Roald Dahl: kind of a jerk

Discuss

81 Responses to “Roald Dahl: kind of a jerk”

  1. Mister44 says:

    re: “but it’s a shame to learn that an author who’s given me so much pleasure and wonder was also such a rotten guy.”

    Don’t fret. You HAVE to separate the art from the artist. EVERYONE has character flaws. Some more than others.

    In fact I caution people about meeting their ‘heroes’, lest they find out they are human. People have burned records after meeting their favorite band and they turned out to be huge assholes. If you learn too much about an artist you like, it may taint and affect your enjoyment of their art.

    Many writers, artists, etc. have huge drug or alcohol problems. They might be deviants, anti-whatever, and beat their kids or name them things like “apple” and “blanket”. Some people just simply are not nice. Some might be great to hang out with or very fan friendly, but a mess in other areas, such as their morals or health.

    • Anonymous says:

      Indeed. I’ve met a fair few writers, actors, and musicians I admire. Of them all, only 2 turned out to have obnoxious attitudes beyond bearing.

      One got drunk, made sexual comments about his friend’s gf and the talent of a friend who was performing that night, in front of his friend’s PARENTS.

      The other has refused on multiple occasions to sign cds for fans, when his bandmates are out signing. (The one time he did sign a CD for me he was being PAID to attend a signing, and he grabbed my CD, signed it, then shoved it at me like it was on fire.)

      I’m hard pressed to listen to either of their music anymore, and have declined invitations to go out with friends if it meant paying money to see either of these two perform. To me, it’s like rewarding douchebaggery, especially since both are underground “indie” artists who perform very small scale shows. Sorry, but when your bread and butter quite literally is getting people into the club to see you, you don’t piss where you eat, you know?

  2. KinetiQ says:

    This article surprisingly skipped over an incredible chapter in Roald’s life, namely how he acted during his family’s numerous health crises during the 60s.

    Check this article out: Roald Dahl’s Darkest Hour
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/biographyandmemoirreviews/7930233/Roald-Dahls-darkest-hour.html

  3. Anonymous says:

    Of course it’s taken out of context with no back story as to why Dahl might have started his rants.

    Not that I’m backing him up. I’m glad Willy Wonka pissed him off.

  4. Slightly Askew says:

    I learned my lesson and try to avoid biographies of my favorite artists ever since I accidentally discovered Orson Scott Card was LDS. I now find myself unintentionally looking for the hidden religious messages in his books, ala C.S. Lewis, and I know I’m missing out on the untainted enthusiasm I had during the Ender books.

    • SamSam says:

      The difference is that, while you can find clear references to many of Orson Scott Card and C.S. Lewis’s beliefs in their books (and many of the books are allegorical), here we have allegations that Dahl’s books are full of pedophelia and anti-semitism, without any evidence at all.

      The more I look over this article, and the intelligent comments written here and over there, the more I realize this article is a stupid, poorly-written, attention-seeking piece by someone who projects his own fixations wherever he looks.

    • Tynam says:

      …ever since I accidentally discovered Orson Scott Card was LDS. I now find myself unintentionally looking for the hidden religious messages in his books…

      I don’t think you need to worry; I’ve never noticed a hidden religious message in anything by Card. Religious messages in his work, where present, tend to be loudly and obviously present. (Other influences of his life on his work can be harder to spot.) Personally I find this sort of this usually improves my enjoyment of the author’s work, but YMMV as usual.

  5. but.if.and.that says:

    As an editor I’ve learned that there is an unusual proportion of assholes in the world of authors, even on the low-end of the spectrum (such as academia). I’ve been threatened on the phone, told at the last second that I need to give an author more money or s/he won’t publish, told that I’m a toad, and, just yesterday, I was yelled at for not allowing an author to appear on the front cover of the book they wrote. I don’t understand the vanity and egotistical nature of many authors. It’s laughable and sad.

  6. emmdeeaych says:

    Some of the best most creative people I know are raging jerks about their work.

    Might have something to do with that wildly different perspective on things that you think makes their work great.

    It’s too bad you can’t be in control of their genius, but then again you like it sometimes when they aren’t.

