Last Thursday, children from the Junior School came to class dressed as their favourite Roald Dahl character and Wellington celebrated the work of this prolific writer for the whole day on the day of his birth – 13th September. But apart from the fact that he was British, why do we celebrate Dahl above any other children’s author?
Roald Dahl was born in Wales to Norwegian parents and spent the early part of his schooling in Llandaff Cathedral School, Cardiff and then moved to Repton School in the Midlands. His school life was to have a profound effect on his life and writing, of which he wrote about in his autobiography “Boy”.
Despite these initial traumatic experiences, Dahl prevailed and firstly took up a post with Shell Petroleum in Africa in 1934 as he yearned for adventure. As war broke out in 1939, Dahl joined the RAF and, after a near-fatal crash landing in Egypt where he fractured his skull, he became an ace fighter pilot in Greece before working for Churchill as an Intelligence Officer in the USA. Eventually Dahl became the celebrated novelist we know today.
Throughout Dahl’s work, we always sense a strong and unwavering moral vein, and a message that, along with an enormous dollop of Dahlian courage, goodness and thoughtfulness will prevail over cruelty and selfishness. Whether it is the penniless Charlie’s continual pangs of hunger (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964), or Danny’s gruesome caning from Captain Lancaster (Danny the Champion of the World, 1975) or Matilda’s crusade against child-hating Headmistress Mrs Trunchbull (Matilda, 1988) we root for these victims of circumstance to endure and prevail and conquer any evil which stands in their way.
It is this incredibly powerful moral compass which sets Dahl high above most other children’s authors and which draws schools from around the world to celebrate his birthday each year. Teachers know instinctively they are on solid moral ground when their pupils are reading, discussing or writing about Roald Dahl’s stories. And in a multi-media world where video games, TV and movies can often move the needle, it is very reassuring for schools to have Dahl’s stories to annually realign that compass.