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.
During 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.