Today is Roald Dahl’s birthday.
Dahl is the author, essayist and illustrator who gave us The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, Dirty Beasts, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits and a bunch more.
Growing up, I loved him because he drew from real life and never shied away from the ugly. He also portrayed adults as they truly seemed to kids: tall, loud beings with nasal voices and strange ties to rules and tradition. And in each of his stories there’s an underdog who has a special “flaw” that makes life difficult but ultimately more fulfilling.
Dahl’s writing helped me first appreciate magic and fantasy. It helped me understand the importance of a good, earthy central character and taught me how you could use humor to counter sadness. And it made me fall hard for words: Dahl practically created a whole language of his own, full of words like “scrumdiddlyumptious” that managed to sound both silly and profane.
Along with my other early loves Madeleine l’Engle, Ellen Raskin, Maurice Sendak, C.S. Lewis, Scott O’Dell, Judy Blume, Susan Cooper, Lois Lowry and Shel Silverstein, Dahl had a huge and lasting influence on what I now read and write. And for that–as well as the banner he seemed to carry for all the outcasts of the world–I thank and salute him.
Happy birthday, Mr. Dahl.