This excellent New Yorker piece covers the life and times of Roald Dahl, one of my favorite authors (despite his despicable anti-Semitism), seeking to answer the question: Why do children love Dahl while adults often hate him?
In many children's books–contrary to what parents tell their children about the meaning of appearances–physical ugliness signifies its moral equivalent. Dahl takes this to an extreme, describing his villains' repulsive attributes with brio: Mr. Hazell's "great, glistening, beery face . . . as pink as a ham," in "Danny, the Champion of the World" (1975); Aunt Sponge's resemblance to "a great white soggy overboiled cabbage"; the "grizzly old grunion of a grandma" in "George's Marvelous Medicine" (1981)–the one Dahl book I find irredeemably sour–who has "a small puckered-up mouth, like a dog's bottom." Dahl shared with George Orwell an acute sense of why small children often see adults as unsightly or intimidating. "Part of the reason for the ugliness of adults, in a child's eyes, is that the child is usually looking upward, and few faces are at their best when seen from below," Orwell wrote. Dahl once said that adults should get down on their knees for a week, in order to remember what it's like to live in a world in which the people with all the power literally loom over you.