How did Dahl’s nasty nov­els es­cape PC po­lice?


Idon’t re­ally like Roald Dahl. There, I’ve said it.

I know it goes against the opin­ion of 250 mil­lion read­ers and the fact he is the most re­spected chil­dren’s author of all time.

I don’t dis­pute he was a master of his craft. And yet … I have never been able to love him as much as I am meant to. Never could as a child, still can’t as I read his books again to my kids.

Give me the whim­si­cal ad­ven­tures of Enid Bly­ton over the macabre re­venge plots of Roald Dahl.

Granted, Matilda, who turns 30 to­mor­row, is a great role model and fun story; bar­ring the parts where Miss Trunch­bull tries to kill her pupils, which might scar your im­pres­sion­able four-year-old if you fool­ishly show her the movie just be­fore she starts school.

Hear­ing, “Mummy, why has she thrown the lit­tle girl out of the win­dow by her hair?” was my big­gest Mum fail mo­ment to date.

And Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox is a ri­otous romp too — even though my daugh­ters can’t stop wor­ry­ing about his tail be­ing shot off.

It’s just that al­most all of Dahl’s adult char­ac­ters are evil and the pro­tag­o­nist, whether child or an­i­mal, wreaks re­venge most hor­ri­ble. What’s wrong with just hav­ing a nice ad­ven­ture?

I doubt some of his books would get pub­lished if he wrote them to­day. In fact, I’m sur­prised the PC Po­lice haven’t tried to edit them.

Take Ge­orge’s Mar­vel­lous Medicine, for ex­am­ple, where young Ge­orge mixes to­gether a magic po­tion from highly toxic in­gre­di­ents he finds about his house, to teach his griz­zly old grand­mother a les­son. In goes en­gine oil, an­tifreeze, laun­dry de­ter­gent, flea pow­der, sham­poo and paraf­fin.

Er, what? Even in the 1980s a chil­dren’s book about mak­ing a medicine out of deadly in­gre­di­ents must have raised at least one red flag. Did no­body at his pub­lish­ers ever ven­ture, “I say old chap, it might not be the best thing to tell kids to drink poi­son”?

What’s more, this book is beloved — it’s on the na­tional cur­ricu­lum — and a play is tour­ing the coun­try right now.

All they do is write the con­sid­er­ably un­der­stated, “Do not try to make Ge­orge’s Mar­vel­lous Medicine your­selves at home. It could be dan­ger­ous,” in the fore­word. That’s that cov­ered then.

Mean­while med­dling bods couldn’t keep their fin­gers out of Enid Bly­ton’s books — in the 1990s ed­i­tors fid­dled around with her sa­cred texts, ie The Far­away Tree se­ries, chang­ing the names Dick and Fanny to Rick and Fran­nie and scary head­teacher Dame Slap to Dame Snap, who in­stead of hit­ting her way­ward pupils tells them off in­stead.

Just why they felt the need to cen­sor her when Agatha Trunch­bull is left to ham­mer throw her stu­dents into in­fin­ity is a mys­tery.

Thank­fully, Bly­ton’s pub­lish­ers re­cently re­stored the texts to their orig­i­nal.

Ad­mit­tedly Bly­ton was no Dahl when it came to the craft of writ­ing — her magic was all in the plot — but the same crit­i­cism is ap­plied to J.K. Rowl­ing.

“A bad girl is a far more dan­ger­ous crea­ture than a bad boy. What’s more, they’re much harder to squash. Nasty dirty things, lit­tle girls are,” said Miss Trunch­bull.

If only Matilda had en­rolled at Malory Tow­ers in­stead.

Book cov­ers cel­e­brat­ing Matilda’s30th birthday.

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