  7. Skep says:

    I’m not really surprised. I read Charlie and the Chocolate factory for the first time recently and I found it to be a bit of a hateful little book, which vilified all the kids other than Charlie, generally for trivial transgressions. In a way, it seems in line with the article’s contention that Dahl was bullied and is now a bully himself.

    • emmdeeaych says:

      And that his literature is celebrated while his person is not… what does that say about our culture?

      I think it says that we promote and support bullies, until they bully us personally.

      I still think the world of the man, asshat and all.

      • mausium says:

        “And that his literature is celebrated while his person is not… what does that say about our culture?

        I think it says that we promote and support bullies, until they bully us personally.

        I still think the world of the man, asshat and all.”

        It says that we are an enlightened culture who support art in all of its forms, and who use social sanctions against private expressions of douchebaggery. He was not a “bully” in public or through his works.

      • Skep says:

        Hmm…my point is that I wasn’t impressed by his work, either. It seemed to consistent with his allegedly unpleasant personal characteristics.

        And I think I’ve mis-remembered my issues with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The only thing I remember for certain is that i didn’t like it. It was too melodramatic, even for a kids book, well, for a kids book that I would like.

  8. Anonymous says:

    If you’re interested in the world of children’s literature as it developed some intensely in the mid 20th century, I recommend “Dear Genius”, the collected letters of Ursula Nordstrom. It’s fascinating stuff, watching for someone interested in the process of publishing.

  9. Anonymous says:

    had known about his many flaws– but (as someone mentioned), take my cue from Patricia Neal, in that she had the most reasons of all to both hate & love him. He did get rehabilitate her after the stroke- in total contradiction to every medico advice at the time; yet, also took up with her best friend & destroyed their marriage.

  10. ottocrat says:

    I visited the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden a couple of weeks ago with my kids. Funnily enough, it gave a quite different impression of the man. Which is a pity, because a museum worthy of the name should be as objective as possible, regardless of how it sources its funding (the RD Museum is funded in part by the Dahl family). Writers are human beings, and human beings are complex and often nasty. Many of my favourite authors are people I’d run a mile from if I met them in real life.

  11. Tristan Eldtritch says:

    Short of them exhibiting actual hard-core evil,I always tend to separate the art from the artist. A huge percentage of great artists, and high-achievers generally, are massive jerks. It’s just a fact of life.

  12. toxonix says:

    He also ‘borrowed without attribution’ the story of James and the Giant Peach from a Japanese-American artist.
    Writers all have their dark, dirty areas.

  13. Brainspore says:

    So “The Twits” was autobiographical?

    • MooseDesign says:

      Oh, I do love that book though…

      I suggest also reading his autobiography, “Boy: Tales of Childhood”…. he definitely paints himself as a pisser even from an early age. The story of him slipping goat shit into the tobacco pipe of his sister’s fiance is a particular corker.

      • Brainspore says:

        I did read that one too, actually… but it’s been a couple of decades. One anecdote that stuck was the story of how Dahl got the job of warming the headmaster’s toilet seat at boarding school because he had good blood circulation in his tuckus.

  14. Sarah Neptune says:

    Such a well-written letter, I thought. I would not have been able to get four paragraphs out of ‘you suck for making us all feel bad.’

  15. Mark Temporis says:

    The BBC documentary I saw paints him quite differently. It was made with his family’s cooperation, but none of them had a bad word to say about him. Usually at least one family member will mention some dirty laundry, even if only between the lines.

    While I don’t consider it nothing, I consider anti-Semitism and other racist leanings less of a character flaw in people who lived that long ago; the culture had a lot to do with shaping racial feelings.

    Anyone still a racist AFTER the Nazis and Civil Rights era has developed these attitudes IN SPITE of the general culture and pretty much chosen to hate rather than simply being ignorant.

    Totally unrelated: his daughter is gorgeous. That’s the main thing I remember from the documentary.

  16. HarveyBoing says:

    No big surprise to me either. He wouldn’t be the first author, even among those known for their youth-/young-adult-oriented books, who as a person had the capacity to be a first-class jerk. There are still such people working in the field today.

  17. jkg says:

    Actually, I thought that reply from the editor is one of the most incisive, mature, and masterfully written rebuttals I’ve ever read. Bravo.

