Completing Dahl Feed

Completing Dahl: Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety

Here we are, at the end of December. This will be the final installation of my Roald Dahl series, as I have completed my mission. I’ve now read everything he wrote (that can be found—never got a hit on his play). It’s hard for me to believe it’s been a year since I first wrote about “The Sword,” and “Smoked Cheese,” but there it is. Before I wrap things up with Roald Dahl’s Guide To Railway Safety, however, I think it would be a good thing to look over the past year and take stock. There have been ups… and there have been downs. But it’s been a thrilling ride. 

I’d read quite a lot of Dahl’s writing before this year, of course—but delving into his more obscure titles has given me so much of a deeper sense of him as a writer. His more obscure short stories gave me insight into his weirder, more experimental side. Going Solo showed me how Dahl wrote about himself as a man, not a boy—and how many more of his stories than I realized were drawn from his life experiences. His flying stories made me aware of just how much he loved flying, his cookbook how much he loved food—not just chocolate, which he is naturally most famous for adoring.

GuideDuring the last year, I’ve seen Dahl at his worst (...gremlins...), but I’m happy to say that over the course of this project, I’ve also seen him at his best. To that end, let me say I’m ever so thankful that I decided to save Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety for last, instead of Two Fables. Two Fables… well, I made my opinions clear last month. I have no mixed feelings about the Guide

Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety

Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety (1991) is a slender booklet, and the inside front cover tells us that “British Railways Board asked Roald Dahl to write the text of this book, and Quentin Blake to illustrate it, to help young people enjoy using the railways safely.” It was published by the British Railways Board. But the Guide… it is so much more than a booklet to help young people not get run over by trains. Yes, it contains advice such as “NEVER NEVER NEVER STICK YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE WINDOW OF A MOVING TRAIN” and “NEVER GO ONTO A RAILWAY LINE. NEVER NEVER NEVER” with appropriately gruesome illustrations by Quentin Blake. But more excitingly to me, it begins with a series of philosophical musings on the nature of writing, reading, and travel.

“I have a VERY DIFFICULT job here,” the Guide begins.

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Completing Dahl: Two Fables

This year I’ve been blogging once a month here at Pornokitsch about trying to read everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. I’m closing in on the end! Just a few more odds and ends to go.

The usual full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote, save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

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Two FablesTwo Fables (1986) 

It’s difficult for me to believe I’m almost done with this project! It’s been really rewarding overall, even if I did go through a pretty dire stretch over the summer. Gremlins. The word still makes me shudder. Regardless, this time next month I’ll be dutifully typing up a response to, ahem, Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety, the final book of his I have yet to read. And maybe reviewing the film based on Beware of the Dog. Crazy!

So... Two Fables. I managed to nab a water damaged 1st edition of this 1986 release for only three American dollars, totally worth it for the slender volume (64 pages). It contains, as you might imagine, two fables, both original to Dahl, and published together as a limited edition in honor of his 70th birthday. It also contains illustrations by Graham Dean, who is still alive and painting. Dean’s watercolors are beautiful and unsettling in full color - in black and white, as they’re reproduced in Two Fables, they reminded me strongly of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. They suit the fables very well. I don’t mean to imply that Two Fables is scary - just bleak, and pared down, like Alvin Schwartz’s retellings. They’re also among the most misanthropic stories of his, I now feel qualified to say. One is all about rape; the other, how becoming pretty makes you awful. Fun times!

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Completing Dahl: Short Stories

This year I’m blogging once a month here at Pornokitsch about trying to read everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. I’m closing in on the end! Just a few more odds and ends to go. The usual full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote, save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

Collected storiesRandom Stories from Someone Like You (1953), Kiss Kiss (1960), Tales of the Unexpected (1979), More Tales of the Unexpected (1980), Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life (1990), and Collected Short Stories (1991)

This might sound like a lot for one blog, but thanks to my trusty copy of The Roald Dahl Omnibus there were only a handful of stories for me to read this month. There’s nothing that particularly ties them together, so I’ll just take them on one by one. I’m going to try to not spoil any twist endings while still engaging with the texts, as usual, which means some of these write-ups will be brief unless there’s something really juicy to treat with.

There were some real gems among these stories which I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading before. In particular, “Mr. Botibol,” “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,” and “The Bookseller” were all delightfully messed up. It was wonderful reading some top-form Dahl after some of the real stinkers I’ve endured (*glances at Some Time Never*), and even the lesser stories among this batch (“The Butler” and “The Surgeon” were still very enjoyable.

Oh, I should say now that I’m severely jet lagged from my trip to Tokyo, so if this reads a bit incoherently, well, there you go.

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Completing Dahl: Over to You

This year I’m blogging once a month here at Pornokitsch about trying to read everything Roald Dahl ever wrote.

I’m a little more than halfway done, and so far I’ve looked at one of Dahl’s more obscure titles, “The Sword” from an old issue of The Atlantic Monthly, and ones I’ve simply overlooked, like Rhyme Stew. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote, save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

The Stories of Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying (1946)

RoaldDahlCollectedStoriesAll year I’ve been blogging my thoughts of finishing Roald Dahl’s works. I’ve read his poems for children, his first and unloved novel, his meditations on why you should vaccinate against measles. But save for “The Sword” and a few others that I blogged about back in January, I haven’t filled in the gaps in my knowledge of his fabulous short fiction.

