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The twisted mind of Roald Dahl

Art by Ivy Klein

As a very wise man once said, “don’t gobblefunk around with words.” That man is Roald Dahl, and that one quote pretty accurately describes the image most people have of him; a silly author who creates whimsical worlds of fantasy and magic. Often called “the world’s best storyteller,” and one of the most iconic children’s authors ever, Roald Dahl is certainly an author whose books have been read by kids everywhere. However, this idea of Roald Dahl—a lover of children, innocent imagination, innocuous storylines—couldn’t be more wrong. Hidden beneath a layer of whimsy, his stories contain sinister subplots and horrendous acts of hatred. The “harmless” nature of his books is only a front, and the dark inner workings of his stories are far more twisted than they may first appear.

Some of Dahl’s most famous books include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The Witches. Those stories are written about children, for children, and are filled with fantastical make-believe concepts because of that. Dahl is well known for his imagination, using fake creatures and objects and bringing them to life. Upon first glance, these books that he wrote seem very light-hearted and innocent. Take Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example. A poor boy finds a golden ticket, allowing him to tour the best chocolate factory in the world, along with four other children. By the end of the tour, only Charlie remains, and the candy master Willy Wonka leaves the entire factory to him. Fun, right? Maybe on the surface. But, if you actually look a little closer, it becomes a bit more disturbing.

Young Charlie Bucket lives with his parents and two sets of grandparents in a shack The beginning of the book is spent describing the cold and hunger he deals with every day. After finding a golden ticket by chance, he and his grandpa enter the chocolate factory along with four spoiled, greedy, devious, uncontrollable children. In the factory, the children become sucked into machines for committing simple, foolish mistakes. Instead of taking proper precautions, Wonka just smiles and laughs as the children become physically altered beyond compare. When Charlie is the only child left who hasn’t been injured, Wonka breaks the news to him: since running the chocolate factory left him lonely, desolate, and empty inside, he’s passing on the burden to Charlie. The end. Yeah, not so fun now.

Image from Entertainment Weekly

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of many bestselling books, wrote that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made her quite queasy to read. And honestly, who can blame her? Almost all of Roald Dahl’s stories are much darker beneath the surface. In George’s Marvelous Medicine, George literally tries to poison his grandmother with antifreeze and paint, a potion that can only result in death. In Matilda, the evil headmistress literally locks students in “The Chokey”—a tiny, pitch black closet filled with glass shards and rusty nails. Despite the fact that these books are made for children, his books only seem to exemplify anti-children messages and go on in great detail about how horrible kids actually are. “I have never been able to understand why small children are so disgusting,” writes Dahl in the book Matilda. “They're the bane of my life. They're like insects: they should be gotten rid of as early as possible.”

Roald Dahl clearly has some controversial opinions in his books. But is that really enough to prove he’s a twisted person? His children’s books may contain sinister inner workings, but for some of his other books, the twisted components aren’t hard to find at all. Although his children’s books are more popular, Dahl has a surprising amount of short story collections for adults. Instead of magic and whimsy, he fills the pages with suspenseful plots and disturbing endings. He’s written books such as Madness, which explores what happens when we let go of our sanity, and Kiss Kiss, which goes over the darkest side of human nature. Out of the forty-nine books that Dahl has written, twenty-eight of them are intended for adults. These pieces tend to be disturbing, distressing, and unsettling above all.

Image from u/Artelegis on Reddit

Stories like Royal Jelly and The Landlady combine fantasy with horror. Dahl’s distorted imagination brings these tales to life. From human taxidermists to delusional parents, these books are far more ominous than any of Dahl’s children’s books. Take The Landlady, for example. A young man stops at an old hotel one night only to find there are no other guests. After a mysterious encounter with the landlady who works there, the young man finds that everything seems slightly off. From an outdated newspaper, to tea that tastes of bitter almonds, to the dog resting in the living room, Dahl creates a sense of subtle suspense that leaves you guessing until the very end. With over sixty short stories like this, it’s no doubt that Dahl has a much darker side than most people first assume.

So why don’t more people realize it? I mean, his children’s books have numerous disturbing components, and his horror books outnumber his kid’s novels by a lot. Why don’t more people realize just how twisted the beloved author actually is? Well, for one, many already have preconceived ideas about Roald Dahl. This new notion that he’s not the harmless author we once thought doesn't first with this image. It goes against a childhood of reading his whimsical stories, roughing out the smooth edges surrounding his career. It doesn’t fit with who we want him to be. There’s two sides to every story, and for Roald Dahl, one of his stories is far more twisted than it first seems.

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