    • emmdeeaych says:

      it was a well written note, too bad it was totally passive-aggressive. I’ll take aggressive aggressive 10 times out of 10 over someone telling me they don’t like my style but would be glad to keep sucking at my teat.

    • blueelm says:

      I agree. I love that letter.

      I try very hard to know little about most artists personal lives. I really do. Even those who make art that is self-referential I prefer to deal with as “identities” via the art without thinking too much about the person themselves.

      Honestly, coming from an art background originally myself, most artists are not pleasant people IMO. This does not mean they are bad, or that their work isn’t worth paying attention to. It may be self selecting because having a career in the arts is very hard, requires some degree of delusional self aggrandizement, and means you’re going to use other people.

      I’m not sure it has to be this way, but it seems to be the way it is.

      Makes you really appreciate those artists who also manage to be nice though (because some of them really are).

    • Anonymous says:

      yes, it is. amazingly well written.

      .~.

  18. Flying_Monkey says:

    I thought it was well known that he wasn’t a nice man. However that article rather over-eggs the pudding in combining moralistic and hypocritical protestant disapproval of ‘inappropriate sex’ (ooh, he liked older, married women, how terrible!) with his more genuinely nasty side (racism etc.).

    And does it make any difference to the quality of his books? Not really. In fact, whether an author is personally lovely or hateful seems to make little difference in many cases.

    • Brainspore says:

      that article rather over-eggs the pudding in combining moralistic and hypocritical protestant disapproval of ‘inappropriate sex’ (ooh, he liked older, married women, how terrible!)

      Having a habit of sleeping with married women doesn’t make you a jerk because it doesn’t conform to puritanical standards of sexuality. It makes you a jerk because (in most cases) it means you care more about getting your rocks off than whether your behavior is hurting other people.

      Don’t get me wrong- if I found out my wife was sleeping with a famous author I’d put most of the blame on her (and on myself if I hadn’t been the best husband). But I wouldn’t exactly have warm and fuzzy feelings about the other man either.

  19. Sam125 says:

    I read the article and while his prose is pretty engaging, which is I guess admirable for a website dedicated to writing but on a factual basis the man needs to be gagged! I mean seriously, Dahl’s work reeked of antisemitism? Really? A+ for prose F- for content.

  20. Anonymous says:

    There’s a fantastic biography of RD by Jeremy Treglowen that covers this whole subject in great detail. For my money, the anti Semitic stuff was half a product of his environment and half RD being a crotchety old man. The bigger story is that most of his childrens books only took on classic status after heavy editorial involvement – his publisher basically rewrote BFG and Fantastic Mr Fox.

    I personally feel the misogyny charges to be without foundation. Girls are the heroines in BFG and especially Matilda. You can point to the Witches, sure, where all the villains are female, however in that book Dahl points out that while witches are always female, ghouls are always male. As are barghests. Also, the most positive character in The Witches is the protagonists grandmother, who is one of Dahls few perfect adults. She’s also very clearly modelled on his own mother, who he adored.

    There’s more, but this is coming from a phone. Please search out the biography, it’s fascinating from the povs of history, literature and psychology, as well as Roald Dahl.

  21. Anonymous says:

    At least he didn’t write The Giving Tree. I’ll never forgive Silverstein for that horrid, child-warping tale. I’d rather give my children The BFG any day.

  22. Bucket says:

    You want to hear stories of a talented asshole, you should hear my uncle describe his interactions with Frank Lloyd Wright.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I should probably see if I can convince him to let me record them. He’s not getting any younger and those stories have me rolling on the floor laughing every time I hear them.

  23. UncaScrooge says:

    Two things I’ve learned the hard way:

    1. Never confuse the artist with their art.

    2. “Assholes” are necessary.

    The second one was a very difficult and long-resisted realization. The trick is in channeling the useful consciousness of the Asshole in a productive direction. For instance, should you have to call up a credit card company to clear up a billing error, you will wish that you had an Asshole at the ready. Assholes also make great public protestors. Nobody shuts down injustice quite like an Asshole.