Yet.

I remember reading (or rather, being read) a few of Roald Dahl’s adult short stories as a kid. I recall it was in what my family always called “the house in the woods,” a big weird house in Georgia in which I spent some of my happiest years. It backed up to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, which was just Georgia scrub pine forest, full of ticks and snakes and deer, and it was awesome. Anyways, I digress—I only lived in that house from 4th to 6th grade, so it must have been sometime during those years. My dad had bought me The Roald Dahl Omnibus and he read me “Taste” and “Lamb to the Slaughter” and “Man from the South” and then decided maybe I should read these on my own. I did—I read them all. I recall being particularly impressed by the lecherous menace of “Taste,” the sinister otherworldliness of “Royal Jelly,” the gruesome “Pig,” the misanthropic “The Last Act,” and, of course, “Bitch” which first began my lifelong love of Roald Dahl’s fictional Uncle Oswald. Which, come to think of it, would probably amuse Oswald, given his philosophies toward women.

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Completing Dahl: Memories with Food at Gipsy House

This year I’m blogging once a month about finishing reading everything Roald Dahl wrote. Full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

Memories with Food at Gipsy House
AKA Roald Dahl’s Kitchen Nightmares

Memories with FoodAfter a few months of feeling… less than enthralled by my selections for this project, Memories with Food at Gipsy House ended up being completely delightful. Thank goodness, right?

Co-authored by Dahl and his wife Felicity, Memories with Food at Gipsy House is just what it says on the package: it’s a bunch of stories about eating delicious meals, plus recipes. Sometimes the recipes are from the stories, sometimes not. It’s an interesting endeavor, peppered with anecdotes by his wife and children and housekeepers and friends about various meals eaten or elusive ingredients procured or the experience of cooking a specific dish.

During Dahl’s sections, his storytelling style reminded me strongly of one of my favorite of his books, My Year. Both have that quality of a beloved uncle rambling at you from his favorite chair by the fire, around 10 PM when he’s had a drop in and should be tottering off to bed but everyone’s begging him for just one more story.

Some of the anecdotes will be familiar to those who have read many of his other works—the Norway stories either repeat or expand on events detailed in Boy, for example, and Piggy the Cook from Going Solo also appears. Not that I minded. Again, that spell of the beloved uncle makes everything enjoyable even when it’s not entirely fresh.

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Completing Dahl: Gremlins

This year I’m blogging once a month about finishing reading everything Roald Dahl wrote. Full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

Gremlins-coverThe Gremlins: A Royal Air Force Story aka
The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Production

This month I’m dealing with Dahl’s earliest book for children: The Gremlins (1943), adorably attributed to ‘Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl.’

If you are anything like me, you associate Gremlins with Gizmo, and the phrase “don’t feed them after midnight.” But Dahl’s Gremlins are… different. Dahl’s Gremlins—which he claimed to the end of his days were his creation, and therefore the original Gremlins—are a second sentient race on our earth, who destroy airplanes with hand drills and other simple machines because they’re small, adorable eco-warriors.

Sounds cute, right? It is, for the most part. Dahl’s other version of this story, which appeared in his first novel, Sometime Never, will be my topic for next month. Just… keep all this in mind.

Anyways. The plot of The Gremlins is this: a square-jawed RAF pilot named Gus is flying his Hurricane against some German fighter pilots (Dahl, for the record, loved flying Hurricanes) over the English countryside when he notices a small, horned little man with suction boots using a hand drill to bore holes in his plane. He goes down when the creature bores holes in his engine. He reports this to the mechanics, denying the holes came from bullets, and calling the beast who perpetrated the crime a “Gremlin.”

The entire squadron laughs Gus off until the Gremlins (and Fifinellas, the female of the species) start appearing all over the place. They find out the Gremlins have been destroying planes because they’re annoyed at the destruction of British forests for the sake of warfare. The humans promise them the deepest woodland of England (apparently rank and file RAF pilots are granted the power to negotiate with unknown, malicious species) if the Gremlins will help them in their fight against the Germans. They come to an agreement.

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Completing Dahl: Dirty Beasts and Rhyme Stew

This year I’m blogging once a month about finishing reading everything Roald Dahl wrote. Full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

Dirty beastsWell, they can’t all be winners…

Dirty Beasts

Dirty Beasts is a companion to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. My father bought me Revolting Rhymes when I was young, and I remember thinking was absolutely hilarious. I have no idea if it would induce side-eye and skeptical eyebrow now, as did many of the pieces in Dirty Beasts. Though, to be fair, I liked this book better than Rhyme Stew which I’ll get to in a moment here.

