It has always struck me as one of the supremely correct accidents in the history of children's books when the half-starving Charlie Bucket finds the last of Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets in his second Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight chocolate bar, just when Charlie (and the reader) think that there's no possible chance that he'll win one of the prizes that will gain him entrance to Willy Wonka's mysterious world. Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and its sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, was no stranger to accidents himself. In fact, he became a writer by merest chance. Born on September the 13th in 1916, as a boy Dahl struggled through boarding school, where a teacher claimed he was "a persistent muddler" with a "vocabulary negligible" and "sentences mal-constructed." All in all, the master said, "he reminds me of a camel."
After Dahl finished the English equivalent of high school, he decided to get as far away from England boarding schools as he could and managed to land a job with Shell Oil in Africa. When World War II broke out, he joined the Royal Air Force, and was shot down over Egypt. He was wounded but survived and even went back into battle for awhile. Eventually, though, he was transferred to Washington for the duration of the war. In Washington, he met the novelist C.S. Forester, who interviewed Dahl about his adventures. Forester was so impressed by Dahl's storytelling abilities, that he sent the notes of their conversation as a story written by Dahl to the Saturday Evening Post. The Post took the story; and Dahl , like Charlie finding that golden ticket, was suddenly a published author and at the beginning of the career he would pursue for nearly 50 years.
If your children haven't read Dahl's books, they've probably seen the movies these books have been transformed into -- like James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and Matilda. But urge your children to read the books -- for Dahl's strong, dark sense of humor and his even stronger sense of justice. Kids love his satiric bite: they know all about spoiled brats like Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop, and tyrannical adults like the headmistress of Matilda's school, Miss Trunchbull. In Dahl's world, though, the bad get their comeuppance -- often in hilarious, over-the-top ways, and the good, humble, and decent always triumph. That's a worthy legacy to leave.
Copyright 2004 © John Cech
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