I am a huge, huge, huge Roald Dahl fan. Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, movies like UP–the children’s stuff that is filled with old-fashioned delight rather than of-the-moment brattiness, the stuff whose subtext is “The world is interesting and fantastic, if a bit uncontrollable” and not “The world is no larger than you/your princess fantasy/your vampire lover/your lunch-table grievance of the day”–all of that stuff is in debt to Roald Dahl. I think my favorite will always be Danny, the Champion of the World, but The BFG (big fucking grundle) runs a close second in terms of making a simple wish (justice in the former, freedom in the latter) into a delicate, real-life, completely un-precious fantasy.
A few things. The Big Friendly Giant, the way he talks: “‘Wales is whales,’ the Giant said. ‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words. I will now give you another example. Human beans from Jersey has a most disgustable woolly tickle on the tongue.’” While I marvel at the way Jersey Shore is retrofitting great books with hilarious associations, I also marvel at how the BFG speaks like Dobby the house-elf/Jar-Jar Binks/that huge yellow thing on Gullah Gullah Island (did he talk? what was that thing?) but still manages to be awesome and not annoying at all. He also says many delightful words like “hippodumplings” and “hipswitch.”
Another thing. As a writer I think about Roald Dahl whenever I think about perfect description. I don’t know if it’s a thing about kids’ books, where you’re so familiar with the descriptions that they begin to seem pre-established and real, but Roald Dahl’s words are so perfect. Pared-down and clear while still being lush and friendly, it’s like this: “Sophie, still peering out from the blanket, saw suddenly ahead of her a great craggy mountain. The mountain was dark blue and all around it the sky was gushing and glistening with light. Bits of pale gold were flying among delicate frosty-white flakes of cloud, and over to one side the rim of the morning sun was coming up red as blood.”