Roald Dahl Day: why the children's author was splendiferous and wondercrump
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
There is a giant neon sign that stands on top of one of the BBC buildings at MediaCityUK in Salford. It displays a single word that has changed over the years. At first, it proudly displayed the word "Wonder", chosen by film director Danny Boyle after the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony he created called the 'Isles of Wonder'. This was replaced by an orange sign that lit up the Salford skyline when late comedian Victoria Wood opted for the word "Happy".
I spent my student days at MediaCityUK, and walking to our university campus there, my fellow budding journalists and I would discuss what our word would be. After much deliberation, I decided that my perfect word would be "Mischief".
Looking back, I believe that my desire for mischief came from the legendary children's author, Roald Dahl. From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Twits, The Witches to Matilda, I was transported to these silly and bonkers worlds penned by a mischief maker.
As a child, I owned a large volume that contained his entire works. The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) was on the front of this pink book, welcoming in the excited reader. I spent hours upon hours reading these incredible stories - the spine creased and the pages yellowed, as Dahl brought so much joy and wicked humour to my childhood.
I am not a father, but in the Northern tradition, I serve as an uncle for my friend's child. One of the very first gifts I gave him was a complete collection of Roald Dahl. I hope he enjoys them as much as I do - and I am certain he will.
Dahl created such an eclectic mix of characters, ranging from the barmy to the brave. I identified with the book-loving Matilda, I wanted to be best friends with the BFG, and I would give everything to meet Willy Wonka at his incredible chocolate factory.
The idea of witching hour, where "all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves", used to terrify me enough to make sure I was asleep in the middle of the night. Who knows what was lurking?
Apologies to the pogonophiles out there, but like the author, I developed a dislike for beards after reading The Twits. The horrible Mr Twit used his facial hair to store left-over food like sardines, cheese and cornflakes.
There was also a sense of moral justice in his books. The children who suffered all sorts of punishments in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory probably deserved them: from turning the bratty Violet to, um, violet, and poor Augustus Gloop falling victim to his own greed. The Witches got their comeuppance, and the nasty headmistress Miss Trunchbull paid for her previous sins.
He was also playful with his language, creating the most silly and splendid words. His stories were splendiferous and wondercrump. Propsposterous may seem preposterous, but it's more fun that way. And dreams are made out of zozimus.
My favourite quote comes from the aforementioned Twits, in which Dahl describes the difference between ugly and good thoughts, and what effect they have on people:
“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
"A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
I don't think I could put it better than myself, and perhaps there will never be another author who could. Roald Dahl, with a twinkle in his eye, was the maker of mischief, and continues to give joy and wonder to children with his books. The beloved author may no longer be with us, but his work will always be.