De-Constructing Dahl

By Hixon, Martha | Marvels & Tales, July 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

De-Constructing Dahl


Hixon, Martha, Marvels & Tales


De-constructing Dahl. By Laura Viñas Valle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016, 192 pp.

The point of Deconstructing Dahl, the author states, is to extend the coverage of current scholarship on Dahl by "mov[ing] away from the author and the reader so as to focus on the critical context, the texts and paratexts that make up the packaging of 'Dahl'" (4). In pursuit of her goal, Laura Viñas Valle's monograph is divided into three main chapters. Chapter 1 is intended to "offer the first thorough overview of the criticism and the language employed to discuss Dahl since the 70s, the difficulties that using such language entails and how it still permeates current criticism," and thus take the essays in the most recent book on Dahl, Roald Dahl (2012), edited by Catherine Butler and Anne Alston, a step further (3). Chapter 2, Valle says, extends the work done by Alan Warren (Roald Dahl, from the Gremlins to the Chocolate Factory, 1988) and Mark West (Roald Dahl, 1992) on the entire canon of Dahl's works, both for children and for adults, by "drawing comparisons and contrasts and exploring the common traits and patterns that bring his whole work together," looking in particular at "how Dahl understands 'children' and 'childhood' and, therefore, how he constructs his children's books as 'children's literature' in contrast to his 'adult stories'" (3). In chapter 3, using Gerard Genette's theories regarding paratexts and drawing from such things as letters and editorial correspondences, as well as extraliterary materials such as illustrations and book covers, promotional materials, and reviewer comments, Valle examines such aspects of the Dahl canon as marketing strategies, editing decisions about audiences, and "how his publishing house and allies contribute to mediate and sustain the Dahl public persona" (4). The very brief introduction and epilogue merely reiterate the purposes of the book, and an extensive works cited listing of primary and secondary sources, plus an index, round out the monograph.

Valle is correct in her observation that there is surprisingly little scholarship on such a significant and popular children's author, so any new academic study of Dahl is a welcome addition to Dahl scholarship. Her decision to examine his total body of work through the dual lens of various conceptions of "childhood" and of marketing is a different and potentially useful approach. Yet, there are serious limitations to this study. Two are the length and organization of the book. As the foregoing summary indicates, there are only three main chapters (which are quite broad in scope), plus the very brief introduction and epilogue; the entire book, from front matter to the end of the index and including the fifteen pages of works cited listings, is less than 200 pages, and that is not enough to do more than begin to "deconstruct" Dahl from the various perspectives that Valle identifies as within her purview. Furthermore, chapter 1, the longest chapter of the three, is little more than a review of the scholarly literature, a common strategy with which to begin a dissertation on a particular subject, but not so common for an academic study that is a step past that. (De-constructing Dahl is a revised version of Valle's 2004 doctoral dissertation, according to her acknowledgments.) Her stated purpose in providing such a review is to examine the underlying predetermined biases and approaches of the critics through their language. …

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