So… Dirty Beasts. It contains nine poems, all about animals such as the pig, the scorpion, and the anteater. (Wikipedia thoughtfully lets us know, however, that “The Tummy Beast” is made up—who says it’s not a reliable source?) Many of them are enjoyable if you’re into the schadenfreude and misanthropy of Dahl (and if you’re not, I’m not sure why you’re reading this). The pig from “The Pig,” for example, doesn’t need a spider and a whimsical plan to save himself from being butchered—instead, he just up and murders the farmer… and eats him. Nice!

In fact, animals devouring humans is a major—dare I?—motif in Dirty Beasts. “The Ant-Eater,” in another justice-for-exploited-animals story, eats an aunt. The lion is super into devouring kiddies. Crocky-Wock, the Crocodile, also enjoys a spot of child. My personal favorite was not one of these, however—it was “The Porcupine” which isn’t so much about porcupines as how terrifying dentists are.

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Completing Dahl: The Vicar of Nibbleswicke, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang & More

This year I’m blogging once a month about finishing reading everything Roald Dahl wrote. Full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke is one of the last stories Dahl wrote, and was published posthumously along with The Minpins and a few other odds and ends. It’s a slender volume - shorter than even The Twits. The plot revolves around a “charming and God-fearing” vicar, Reverend Lee, who is affected by a rare form of dyslexia which causes problems for him when he becomes the (title!) vicar of Nibbleswicke. The thing is, Lee’s dyslexia takes the form of his saying backwards the “most significant” word in his sentences. But in typically Dahl-ish fashion, it’s not always the most significant word; it is often any word that, when spelled backwards, is amusing or rude. So he tells his parishioners not to “krap” on the church lawn. The scandal! Also he tells some lady not to gulp the communion wine, but to “pis” it gently. Hilarity ensues until he figures out how to manage his dyslexia, whereupon order is restored.

Not much here to interrogate, or explore… it’s pretty straightforward. To me, what makes The Vicar of Nibbleswicke interesting is that Dahl wrote it specifically to benefit the Dyslexia Institute. According to the introduction by Quentin Blake, Dahl offered them all worldwide rights for the period of copyright, very generous indeed. And the Dyslexia Institute is actually a setting within The Vicar of Nibbleswicke, which I’m sure is cool for any dyslexic kids at the Institute reading it.

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Completing Dahl: Going Solo

This year I’m blogging once a month about my current quest, to read everything Roald Dahl wrote. I’ll be looking at Dahl’s more obscure titles, like “The Sword” from an old issue of The Atlantic Monthly, and ones I’ve simply overlooked, like Rhyme Stew.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. Anyways, I’ll also watch and write about the films and TV episodes he wrote, as I’ve never seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or 36 Hours. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.

Going soloGoing Solo

I was really looking forward to reading this book. Going Solo is billed right on the cover (of my copy, at least) as “continuing the story begun in Boy, and Boy is my favorite of Dahl’s books for children. I can’t remember who I was talking to recently when I made this statement, but their puzzled “really???” reaction puzzled me in turn. True, Matilda is awesome as an ultimate wish-fulfillment/validation fantasy for smart kids frustrated by the slow pace of classroom learning. And The Witches is just so much fun, what with the awesome messages about not trusting adults and hard lessons about how one’s actions as a child might result in consequences that last a lifetime (I always thought it was bogus how in the movie version the kid is turned back into a kid). But BoyBoy got under my skin as a child. Not only did it begin my lifelong interest in the British education system, it showed me an amazing world that was entirely real, but just as alien as a fantasy-land full of dragons and wizards compared to the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

I was a good kid, who never really got into trouble, so it really blew me away, reading about the exploits of a young man who literally put a dead mouse in a candy jar to prank a wicked shopkeeper, or who shredded up goat’s droppings into his sister’s fiancée’s pipe to punish him for being extremely annoying. Not only that, but the descriptions of Dahl’s time at school were so fascinatingly personal they bewitched me more than any of his more fantastical writings. His experience of breaking a nib in study hall while writing an essay, for example, was fascinating, as was his apologia for writing so much about caning:

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Completing Dahl: Introduction and The Uncollected Shorts

We proudly present a new series of guest posts from Molly Tanzer - 

Roald_Dahls_MatildaWhen I was a little girl, my father used to travel a lot for work - he was away nearly every week, for at least a night or two. When he was home, however, he used to read to me every night. It was our ritual. I would get into my pajamas and cuddle up in my parents’ big bed, and he would take me to other worlds, one chapter at a time.

One of our favorite authors was Roald Dahl. My father read me many of Dahl’s books, including (of course) Matilda, The BFG, The Witches, Boy (my favorite), and so on. I loved Dahl’s writing so much I still remember him sitting me down, oddly enough on the staircase of our house, to tell me gently that Mr. Dahl had died, one day late in 1990. I don’t know why that memory has stayed with me for so long, but it has.

My father also read me stories from The Roald Dahl Omnibus, an enormous best-of collection of Dahl’s adult stories, but after reading “Taste,” about a repulsive oenophile pulling a fast one on his host in an attempt to obtain his beautiful daughter, the famous “Lamb to the Slaughter,” and “Man from the South” he decided maybe those stories would be better left for when I was older, and wanted to read them on my own.

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