We’ve been celebrating Roald Dahl’s works all week in honor of #RoaldDahl100, and what better way to go out with a bang than to share with you our all-time favorite stories?
For some of us, we grew up on Dahl’s books, whether our parents read them to us or we picked them up ourselves. For others, it was the movies that introduced us to Dahl’s magical world of girl geniuses and eccentric candymakers.
Whatever the reason, and whatever the way, we’re here to tell you which of Roald Dahl’s stories speak to us the most.
Angelica Yap — ‘George’s Marvelous Medicine’
Though I loved absolutely most of Roald Dahl’s absurdly fantastic stories as a child, one of the books I re-read constantly was George’s Marvelous Medicine. It was a simple tale, especially in comparison to some of his other books, following a young boy who decides that he would concoct a “magic” medicine to feed his nasty old grandmother, after having enough of her bullying.
As a curious and impressionable child, I was intrigued by the idea of this young lad, who, not only was home alone without proper adult supervision, but had access to all the bottles, jars and boxes of household products I was expressly forbidden to meddle with. And boy, did I always want to! Despite the warnings, I did have fun making some sneaky “potions” with the soaps and products in my parents’ bathroom (sorry, Mom!).
I lived vicariously through George’s little adventure, reading with complete and utter fascination as he found something new and exciting to throw into the mix. In an odd way, I felt like George was living out my childhood yearnings for me, and hence, I’ll always consider it one of my favorite books. Fortunately, I had the good sense not to attempt to make any “magic medicines” at home. In hindsight, perhaps, I should have become a chemist?
Brittany Lovely — ‘Witches’
The summer I turned 11 I read an author a week at the library. One week it was Beverly Cleary, another it was Ann M. Martin, the next Sharon Creech. But when I got to Roald Dahl, I hit a wall. The cause of the abrupt stop in my reading was Witches, his 1983 young adult novel about an unnamed boy whose grandmother is a former witch hunter.
It was not the boy’s parents dying or the fact that he had to move far away with his Grandmama or even that witches existed that gave me pause. I’d seen my fair share of Disney movies and got the gist of the hard-life-turned-grand story. But this boy’s life was not grand. In fact, it was flat out terrifying.
Dahl was peculiar, which I knew from Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but while Matilda got a loving home and Charlie got a factory, Witches left the boy resigned to live out his days as a mouse and age alongside his grandmother. Dahl went on to defend that choice by saying the boy was perfectly happy as a mouse! But that was not what I was looking for in my summer reading.
Despite the creepiness, the brutal themes of the story, and an even more terrifying film adaptation, all these years later this story, every detail, has stuck with me. I could still tell you how to spot a real witch in the wild if you asked me kindly. That was the summer I really dug in and read everything in sight, and Witches remains a huge part of my favorite summer reading memory where I discovered that horror, no matter how tame, might not be for me.
Danielle Zimmerman — ‘James and the Giant Peach’
I have a confession to make: I’m one of those people who has never actually read a Roald Dahl book. They never came up in my school curriculum and my elementary school librarians never recommended them to me. I actually discovered Roald Dahl through the magic of the movies. Sure, they may not be 100% true to the original work, but they embody the spirit. And the spirit that I will always love and come back to is that of James and the Giant Peach.
I’ve always been a fan of the odd. Of the things that seem normal on the outside but have a strange twist to them. I think that’s why James and the Giant Peach has really resonated with me. It was one of the first stories that I remember being exposed to that had a normal kid having something strange, extraordinary, and life-changing happen to them. As a kid, that’s all I ever wanted.
James and the Giant Peach is such a charming story that’s packaged in such a unique way. I know some people can’t bear to even think about it (I’m thinking of one of our Hypable writers in particular), but I love that it’s an escapist story with a slightly creepy feel to it. The story constantly defies expectations and redefines what is possible. Not only that, but it features so many average creatures and objects that, as a kid, it prompted me to look at all of the commonplace things around me and imagine all of the strange and wonderful possibilities.
No, I didn’t (and still haven’t) read James and the Giant Peach, but it continues to resonate with me today as a twenty-something. Thank you, Roald Dahl (and I promise I’ll get to reading the story one day)!
