Nonfiction Monday – Reflections on Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

Fats here.

“An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and is usually full of all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography… None of these things is important, but each of them made such a tremendous impression on me that I have never been able to get them out of my mind… Some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly. All are true.” Roald Dahl

Who else could be more suited for Nonfiction Monday for our Everything Dahl and Magical bimonthly theme than Roald Dahl himself? I must admit, having this bimonthly theme gave me an excuse to finally pull out Dahl’s Boy: Tales of Childhood from the shelf. I have always wanted to read this book if not for the more serious, “adult” aspects of life that kept getting me sidetracked. When opportunity finally presented itself, my first thought upon grabbing the book was to have it featured for Nonfiction Monday. So “yay” for that. Today’s Nonfiction Monday round-up is hosted by SimplyScience Blog.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

In a nutshell, I enjoyed reading Boy: Tales of Childhood. For me, it tops all the books that Roald Dahl has ever written. This piece of work only goes to show just how fabulous a storyteller Roald Dahl is. Reading the whimsical accounts of his childhood is like seeing his wonderful characters pop up in real life. Moreover, it is like reading a collection of short stories crafted from one’s imagination, except that these stories are real—sweet and painful accounts of his childhood.

Tracing the Roots

Quoting the character of Maria from The Sound of Music, “let’s start from the very beginning…” Roald Dahl would not be Roald Dahl had it not been for his parents, Harald Dahl and Sofie Hesselberg. (Matter of fact.) Both had admirable traits and, if not for overanalyzing the book, I would say that Dahl’s short narrative of his parents was a foreshadowing of what he would become later in life.

On the account of Dahl’s father losing his left arm at a young age, I could not help but laugh over the misfortune that had befallen him. Harald Dahl was indeed a victim of circumstance at the time. Thanks to the drunken doctor who rushed to his aid, Harald’s fractured elbow was mistaken for a dislocated shoulder! (Insert: laughing out loud.)

Part of Radyr near Cardiff, Wales. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

An amputated arm did not stop Harald from working toward a successful life. His job as a shipbroker eventually got him an “imposing country mansion beside the village of Radyr, about eight miles west of Cardiff,” Wales. This was during the time when Roald Dahl was two years old, the only boy of Harald Dahl and Sofie Hesselberg.

While so much can be said about Dahl’s father, this is my favorite:

He harboured a curious theory about how to develop a sense of beauty in the minds of his children. Every time my mother became pregnant, he would wait until the last three months of his pregnancy and then he would announce to her that ‘the glorious walks’ must begin. These glorious walks consisted of him taking her to places of great beauty in the countryside and walking with her for about an hour each day so that she could absorb the splendour of the surroundings. His theory was that if the eye of a pregnant woman was constantly observing the beauty of nature, this beauty would somehow become transmitted to the mind of the unborn baby within her womb and that baby would grow up to be a lover of beautiful things. This was the treatment that all of his children received before they were born. – Papa and Mama, pp. 18-19

Roald Dahl’s mother, Sofie, is as admirable as his father. While not much was said about her prior to Dahl’s growing up years, Sofie had kept the family together after Dahl’s father died. (She did a pretty good job, mind you.)

Here she was, a young Norwegian in a foreign land, suddenly having to face all the very gravest problems and responsibilities. She had five children to look after, three of her own and two by her husband’s first wife, and to make matters worse, she herself was expecting another baby in two months’ time. A less courageous woman would almost certainly have sold the house and packed her bags and headed straight back to Norway with the children… But she refused to take the easy way out. – Kindergarten, p. 21

One of the memorable things about Dahl’s mother was when she went out of her way to pay a ‘visit’ to Dahl’s headmaster Mr. Coombes. Prior to this, she was giving seven-year-old Dahl a bath when she saw “scarlet stripes and deep blue bruising” on her little boy’s buttocks. Even though Mr. Coombes insulted her by saying that she was a foreigner and didn’t know how British schools were run, she bravely told him the she would take Dahl away from Llandaff Cathedral School because she didn’t like their methods. My thought at the time was: super mom to the rescue!

The Growing Pains of Childhood

Roald Dahl, the schoolboy. Taken in 1925. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Roald Dahl’s Boy: Tales of Childhood was divided into three major sections, each relating to his life as a schoolboy. Most of it consisted of tales involving bullying and severe, unnecessary punishment from headmasters and prefects. I remember reading about Dahl’s father saying that English schools are the best. Reading about these horrible accounts made me think otherwise.

A view of Repton School. During Dahl’s time, it was an all-boys school. They are now accepting female students. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Prefects. The villains in Roald Dahl’s school life. Not the actual prefects in his school, but close enough. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

As the first stroke landed and the pistol-crack sounded, I was thrown forward so violently that if my fingers hadn’t been touching the carpet, I think I would have fallen flat on my face… At first I only heard the crack and felt absolutely nothing at all, but a fraction of a second later the burning sting that flooded across my buttocks was so terrific that all I could do was gasp. I gave a great gushing gasp that emptied my lungs of every breath of air that was in them. – Llandaff Cathedral School, 1923-5 (age 7-9), p. 49

In spite of the humor embedded in these horrendous tales, I could not help but feel bad for Dahl. Page after page after page of whipping and beating and mocking seemed too much to endure. If anything, Dahl should be admired for ‘coming out alive’ from these nightmarish acts of cruelty and actually succeed later on in life.

The Sweeter Side of Childhood

Don’t be discouraged, dear readers, by the previous references to Dahl’s bad experiences in school. Life wasn’t all that bitter to our wonderful storyteller. In fact, reading his childhood tales would trigger a sense of recognition from the books that he has written. This is mostly because his books were inspired by real-life events.