    • emmdeeaych says:

      I agree with your sentiment entirely. That second point IS a critical one.

      my father used to say: “noboby wants to fight, but somebody has to know how”

  24. Sekino says:

    Dahl may have been a jerk, but the article’s author clearly hates the stories themselves. He seems to expect any ‘decent’ individual ought to be as disturbed as he is by the fairy-tale gruesomeness. I personally always disliked sterilised, moralistic, condescending tales and that exactly why Dahl’s stories were a riot. I identified with Charlie because he was the underdog. I as well was delighted when the obnoxious, rude, petty brats would get their just desserts (quite literally). It never happened in bloody school! The outlandish violence of Ms Trunchbull was worthy of any classical fairy-tale villain…

    He should have stuck with writing about Dahl’s mischief instead of inserting his own prudish judgements on the stories, because if his view of Dahl is as biased as his view of the stories, I’m taking his account with a big grain of salt.

    I just hope he won’t decide to piss on.. I mean analyze Calvin and Hobbes. With Calvin’s recurring daydreams of dinosaurs devouring his classmates, his parents saying they wanted a dog instead and his mom and babysitter being angry authoritarians, he would probably conclude that Watterson is a hateful, bitter, misogynistic, antisocial asshole…

  25. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Being an ass to the people around you.

    Being old enough to have lived through the Holocaust as an adult, and then publicly saying, “There’s a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity … I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

    Yeah, those are totally equivalent.

  26. elronjesus says:

    For anyone unfamiliar with Dahl’s personal life, I think it’s one-sided to present a letter from his editor. Editors can be jerks too. Dahl probably was a jerk, but the bottom line is, artists and their art are not necessarily one in the same. Some really nice people write awful books. I’m not suggesting this is always true, but art is something people make outside of themselves…hopefully something magical. The artist remains flesh and blood.

  27. g0d5m15t4k3 says:

    Huh, I never knew he was a dick. The more you know!

  28. Anonymous says:

    And Walt Disney was anti-Semitic and a pervert! I know because that article told me so!

  29. Exetermoj says:

    There’s a fantastic biography of RD by Jeremy Treglowen that covers this whole subject in great detail. For my money, the anti Semitic stuff was half a product of his environment and half RD being a crotchety old man. The bigger story is that most of his childrens books only took on classic status after heavy editorial involvement – his publisher basically rewrote BFG and Fantastic Mr Fox.

    I personally feel the misogyny charges to be without foundation. Girls are the heroines in BFG and especially Matilda. You can point to the Witches, sure, where all the villains are female, however in that book Dahl points out that while witches are always female, ghouls are always male. As are barghests. Also, the most positive character in The Witches is the protagonists grandmother, who is one of Dahls few perfect adults. She’s also very clearly modelled on his own mother, who he adored.

    There’s more, but this is coming from a phone. Please search out the biography, it’s fascinating from the povs of history, literature and psychology, as well as Roald Dahl.

  30. SamSam says:

    I think the guy was certainly a jerk, but in many respects this article goes way overboard.

    For example, here’s the description of the BFG:

    A novel about a pedophilic monster who abducts a young girl and forces her to stare at the phalluses of larger giants, The BFG (essentially, The Big Fucking Giant) was just crazy enough to work. … Replete with cannibalism, explosive gas, and inspiring nightmares, it is hard to believe that anyone thought The BFG was appropriate for children

    Oh please. This is as bad as the people in the BB post just before this, suggesting that two childless women on a park bench must be pedophiles for being near children. This is an absurd description of the book.

    And James and the Giant Peach was his “least anti-Semitic book?” This is like suggesting that this post is Cory’s least racist post. Where’s the anti-semitism in the BFG? Matilda? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? The Magic Finger? For this statement to be anything other than tautologically true, every single one of his other children’s books would have to contain anti-semitism, which the author is trying to imply.

    Dahl may have been a jerk, and I can certainly see that one could see misogyny in some of his work (well… only really The Witches), but to say that his books are full of pedophile, anti-semitism, etc is just stupid.

    • Tim says:

      Actually, the piece alleges (further down) that the aspects of BFG to which you refer were edited out before publication.

      “He grudgingly edited out the more racist and disturbing parts of The BFG, and when it came time to edit his manuscript of The Witches, he was also open to more substantial alterations.”

