18 July 2016: Roald Dahl First Editions
Many of us have fond memories of the children’s books of Roald Dahl. A foremost British novelist, short story writer and poet, Dahl’s works have sold over 200 million copies worldwide and have a place in the hearts and minds of children of all ages. The big news this year, what would have been Dahl’s 100th birthday, is the film adaptation of The BFG. First published in 1982 and illustrated by Quentin Blake, The BFG is about a young girl named Sophie who meets the titular BFG (Big Friendly Giant) and with him defeats the other man-eating giants.
Dahl’s comic and often slightly dark children’s novels are applauded for their kind-hearted characters and outlandish premises. We happen to have first editions of two of Dahl’s most famous and beloved works, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is arguably the most famous of Dahl’s works, with two successful film adaptations to its name. Its success derives in part from the wacky, eccentric and reclusive Willy Wonka, owner of the chocolate factory to which Charlie is invited. Dahl was inspired by his experiences with the Cadbury chocolate company and the real life rivalry held between Cadbury and Rowntree during the 1920s. The two companies, the largest chocolate makers in England at the time, often tried to steal trade secrets by sending spies posed as employees in to one another’s factories. With each attempt, the companies became more and more secretive, hoping to protect their products and beat their competitors. It's easy to see the influence this period has on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although Dahl took the story to a realm that only he could.
James and the Giant Peach is once again characteristic of Dahl’s surreal and sometimes macabre story-telling. James, a young English orphan, runs away by entering a giant, magical peach inhabited by equally magical garden bugs. An endearing tale, James and the Giant Peach makes reference to Dahl’s other works. The peach rolls through a ‘famous chocolate factory’, a nod to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the book ends with a similar image to the BFG with both characters recounting their own adventures, as if having read the book themselves. Interestingly, James and the Giant Peach was criticised for its dark and frightening content and has been frequently challenged by censors.
Dahl’s interwoven universe has a long lasting impression on many of us. Decades on we as consumers still turn to his heart warming stories of plucky children, and will be sure to tune in to the new film when it arrives.