The Quick 10: The Scrumdidlyumptious Roald Dahl

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Is there a kid out there who doesn't delight in the made-up words and fantastical worlds Roald Dahl created over the years? From giants that can clear the county with stinky whizzpoppers to little boys who live in peaches with insects, Dahl had stories to suit every type of imagination out there. He was one of my favorite authors as a kid, and I bet a lot of you have fond memories, too. Let's see if this Q10 brings some of them back.

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory didn't start out as the classic we're familiar with today. It went through many revisions and Dahl reportedly scrapped the entire first draft titled Charlie's Chocolate Boy when his nephew declared it stupid. And at one point there was another irritating child who would get her comeuppance at the hands of the chocolate factory: Miranda Piker. You can read the whole chapter here.
2. The Witches contains a tribute to Dahl's mother "“ the grandmother in the story is based on her. He adored his mom and said she was "a rock, a real rock, always on your side whatever you'd done. It gave me the most tremendous sense of security. Her name? Sofie, which you'll also recognize as the name of the little girl in The BFG. That Sophie was technically named after Dahl's granddaughter, Sophie Dahl, who was in turn named after her great-grandmother.

3. In fact, Roald based many of his most famous characters off of people he knew in real life. The horrendous Miss Trunchbull from Matilda was inspired by a duo of equally scary people from his days at St. Peter's Prep from 1925-1929. The Matron of the school "disliked small boys very much indeed," he said, and the Headmaster wasn't afraid to use his cane on students.

4. The first book Dahl ever wrote was based on a script that was rejected by Disney. Walt Disney was so impressed by Dahl that he paid the tab for the 25-year-old writer to come to Hollywood, rent a car and stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel while he wrote The Gremlins. The movie was never made, but the book was. Because it was about little demons that cause failures in airplanes, Dahl didn't find it appropriate for children and it was never his favorite book.

5. Dahl was also an inventor, out of necessity. When his son Theo was just four months old, a New York City cab hit his baby carriage. Theo was severely injured and developed hydrocephalus (water on the brain). Not content to let his poor son suffer, Dahl became involved in the development of a brain shunt that would help drain the fluid from Theo's brain. A device already existed, but it often jammed up and could cause blindness and brain damage. Dahl recruited hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade and neurosurgeon Kenneth Till; together they invented the Wade-Dahl-Till valve, a vast improvement over the previous incarnation. By the time it was finished and perfect, though, Theo had made a full recovery and never got to use his father's invention. But thousands of other children benefited and the three men who designed it vowed to never accept a penny for their work.

6. The Twits was inspired by Roald Dahl's immense dislike of facial hair, especially beards. Really. Once a little boy approached him, accompanied by his bearded father. According to one of Dahl's close friends, Roald bent down and asked the little boy, "Do you like your dad's beard?" When the little boy shook his head, Roald replied, "I think it's disgusting. What do you think is inside it?" And if you loved The Twits when you were a child, then you're either going to love or hate this news: the film adaptation is scheduled to be released in 2012. John Cleese is writing the screenplay, which makes me feel pretty good about it.

7. Dahl made his mom take him to visit Beatrix Potter when he was just about six years old. Her books were his favorites; upon seeing her farm he immediately recognized it as the setting of Jemima Puddle-Duck. Apparently Beatrix was out in her garden when young Roald and his mom walked up. She was notorious for disliking children, despite her tremendous success in the field of children's books, and asked Roald what he wanted. He explained that he came to meet Beatrix Potter. "Well you've met her. Now buzz off," is what he claims she said.

8. If you pay attention, you'll find references to Dahl's other works in his books. For instance, James and the Giant Peach mentions the peach rolls off of a tree and through a "famous chocolate factory." And Vermicious Knids are mentioned in both James and the Giant Peach and The Minpins. They first appear in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but are expanded upon in the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
9. Matilda was almost completely rewritten. He finished the entire thing and decided when it was done that it just wasn't right. "I started the whole book again and re-wrote every word and I knew where I was wrong. I really had to re-write the whole book! And now I'm fairly happy with it. I think it's OK. But it certainly wasn't before." Makes you wonder what the first draft was like, doesn't it?

10. In addition to his 18 children's books, Dahl wrote for adults too. I was delighted to discover that he wrote Lamb to the Slaughter, an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode where a wife murders her husband by assaulting him with a leg of lamb, then cooks the evidence so police can't find the murder weapon. In fact, they eat it. That was one of six AHP episodes he penned. Dahl also wrote the script for You Only Live Twice.

It would be hard for me to name a favorite Dahl book, but I like the darkness of The Witches and remember getting to make flashcards of all of the made-up words in The BFG in school. What was your favorite?

Stacy's Recent Quick 10s

Drop Everything and Read: Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!
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April 20, 2010 - 1:53pm
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