      I found the article on a whole to be a bit of a mess. Where are the sources? Lots of allegations with no attribution. And what seems like an obviously personal bias that is not well acknowledged or explained by the author.

      • SamSam says:

        It’s not cited by the article (naturally), so we have no idea, but I’m assuming that the “more racist material” he edited out of The BFG was more along the lines of the types of things that were already there — the people from Panama taste like hats, the people from Greece taste greasy, etc. Again, who knows without a citation, so it doesn’t actually lend support to the theory that all his books were anti-semitic.

  31. pjcamp says:

    Seems like an author would have a spell checker capable of catching “antisemetic” if he couldn’t catch it himself.

    Unless, of course, Roald Dahl was opposed to ejaculation.

    Because that would be a whole nother thing.

  32. M says:

    I won’t patronize a business that’s run heedless of people, their feeling and rights. Why should there even be a question of treating an artist who’s the equivalent of a bad company any better than I would a bad business?

  33. PurpleWyrm says:

    I was lucky enough to attend one of Dahl’s speaking tours in Australia only about a year before he died. He seemed exactly as you’d expect – a grandfatherly old wizard spinning amazing and hilarious tales of wonder. Of course, given that the audience was 90% kids he was probably on his best behavior.

    I was quite shocked some years back when I first became aware of his alleged antisemitism, but at least it makes sense of that very strange scene in the second volume of his autobiography Going Solo (I’ve heard it said that it was inserted after his views became known as a sort of anti-antisemitic hedge).

  34. David says:

    I attended a university that possessed the country’s third largest collection of poetry. I learned quickly that the good feelings you read in poetry are not the same as the personality you encounter in the classroom. I’m kind of miffed lately because I read that Alan Ginsberg was not mindful of the age of some boys he slept with. I like his poem “Master” for its power and I adore his “Elegy for Neal.” But I work in a mental health system where nearly everyone is a victim of some adult. Be a homosexual, a drunk(Kerouac), a drug addict(Cassady, Hunke, Burroughs…), but don’t molest children. P.S. – I hope it’s clear that I do not equate being gay with child molesting.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Dahl suffered a horrific series of personal tragedies, so folks might want to take that into account.

    To start with, his four-month-old son Theo Dahl got run into by a taxicab in New York city and was horribly injured. Theo developed hydrocephalus. In 1962, his daughter Olivia Dahl died of measles encephalitis.

    So his son gets grotesquely injured and his daughter dies. But wait…there’s more. In 1965, Dahl’s wife Patricia Neal experienced savage brain damage from three cerebral aneurysms while pregnant with their fifth child, Lucy. She lost the ability to walk, to talk, to perform even the simplest functions. Roald Dahl had to shut down his career and put his life on hold while nursing his wife full-time to a (fortunately near-complete) recovery.

    I submit that if your son and your daughter were horribly injured and died, and if your wife was turned for years into a near-vegetable by a series of strokes, you’d probably wind up behaving pretty badly too.

    Dahl may have turned into a creep, but there just might be some extenuating circumstances.

  36. Ugly Canuck says:

    I’m not all that familiar with Dahl’s work, being a bit old; his stuff came out after my childhood had ended.

    I did like the movie of “James and the Giant Peach”, but I admit that that was mostly for the animation: and until I glanced at this thread, I was unaware that he had written “The Fantastic Mr Fox” – already on my list of “movies to watch soon”, again for the animation.

    Artists and their personalities…are their personalities important in any way, when considering solely their art, their work? It’s only the art that eventually survives over time, as an object to which we may direct our judgments, is it not?

    Judging people has always been and always will be difficult, compared to judging the art they produce – which is as it should be. I am not much interested in judging people.
    Even artistic people. It’s simply too difficult….

    OTOH, I have always allowed my personal affection to displace my aesthetic judgment, if I personally know the artist. Our friendship simply displaces any critique I may otherwise have to offer as to their work. I don’t know any artists I’d call “assholes”, but if I did, I suppose that would make it far easier for me to apply my free aesthetic judgment to their works – being freed by the artist’s own odiousness, in some sense, from allowing the bonds of personal affection to sway my judgment of their work.

