Magazine article NATE Classroom

'It's Got to Be Funny.': About the Roald Dahl Museum

Magazine article NATE Classroom

'It's Got to Be Funny.': About the Roald Dahl Museum

Article excerpt

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Roald Dahl never forgot what it was like to be a child and he always wrote with his audience rather than parents or teachers in mind. As he himself said in a BBC documentary called The Author's Eye, 'It's got to be exciting, it's got to be fast, it's got to have a good plot, but it's got to be funny; it's got to be funny,' and that is his enduring appeal; he knew what made his readers want to read. This was something Roald

Dahl was passionate about. He believed that if a child fell in love with just one book, then that love affair could keep them reading throughout their life--and it was this passion for reading that he hoped to engender. Certainly, the children and the adults who come to the Museum are always keen to tell us which is their favourite book of his and why.

In a fairly robust exchange with his editor, documented in our archive, Roald Dahl refuses to change a sentence as doing so would mean, '... buggering up the cadence.... These books are meant to be read aloud.' Indeed, in a poll in the TES in 2007, almost a third of teachers who responded to a survey on reading aloud cited Roald Dahl's books as their favourites for sharing with a class. This is perhaps one of the best uses of Roald Dahl in the classroom; reading aloud for the sheer joy of the story, a chance to revel in those cadences and Roald Dahl's genius for making children both laugh and shudder.

However, there is no reason why reading Roald Dahl aloud should be restricted to the primary classroom. Roald Dahl's autobiographies, Boy and Going Solo are as pacey and as packed with the unexpected, the gruesome and the revolting as his fiction. Indeed, here at the Museum, we refer to these as his memoirs--as Gore Vidal said, a memoir is how you remember your own life, and Roald Dahl certainly did some embellishing in these tales. This could lead to work on getting students to take incidents from their own lives and using Roald Dahl's trademark exaggeration to create a fantastical plot from a seemingly ordinary incident. It is a technique that we use in school workshops at the Museum and one which inspires children to see the potential for creative writing and story-making from the rich resources their everyday lives provide.

Roald Dahl's talent for exaggeration (particularly in the memoirs) could lend itself to an interesting exploration of the concept of the unreliable narrator. Jeanette Winterson's The Passion has as its motif, 'Trust me, I'm telling you stories.' We trust our narrators, especially when, like Roald Dahl, they address the reader directly, 'Why would that happen? I'll tell you why.' (The Twits) And yet, as as I've already implied and as we can find out, Roald Dahl's retelling of incidents from his own life is not as accurate as one might expect. In addition, it is in these books that Dahl's already strong narrative voice is at its most apparent; these are useful texts for exploring the language and conventions of autobiography.

As we know, Roald Dahl drew inspiration from his own life and not just for his memoirs. In Boy, Roald Dahl explains how his teenage experience of being asked to test chocolates for Cadbury's gave him the idea that there were chocolate factories with inventing rooms--and we know where that idea led him. Indeed, he carried a book with him everywhere for story ideas, because he believed that a good idea was like a dream: if you didn't write it down, you'd know you had a good idea but you wouldn't remember what it was. …

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