By Bailey Brammer | Editor-in-Chief
Many of today’s American college students would probably say that they grew up on Disney Channel original movies and late-night Nickelodeon re-runs. While I enjoyed these shows as much as the next millenial, I also have a soft spot in my heart for the pre-teen, YA novels I read throughout my childhood, specifically the works of the highly-acclaimed author Roald Dahl.
Dahl fans across the globe celebrate his brilliance every year on his birthday, Sept. 13, which is now known as “Roald Dahl Day.” His stories, which include classics such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda,” and lesser-known titles such as “The Witches,” have left a lasting impact on many young readers, including myself.
The lessons Dahl presents in his twisted yet heart-warming tales are themes that children need to hear early. These messages, however, can also serve as beneficial reminders for adults who may have grown up devouring Dahl’s books.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
One of Dahl’s most famous works due to multiple movie adaptations, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is the story of a poor boy who happens upon a Golden Ticket, which leads him to a world of mystery, magic, and of course, chocolate.
Amid his adventures in Willy Wonka’s awe-inspiring factory, Charlie encounters gluttonous, spoiled and selfish children who ridicule him for being raised with less than they had. Charlie’s interactions with these other children offer one of Dahl’s main lessons–– a warning of greed.
These horrible, nasty children that accompany Charlie on his tour through the chocolate factory teaches young readers that greed can ultimately destroy you, or turn you into a giant blueberry. In our adult lives, we can imagine the detrimental consequences of greed by replacing Violet Beauregard’s bubblegum addiction with a drug problem, or Mike Teevee’s television obsession with a porn addiction. Greed can be deadly for anyone, regardless of their age.
Another, lighter theme in this story is the idea that anything is possible. Charlie goes from living in a one room, poverty-stricken home to inheriting a glorious factory, filled with sweets and treats that are practically out of this world. As children, we need to hear that we can be anything we want to be. Twenty years later, we may need this very same reminder, especially after we’ve completed four years of college and are wondering “What now?”
James and the Giant Peach
Another one of Dahl’s more well-known novels, “James and the Giant Peach” recounts the story of a small orphan named James who lives with his two terrible aunts, Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. With no one to care for him, the young boy becomes friends with a host of insects. Together with his insect friends, he finds a magical and enormous peach growing in his backyard, and he embarks on a marvelous adventure with them.
A prominent idea throughout this story is the idea that friendship can come from anywhere. James yearns for companions as he endures terror from his aunts, and ends up discovering friendship where he least expected it––in a giant peach.
As children, we can read Dahl’s book and learn the value of trust and cooperation, and realize that the “weird” kid on the playground may actually be kind of cool. As adults, we can recognize that sometimes people we’ve only known for a short time can have better intentions for us than people we’ve known our whole lives, which in James’ case would be his awful aunts. Friendship can come from anywhere at anytime, and we may just have to search a bit to find it.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
One of my personal favorites of Dahl’s collection, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a narrative about how a family of foxes and their neighbors overcome a trio of greedy, gross farmers that attempt to destroy their home. The animals are led by Mr. Fox, a clever yet haughty father that chooses to start stealing from the farmers to save his family.
In this novel, Dahl paints a picture of the dangers of pride. Had Mr. Fox not been so concerned with his own “fantastic-ness,” the farmers would never have noticed the thievery and sought to rid the hillside of the woodland creatures. Mr. Fox, however, gains humility as he watches his family starve, and realizes that there’s more to life than his own self-importance.
For children, pride is a complicated idea to comprehend. Maybe you might think you’re the best player on your soccer team, but then you miss a shot in a game and realize you were too confident in your natural skill to actually practice. This form of pride, albeit harmful to us personally, is not deadly. As adults, however, the attraction of our own greatness is hard to resist. We tend to hold ourselves above others, and when we fall from these pedestals, sometimes the consequences can be fatal. Dahl warns readers young and old that pride is a sneaky feeling that can envelop us, and in turn, hurt the people we love, just as Mr. Fox hurt his family and friends.
In the same way that Dahl speaks on the pitfalls of pride, he also shares the tale of a father willing to do anything to help those he cares about. While thievery is wrong, the importance of family and love outshines Mr. Fox’s deeds. Children can take this lesson to mean that your parents and siblings are important, no matter how annoying they may be. Adults, however, can understand this on a deeper level; after flying the nest and moving a few hours or a few states away from home, family is still just as important as ever, and no one will care for you as much as they do.