What We Can Learn from Roald Dahl & a BFG (Big Friendly Giveaway)!

I love books. I love authors. I am constantly impressed by what other people put on the page, how tightly they weave a story, how instantaneously they pull me into their characters. If you read my blog at all or follow my Facebook updates, you know this.

Honestly, though, there are only a few authors at whose altars I truly worship. Worship as in stand in awe at the magic they have wrought, at the perfection of their books, at how lost I get when I am in their world.

Roald Dahl is one of these authors.

For his birthday, I thought I’d toss up a few things I think we can learn from Mr. Dahl, whether we’re writers, readers, parents, or even a politician who’s capable of walking around with an open mind. Really. I think there are a few.

Distraction: If you want to read a delicious post about Roald Dahl and FOOD, plus get a RECIPE, check out Jama Rattigan’s birthday post here.

Here we go…

  • Chocolate is good. Just ask Charlie.
  • Love is also good. Even for us old folks. Read Esio Trot.
  • There are bad people in the world. Sometimes they’re witches (read The Witches), sometimes they’re aunts or parents (read James and the Giant Peach and Matilda.) If you try to pretend they don’t exist, that everybody is a kind friend, you aren’t fooling the kids–whether you’re writing for them or parenting them. Or censoring “for” them.  Are you really fooling yourself?
  • It’s okay to take on these bad people and do battle. Even if you are the child whom other people will tell to stay in your place, be quiet, don’t argue. You have power and strength. Sometimes that strength comes as magic (read Matilda again), and sometimes it comes as intelligence, creativity, and determination (read The BFG). Find your strengths, welcome them, and use them.
  • There are also good people out there, who will listen to you, give you friendship, and support you in your battle. Find them, trust them, and stick with them.
  • Push yourself. Take risks. Cross the line. Again, this applies to our life-life, but really, really, it applies to our writing life. (Read any of Dahl’s books.) Look at what Roald Dahl wrote. Look at the extreme situations he put his characters in, and look at the extremes they used to save themselves. Did he touch adult nerves? Oh, yes, he did. And does. Do the kids care? They do not. They just fall in love.
  • Do that with your writing—Fall. In. Love. I don’t know for a fact how Dahl felt about his own stories. I’m sure he struggled, as we all do, with early drafts, with revision that wasn’t taking him where he wanted to go. But I’m also sure, in my gut, that he could not have written the magic he gave us, without loving what he was doing. Without loving his heroes, without loving their worlds. Yeah, I’m sure.

I know I just had a contest, but, really, I need another one with this post. Leave a comment with the title of your favorite Roald-Dahl book and tell me why. I’ll leave the contest up over the weekend, and I’ll announce a winner on Monday–a winner for a copy of my favorite book by Dahl: The BFG.


  1. jama says:

    Love this post (and thanks for the link love, Becky)!

    I would have to say Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is my favorite, because it’s like Dahl knew exactly what my ultimate fantasy would be! I’ve had a thing for Oompa Loompas ever since I first read it (did you know he originally wrote them as Black pygmies but was forced to change them)? Yes, politically incorrect and usually had to be reined it.

    You probably know the BFG was also Dahl’s personal favorite. He channeled himself, at 6’5″ tall.


    • beckylevine says:

      I also think Sophie was based on the daughter he had who died. I love that he let her take on the big, bad giants. I always have to reread Charlie to remember how good it is. I love the Gene Wilder movie, but it’s not QUITE the book. 🙂


  2. jama says:

    Oops, that should be “reined in.” 🙂


  3. laurasalas says:

    I love Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. And Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. But I also really loved Boy and his dark adult short stories. Have you ever read (or watched the TV series) Tales of the Unexpected? Love those! But if I have to pick one, I guess it’s Matilda. A child winning over her horrible parents is such a wonderful thing:>)


    • beckylevine says:

      I did read Boy, when my son chose it for his third-grade biography to do a report on. I haven’t read his other adult books; I have to remind myself sometimes that dark is good to read! I do love Matilda–I love that Dahl didn’t back off from having those characters be the parents or showing that the best thing for Matilda was to get away from them.


  4. Carrie Jones says:

    Oh, Becky. I love this and I love you.
    The Witches. Why? Because they are evil and punished.


  5. Cricket says:

    Danny the Champion of the World, or Henry Sugar

    My younger brother was late learning to read, and Mom declared that he would not miss out on great children’s literature, so she read to him. Dahl only one of many great authors she chose. Every meal we had without Dad — every breakfast and lunch and some suppers — and every long drive, she read to us. When he finally learned to read in grade 3, he jumped from 2 years behind to 2 years ahead in 6 months.

    Being older, my school started earlier and I stayed for lunch, so I only heard some of the stories, often just 20 minutes of it.

    I loved the sound of the pheasants dropping from the trees. Now I also like how he made me, a very straight-laced child, cheer for the poachers. As a parent, I like how the father trusts and relies on his son, and how the entire community gets involved.

    Henry Sugar reinforced my belief that we all have extra senses. Even now, I sometimes stare into the space between candle wick and flame and hope something happens.

    I live in Ontario, Canada, so might not be eligible for the contest, but I had to share my memories anyways.


    • beckylevine says:

      All right, clearly, I need to put these two on my list. I THINK I’ve read them, but obviously not as often as the others! Lovely stuff, Cricket. And I think I can get a book to Canada if you win–so you’re entered! 🙂


  6. It’s got to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory… partly because the ability to leap into the pages would fulfill tens of my childhood (and even adulthood) fantasies, and partly because I haven’t read the other ones. But thanks to your post, I’m adding them to my to-be-read pile now!


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