From books to stage to screen, the works of beloved children’s author Roald Dahl are remembered with fondness during his birthday week
This month marked what would have been the 96th birthday of celebrated children’s writer, Roald Dahl. The creator of some of the most imaginative tales, quirky characters and outright eccentric words, for most Britons, Roald Dahl holds a cherished place in their childhood. Coupled with the brilliant illustrations by Quentin Blake, who cannot but be mentioned in such a context, the stories have held generations of children spellbound, both in Britain and abroad.
And so, in memory of the writer, I’ll be looking at three of his most iconic works of children’s literature and, in particular, those that have found their way onto screen and stage.
Matilda won the hearts of everyone. The tale of a child genius, unappreciated by her family and bored stiff at school, who finds solace in reading and the support of her nurturing school teacher, struck a chord with many a little girl. Matilda instilled a love of reading in young minds, something Roald Dahl was known to promote through much of his works, while weaving a world of imagination and magic. My own childhood was spent convinced I was Matilda (with nicer parents). I was also tiny – who can forget Quentin Blake’s illustration of a miniature Matilda buried in a newspaper three times her size? – and a vociferous reader. And I had the same hairstyle. Left alone, I’d imagine tiny hands shooting out of my eyes (a child’s mind believes all to be possible) to move things around the room.
However, some years after I first picked up my precious copy of Matilda, Hollywood happened and the commercial industry violated the inviolable. While Mara Wilson’s acting was impeccable, the transporting of a British classic to suburban America, complete with associated personality changes, alterations and exaggerations to the plot, left a shadow of the tale we knew and loved. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to forgive Danny DeVito for it.
A decade and a half later, however, the Hollywood-inflicted wound was somewhat healed by a stage production of that same brilliant book. The award-winning Matilda the Musical proved a triumphant success in securing the magic in a way I would not have thought possible. The production came complete with pitch-perfect music by Tim Minchin that secured the nostalgic sensibilities that must always surround a reading of the work.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
This is perhaps the most famous of all Dahl’s works, particularly for the classic movie that saw it introduced to Technicolor screens. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory follows the story of a young boy from a large and poor family who wins a coveted ticket to visit the fabled Chocolate Factory of Mr Willy Wonka. The book was every child’s dream come true – and every parent’s nightmare come true – as the children indulge in chocolate of every description in a factory of sugary utopia. It is no surprise that this was one of the first books to find itself produced into a film adaptation in 1971. Mel Stewart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has become a timeless classic. In spite of also transporting this quintessentially British tale across the Atlantic, Stewart’s adaptation succeeds in securing the magic of the book, complete with brilliant music. And with Roald Dahl himself screenwriting the film, you couldn’t go wrong.
But then, in 2005, it did go wrong as Tim Burton decided to take his characteristically eccentric and dark spin on the tale. Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with Johnny Depp (of course) as Mr Willy Wonka, was no doubt superior in special effects and props to its predecessor. Yet the peculiarity of Wonka, which switched from eccentric to psychologically disturbed due to a difficult relationship with his father, was a somewhat bizarre reading of Dahl’s feel-good tale. While Burton held true to the British setting, the plot proved too altered to warrant it a place in the hall of classics.
Danny the Champion of the World
Just as Roald Dahl was capable of spinning imaginative tales with magic and spectacle, so he was capable of turning a perfectly ordinary setting into a brilliant adventure. Danny the Champion of the World tells the story of a working-class boy and his father and their struggles against the malicious intents of a wealthy property developer. The plot contains no magic, no potions that make you change like George’s Marvellous Medicine and no wings that help you fly as in The Magic Finger, yet its tale of bonding and love between a struggling, widowed, single parent and his son is inspirational. Danny adores his father and his father is one worthy of the adoration. As Dahl says in the tale, “When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important; a stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.”
In 1989, the book found itself transformed into a television drama, with Jeremy Irons as the father, William Smith, while his own son Samuel Irons played the lead as his on-screen son, Danny. Although on a smaller budget and less publicised, the drama encapsulated the tale brilliantly, bringing the powerful bond between father and son vividly to life in their struggle to protect their rights and get even with those seeking to trample them.
Roald Dahl’s writings continue to entertain and inspire as they did when they were first published decades ago. And so, we remember the writer for having enriched our lives and wish him a very happy birthday.
Images from: http://torontoist.com/attachments/RyanWest/20100911urbanplanner.jpg http://critically-yours.
blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/ matilda-musical.html http://www.celebrityfanweb.com/wallpapers/JohnnyDeppWallpapers/imagepages/image12.htm http://torrentbutler.eu/53524-danny-the-champion-of-the-world
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