    I prefer to know as little of the personal life of the artist as is possible, if I wish to judge the art itself.

    Great artists can be assholes, no doubts about that. Although, like this song says, Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9uYBdcgR84

  37. Anonymous says:

    Matilda is about a girl as I recall. An insanely wonderful intelligent girl. She has to be one of the great female literary heroes in my mind. So…what about that?

    Also the brave and extremely likable female main character Sophie in the BFG.

    Roald dahl may have had some bias but..I don’t see it shine through in his work as much as people are claiming..at least not his work for children.

  38. boneyard says:

    I’m surprised that no one noted that Roald Dahl suffered a major injury on a plane crash during the war. This caused him significant pain and turmoil throughout his life and it would not be a stretch to say that they could very well have contributed to his antisocial behaviour. Give the guy a break

  39. daen says:

    I have to say, I found the article kind of overdone. Dahl was a misogynistic anti-semite, but to include that with womanizing and being overbearing is to mistake magnitudes of unpleasantness. It’s like saying, “he tortures kittens – AND his breath smells AND he cheats at Scrabble”. You really don’t need the halitosis and bad gamesmanship to know he’s a really, really nasty fellow.

    As for his work, I certainly don’t remember feeling the kind of terribleness that Alex felt after reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (or “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” for that matter). All I recall is slight sympathy (and a smug sense of justice meted out) for the children that inevitably succumbed to their unpleasant personality traits, a sense of envy and excitement that Charlie escaped from poverty and a feeling that the Oompa-Loompas were basically the behind-the-scenes whizkids who were in control … EVERYONE I know who’s read the story wanted to be Charlie.

    I mean, for goodness sake, Alex, you’re disturbed that Charlie and his family were living in such abject poverty, a whole family sharing a single bed? Well, that certainly wasn’t so unusual in Britain for quite a few decades after WWII, in Liverpool and London and Manchester and Glasgow, including some of my classmates’ families. And I’m pretty sure that similar conditions in the US were never far away either, if you cared to look for them. Frankly, I think I can speak for my cohorts when I say it affected us not one jot. Either Alex is of an unusually sensitive nature, or he’s looking for extra axes to grind.

    And Alex doesn’t even mention Dahl’s generally excellent “Tales of the Unexpected”, broadcast on ITV in the UK in the late 70s and ran for a decade. It was the (sometimes) UK equivalent of “The Twilight Zone” – I remember watching “The Sound Machine” and fretting about walking on grass or picking flowers for some time afterwards!

  40. Anonymous says:

    The linked article is long on accusations and insults but short on references and support, however it is worth reading the comments that follow it, particularly:
    June 3, 2011 | Haldon
    June 4, 2011 | Lyndon
    June 6, 2011 | Peter B.

  41. starbreiz says:

    I got a couple books signed by him when I was tiny (well one for me, one for my brother) at some library tour he did. I remember being creeped out by him, but that was such a vague memory. It’s interesting to read that’s how he was perceived by everyone.

  42. ThinkCritically says:

    To be fair, BB is a breeding ground too … for Happy Mutants. ;) Anyone care to list the common traits of that species?

  43. Ipo says:

    I enjoy this assholes writing.
    There have been heaps of nice people writing blather.

    Next thing you know it will be acceptable for physically unappealing people to create art, and be famous for it, even though they aren’t pretty.

    Roald Dahl’s last words were “Ow, fuck!”

  44. wylkyn says:

    You have to separate the art from the artist. I don’t really care what Dahl was like. I read his books; I don’t hang out with the author.

    Though one comment in the article throws some doubt on the facts – the article states that “BFG” originally stood for “Big Fucking Giant” but the BFG originally appeared in “Danny, the Champion of the World” which was published seven years earlier. He was a bedtime story that Danny’s father told him. It’s possible that BFG stood for something else back then, but by the time BFG was written, I doubt that Dahl had suddenly decided to change the meaning of the acronym.

    • SamSam says:

      That was the part the stuck out to you as false, and not the part where the BFG was a pedophile who showed her the penises of other giants?

  45. Mataklap says:

    Still, I’d like to keep thinking of Cory as a nice person.

