It has been quite awhile since we have joined Book Talk Tuesday hosted every week by Kelley Butcher from The Lemme Library. I thought that our Dahl review for our “Everything Dahl and Magical” theme this September and October would be a good comeback post.
The story behind the book. When I read the Foreword written by Quentin Blake, I had a much clearer idea of the man that Roald Dahl had been. Aside from being extremely patient and big-hearted enough to respond to thousands of fan mails he received on a daily basis, he also devoted much of his time and resources to help various charities. One such institution is the Dyslexia Institute. Even Blake noted that he was surprised by this particular charity project that Dahl had in mind:
What was surprising was to hear what was being offered: the auction of all rights, world-wide for the period of copyright. It’s a privilege to be associated, among our many collaborations, with Roald in this book; a landmark of both his concern for people and his passionate belief in the importance of reading.
The strange, the odd, the (unwittingly) hilarious Reverend Robert Lee. This book is a fairly-thin one, not like his YA fiction such as the famous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda – I read this book in less than 20 minutes before I went to bed. The first page introduces us to a God-fearing Vicar named Robert Lee.
The said Vicar used to suffer from severe dyslexia when he was younger. Through the guidance and patience however of excellent teachers from the Dyslexia Institute in London, he made wonderful progress and went on to train for the ministry when he became older. His first important job was to become the Vicar of Nibbleswicke. Since this was the first time he was truly on his own, the thought of him being responsible for an entire parish has made him extremely anxious – so much so that “vestiges of the old dyslexia that was lying there dormant” have been stirred up in a strange surreal way – and made itself manifest in the oddest, most hilarious manner imaginable:
He would be talking to somebody and suddenly his mind would subconsciously pick out the most significant word in the sentence and reverse it. By that I mean he would automatically spell the word backwards and speak it in that way without even noticing what he had done.
This would mean that he would reverse certain words as he speaks (e.g. drab would become bard, part would become trap, etc) – and he would be unable to correct himself – since he does all this unwittingly.
His first responsibility as a Vicar was to visit a maiden lady by the name of Miss Arabella Prewt who donated one hundred new cassocks for the church filled with sponge rubber. To say that she is one of the most generous parishioners would be an understatement, thus the new Vicar would need to make a great impression. Our strange Vicar introduced himself in this fashion:
‘My dear Miss Twerp!’ cried the Reverend Lee. ‘I am your new rotsap! My name is Eel, Robert Eel.”
This was the beginning of the end for me. I can not for the life of me stop laughing as I flip through the pages. This particular scene ended of course with Miss Prewt slamming the door in the face of our new Vicar who had zero idea what he did wrong. The villagers naturally thought the new Vicar ‘completely and utterly barmy.’ On one occasion, he saw several local ladies knitting sweaters for the Merchant Navy Sailors:
The genius of Dahl. I have to confess that I have never laughed so loudly reading a book in my entire life. I have chuckled and been greatly amused by children’s classics such as Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding and James Thurber’s The Wonderful O and 13 Clocks – but this one, I literally was unable to stop myself that I actually woke my husband who was snoring peacefully beside me.
I nearly lost it when he was delivering the service and asked the members of the congregation to “park” along the front of the church before the service.
I understand, though, that there might be some people who might find the nature of the jokes offensive – and as such would have a limited enjoyment of the book.
That being said, I could not think of any other author who can get away with this and live to tell the tale except Roald Dahl. Who would ever thought of a Vicar having a “very rare disease called Back-to-Front Dyslexia” believed to be “very common among tortoises, who even reverse their own name and call themselves esio trots” – which by the way is the title of another one of Dahl’s books.
Truth be told, I was preparing myself for an ‘informative’ book (read: boring and preachy) about dyslexia – just goes to show how much I have underestimated Dahl, his powers of storytelling, and his (largely irreverent and occasionally dark) humor. How the young Vicar was able to address his problem – is as ingenious as his ‘disorder’ to begin with, and one that I shall leave for you to discover.
The Vicar of Nibbleswicke by Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. Penguin Books, 1991. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.