Ariana Quiñónez — ‘Matilda’
Matilda was my favorite movie when I was five. I’d turn it on and watch it through, only to pluck it out, rewind, and start all over again. I’m not sure if I could have told you then just why it meant so much me, but looking back, I think it had to do with magic.
Magic touches us because, like most beautiful things, it relies on belief. It’s Matilda’s willpower that allows her to build her own hope amidst her miserable life, and though her magic is quite literal, as a little girl, I felt the thematic implications of Matilda’s magic ring true in my tiny bones.
Books are knowledge. Knowledge is power. And as I watched Matilda physically manifest her own power, even at five years old, I understood that Matilda was strong because, despite it all, she knew she was enough.
Laura Byrne-Cristiano — ‘Revolting Rhymes’
So, I have a confession to make. As a generality, I dislike poetry. Yes, I know, I was an English major. Yes, I was a teacher. And yes I know this is akin to literary blasphemy. On the other hand, what got me to appreciate poetry more was Roald Dahl and his little-known collection of poems published late in his career called Revolting Rhymes.
In Revolting Rhymes, Dahl explores several fairy tales in a fractured fashion. Each classic has an unusual spin. Cinderella reconsiders life with Prince Charming once she realizes that — ew — her prince is totally down with chopping off the head of anyone the slipper doesn’t fit. Snow White is actually keeping house for seven jockeys, and they are rigging the books so they make a fortune on races. Little Red Riding Hood has the last laugh as a gun for hire. The three pigs try to get Red to solve their wolf problem, and the next thing you know, Red is walking around in a wolf skin coat and a pig skin travelling bag.
The rhymes are fun and entertaining. Kids will enjoy them on one level, but adults get them on a whole other level. And maybe the humor, irony, and deeper messages may actually get readers to reconsider their distaste for poetry.
Kristen Kranz — ‘The BFG’
The BFG is one of those books that I picked up in the third or fourth grade to earn reading points, but quickly became so much more than just homework. I was immediately taken by the sweet, bumbling giant and the little girl that befriends him.
I wanted to be Sophie. I wanted to run off on an adventure with a giant, see new lands, and experience new things. When I realized I wasn’t going to get very far on my bicycle before my sundown curfew, I settled for finding my adventures in books. And find them I did. I’ve been stranded on desert islands, fought evil wizards, base jumped off cliffs, and survived post-apocalyptic craziness thanks to the world of books that The BFG helped get me hooked on.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why The BFG has stuck with me all these years when so many other books have fallen by the wayside. When I think about what books from my childhood inspired me to be creative and fostered my love of reading, The BFG just jumps to the forefront. Something about the magic of the BFG’s dream-building and Sophie’s belief in him struck a chord with me that has never stopped humming.
Karen Rought — ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’
I don’t remember the first time I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but I know I’ve seen the movie countless times and my wonder and excitement has remained the same throughout the years. I’ve always wanted to read the book, and while I’m performing my due diligence this week ahead of our Roald Dahl special for Book Hype, I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually.
Having never picked up a Dahl book prior to this week, I’ve now read Matilda and Fantastic Mr. Fox and James and the Giant Peach (against my better judgment — yes, I’m the person Danielle was referring to in her section) and even George’s Marvelous Medicine. So, naturally, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory must come next.
Roald Dahl’s works are weird and whimsical, and I know Charlie will fall right in line with that, but part of me — a small, stubborn part — wants to leave this movie untouched. I know the book will be different, and the child in me doesn’t want another version floating around in my head. (I still regret seeing Johnny Depp’s version of the movie.)
But I will read it, and I know I’ll love it because I’ve loved every single one of his books so far, no matter how strange or striking. Willy Wonka gave definition to my longing for pure imagination. It taught me that anything was possible if you dreamed hard enough. Charlie was the good kid, like me, and he got everything he ever wanted because he stayed true to his convictions.
On the other hand, Wonka was eccentric and temperamental. He was infinitely loving and emotional, but he was also angry and jaded. He scared me a little bit, but he also made me want to be the very best person I could be. He taught me that being different was okay, that maybe it was even better than okay, and I wanted to try so hard to prove I was worthy of my own chocolate factory, too.