There are two portraits of Roald Dahl. One version paints him as the heroic WWII vet who started writing children’s fantasies to entertain his own children. Another paints him as a crank who tormented his publishers and aired anti-Semitic opinions in interviews. In fact, rereading some of your favorite Dahl classics may be unnerving. Does The Witches promote distrust of women? Why do overweight characters get punished so brutally? Are we supposed to be okay with a flatulent giant snatching a little girl from her bedroom? But even the most jaded reader can’t deny Dahl’s brilliant storytelling. He understood that for kids, life can be horrifying and unfair, yet magical. Matilda remains a touchstone for any misunderstood bookworm, present or former. And who wouldn’t kill for a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory? So if you’re about to take the plunge into the world of Dahl’s imagination, know that you might end up rethinking your childhood — and get ready to be surprised, disgusted, scared, and utterly transported.
Dahl’s Most Scrumdiddlyumptious Morsels
Of the author’s 21 children’s books — novels, stories, poetry, memoir — these eight are the ones that kept us awake with fear and wonder when we were children, and they still astound and amaze us today
1. James and the Giant Peach (1961)
This surreal novel finds a boy traveling the universe inside the titular fuzzy fruit along with some mutant insects, including an arrogant centipede and a nurturing ladybug.
2. Danny the Champion of the World (1975)
The father-son classic is Dahl’s least fantastical but sweetest novel. Danny and his beloved dad scheme to steal birds from a greedy landowner.
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
Dahl’s most famous confection stands in the pantheon of children’s literature alongside Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Harry Potter. It introduced into pop culture the miniature indentured servants Oompa-Loompas, the sinister yet irresistible chocolatier Willy Wonka, and a whole line of whimsical candies.
4. The BFG (1982)
For a tale about a dream-dispensing Big Friendly Giant, this epic adventure is surprisingly scary and violent. Dahl, who at 6’6” was a bit of a giant himself, counted The BFG as his favorite of his books.
5. Boy (1984)
In Dahl’s first memoir, we see how details of the author’s childhood — a love of Cadbury chocolates, frequent run-ins with school authority, family tragedies — inspired his best work.
6. Matilda (1988)
So many images and characters from this gem are etched in our memory: the Trunchbull, the Chokey, Miss Honey, telekinesis. Matilda gave us hope that one day our nerdiness would turn into power.
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970)
A cunning fox engages in a turf war with a trio of bumbling farmers. The slender tale has been adapted as an opera, a play, and a stop-motion film directed by Wes Anderson.
8. The Witches (1983)
Be warned: Any woman wearing gloves and chunky shoes could be a child killer! Misogyny aside, the narrator’s hulking, tall-tale-telling Norwegian grandmother is one of Dahl’s greatest characters.