  46. Ubitigrine says:

    Please, Mr. Scientist, make me a real everlasting gobstopper.

  47. Graeme Hunter says:

    Alternate anecdote about letters and Dahl:

    When I was about 11 we had a task in English which was to write a short story inspired by one of his own collections. Our teacher gathered all the stories together and sent them off to Dahl himself. I’ve no way of knowing if he did read them, but what he did do was write a warm lengthy letter of thanks back, referring to our teacher as “My Darling Malcolm” throughout, telling us we were all wonderful, and constantly gently mocking our teacher. The joy of this was that having received a reply, our teacher was pretty much duty bound to read it out to the class, mocking and all.

    I suspect Dahl knew this was the case, and reckon he might have done it on purpose to any teacher that wrote to him. Regardless, getting the letter was one of the best days of school ever.

  48. Purplecat says:

    He may well have been a racist, a bigot and a horrible person, but the entire article cries out for a [citation needed] tag.

    Most of it seems to consist of “He was horrible, some people who spoke to him say he was horrible and look at his obsession with sex in massive detail.”

    Evidence is especially desirable from articles which include the ridiculously paranoid description of the BFG mentioned above, and the line “His friends were mostly communists, and they were under scrutiny from Joseph McCarthy’s crusade against enemies of the state” pushes it over the line into sheer ranting.

    And seriously? Misogynist subtexts? I’d say the the overriding theme of the whole set of children’s books that he wrote were “With few exceptions, adults are useless. Also the world is full of death and visceral horror”. You know, just like traditional children’s stories.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Many people have said: many artist/writers/creatives tend to be assholes but I’ve yet to hear someone speculate on the possibility that great art comes from pain. Discuss.

  50. Anonymous says:

    “At least he didn’t write The Giving Tree. I’ll never forgive Silverstein for that horrid, child-warping tale. I’d rather give my children The BFG any day.”

    Ah, The Giving Tree. What most people don’t seem to get is that it’s supposed to be awful. Is it painful to read? Yep. But the takeaway message — don’t sacrifice everything you have to someone who doesn’t appreciate you or you’ll end up a lonely stump — is pretty valuable.

  51. Anonymous says:

    The thing that always struck me about Roald Dahl is that during WWII, he was explicitly sent to the British Embassy in the US because of his ability to charm people in general and women in particular.

    The author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was sent to bang your wife to help stop the Nazi menace.

  52. jellyfisher says:

    If you’ve ever read his adult fiction, this would probably come as no surprise.

    • UrbanUndead says:

      Jellyfisher – I read, re-read, re-read again, and practically memorized his kids’ books. Sounds like you shared my disgust & disappointment after subsequently reading his “adult” “lit.” Yuck :(

  53. druse says:

    Damn, that is a shame Cory.

    It’s hard to dislike someone who is a wonderful artist, but it maybe even harder to ignore such facts.

    I was never good at seperating a person and his/her work.

  54. ThinkCritically says:

    I enjoy most BB articles, but some really rub me the wrong way. So far, I take the good and do what I can to minimize exposure to that which I do not like. My $0.02.

  55. OldBrownSquirrel says:

    If anything, this makes me better appreciate those authors who are, by all accounts, nice people.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Talent falls where it falls. Too bad he was such a despicable human being. Wasn’t he married to Patricia Neal, the actress?

  57. Stefan Jones says:

    Interesting. A few months back Warren Ellis tweeted something to the effect that if you liked Dahl’s books, don’t read anything about the man. Now I know what he meant!

    I listened to the audiobook version of Dahl’s childhood autobiography. Fairly entertaining, with no clue of his nascent assholeness. Later in life, wife Patricia Neal credited him with getting her back on her feet after her stroke.

    • Cazart says:

      I heard he was so mean to Patricia while she was incapacitated from the stroke (stacking things on top of her, etc.,) that she recovered for the sole purpose of kicking his ass.

      Which sounds…like a Roald Dahl story.

    • grandmapucker says:

      I read in a biography of him that the reason Patricia Neal recovered so fast from her stroke was because of his bullying and not wanting to have to wait on her. He basically yelled at her until she forced herself to recover. So his dickishness was sort of positive in this one regard, but witnesses to it said it was horrible to see.

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