Scene from Matilda. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Strong and/or lovable female characters in Dahl’s books were inspired by his mother and grandmother. Tales of mischief were inspired by his mischievousness as a child. (Look up The Great Mouse Plot on the Internet when you get a chance.) Antagonists in his books are always portrayed as mean grown ups who knew nothing but make life miserable for children – much like what he had gone through in school. Overall, his not-so-jolly childhood memories were the inspiration behind his dark tales for children.

Simply delicious. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Perhaps one of my favorite chapters in the book was that bit about chocolates. Funny tidbit was that Cadbury was Dahl’s main inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. According to him, when he was trying to come up with a plot for his second children’s book, he remembered those Cadbury boxes and the newly-invented chocolates inside them that children during his time were lucky to try.

Afterthoughts

A letter by Roald Dahl placed in an archive. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

No matter how many revisions I make on this review, nothing I say would suffice to glorify such piece of children’s literature. I had to go back to Roald Dahl’s quote at the beginning of this review. This certainly is not an autobiography. It is a series of montage in a boy’s life that made him the storyteller we all love. It is a humbling thought to know that life wasn’t all too sweet for Roald Dahl, yet he used these experiences to his advantage to make life sweet for children across the globe.

12 Comments on Nonfiction Monday – Reflections on Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

  1. Thank you for joining Nonfiction Monday today. This post is fun to read and full of fascinating facts!

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  2. Wonderfully detailed writing about this book, and Dahl too. I didn’t remember all that you included, but do remember loving the book, and wondering how such a childhood would make him into the storyteller he became. Thank you for all the sources too!

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    • Hi Linda!

      Thank you for the beautiful comment. I loved the book too, every single page, every single story. I wish I could include all of them in here, but I don’t want to spoil details, either. =)

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  3. Anne Stockwell // October 18, 2011 at 12:13 am // Reply

    Hi Fats! Great review of a wonderful book. Going Solo, his account of his young adulthood just before and during the Second World War, is equally good. What an amazing fellow.

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    • Hi Anne!!

      How have you been? Thank you for dropping by. I am halfway through Going Solo, maybe more. Roald Dahl, to me, sounds like a war veteran when he tells his stories. It doesn’t matter whether it’s from childhood, young adulthood, adulthood, and whatever-else-hood you can think of. He is simply brilliant. And definitely amazing. =)

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  4. Fab post. Loved every word. Thanks!!

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  5. johnnysoup // April 2, 2012 at 1:59 am // Reply

    I was a substitute teacher years ago. On my first day of subbing I was called to a school with a third grade class missing it’s teacher for the day. Apparently, she didn’t show up and nobody had any clue where she was. I was called at 8:05 and class had started at 8:00.
    In a mad rush I got ready and bolted out the door. When I arrived at school, I was rushed to the classroom of 35 anxious third graders and told, “Good Luck!”, by the absent minded principal who failed to give me any lesson plans or even a schedule for the day.
    I had no idea what to do. It was my first day in a classroom by myself. I got the children settled down and in their seats. I introduced myself. I glanced around the room. The only familiar thing I saw was a shiny copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the shelf next to me. I grabbed it. I told the children to sit on the floor in front of me. I pulled up a chair. I began reading.
    I read that book to them, with as much animation and expression as I could muster from cove to cover! When Charlie won the ticket, the students had tears in their eyes. When the horrible children were stuck in pipes or blown up into blueberries, the students terrified eyes were in shock and their justice loving souls were delighted. At recess the kids didn’t want to go. At lunch they wanted to return early to hear the end of the story, and as if by devine intervention, when I read the last line of the book, and closed the cover, the kids let out a satisfied sigh, smiled for a moment, and the dismissal bell rang.
    I taught no lessons on my first day. I taught no spelling. No math. No history. I only read a book. Cover to cover. By an author that knew what children needed and wrote in a way that children understood and appreciated. It was a great start for a teacher. And I doubt any of those third graders ever forgot the day they were read to for 6 hours.

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    • Fats Suela // April 2, 2012 at 2:15 am // Reply

      First of all, I’d like to thank you for visiting our site. That was an amazing story – might want to start collecting your own experiences as a teacher and write a book about it. I enjoyed reading every bit of it; the fact that you were a substitute at the time was even more amazing.

      I believe in the power of words and books, and how these can capture a child’s heart and lock it in place, filled with awe and wonderment. Time stops and nothing else matters except to listen to the story ’til the very end. Roald Dahl’s books do just that, and I guess it’s safe to say that he saved you that day. 🙂

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  6. I loved Roald Dahl, still do actually. Great post. I love reflecting on my childhood http://www.helium.com/items/2315883-reflections-childhood

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  7. Karen Yamashiro // July 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm // Reply

    Well I like to say that I came from Japan, Okinawa which is a small island that even most foreigners don’t know…

    But anyway, I go to a public school where you can learn English and the 5 years I spent there from the age 4 I learned how to speak English. So when I was in 3rd Grade, A friend suggested to let me read the book called “Matilda” by Roald Dahl. First I thought it was gonna be lame like the old fashioned books that old men and women read.But I was all wrong the stories were like TV in your head and everywhere I go I wanted to read that book.

    So after I read that book, I read “The Magic Finger”, ” Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” and more. So when I was in 4th Grade I realized that I was done with all the Roald Dahl books I was happy!!

    That’s the reason wht I love Roald Dahl. His books all inspire me.

    I like the words he makes like, “Frobscottle” and “Scrumdiddlyumptious” which means delicious and lovely.

    I really love Roald Dahl and I hope all readers will love his books too!!

    Like

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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