whatever he did.

      Danny is a good one. I recall as a child, myself and a friend when out somewhere taking a shortcut through some farmer fields. The farmer saw us and started chasing us shooting. We were laughing afterwards saying it was like Danny. Well at the time it felt like it.

      • Smaktakula says:

        Wow! Shooting. Yeah, that’s like “Danny,” or maybe “Watership Down.”

      • Elliot says:

        Erm, it was meant to say “Shouting” but either I typed the wrong word or I mistyped and the spell correction changed it to that. Not as interesting but safer, and it was still scary / fun at the time.

  2. L.S. Engler says:

    As a bookish girl, I always had a soft spot for Matilda. It is (unfortunately!) the only one of Roald Dahl’s books I still have! I’ve always like the movie adaptations, as well, though nothing can beat the books

    • Elliot says:

      Matilda is another good one, it almost went in the top five. I still have the BFG and Danny Champion of the World from my original additions, but back then I used to borrow most books from the library and read them that way.

  3. I loved Dahl’s books when I was a child, but, I have to say, it’s his short stories, especially those in Kiss Kiss, that have haunted me for years 🙂


  4. What a difference in what appeals to generations of new readers. I wish we had modern kid stuff to read half a century ago.

  5. Anne says:

    My husband made me read BFG, glad he did, it was great. X

  6. jmmcdowell says:

    I’ll bet your son grows to love the stories as much as you did. I think he’ll pick up on the way you read them to him as being more special than some other books.

  7. The Lime says:

    I would definitely choose “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More” as my all-time favorite Dahl book. But he’s a genius, so I don’t think you’ve made any mistakes up there 🙂

    Also, I totally vote books before movies every time, but maybe I’m biased.

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