Roald Dahl

By: Tor Aarestad
September 13, 2009

Roald Dahl

We’re riding a swell of black-humored children’s literature, these days — the Lemony Snicket books are just a whitecap. However, as dark as these contemporary tales may be, none is so misanthropic as those of ROALD DAHL (1916-90), whose own childhood was nearly as Dickensian as the Baudelaire children’s. In his fables ( James and the Giant Peach, George’s Marvelous Medicine) Dahl warns children what to expect from the world: most people are greedy and self-serving, cruel and child-hating; you have no one to rely on but yourself; violent and sometimes fatal events happen arbitrarily but continually; only the humble, self-reliant, and abstemious will be redeemed. Dahl is Popperian in his narrative efforts to convince readers of the veracity of these fantastic accounts. Child protagonists regularly question the truth of stories within the stories (and receive swift rebuttals), and Dahl occasionally throws out falsifiable real world claims, challenging the skeptical to pursue them (viz the existence of benevolently-run Henry Sugar Orphanages around the world). These ruses are all by way of successfully delivering this message: You are surrounded by cretins, and you may very well be struck dead at any moment, so live with integrity and love those few whom it’s worth loving.

Also see James Parker’s essay on Roald Dahl, here.


BRITISH HUMORISTS as HILO HEROES: Tony Hancock | James Joyce | Peter Sellers | Edward Lear | Jerome K. Jerome | Jimmy Finlayson | Stan Laurel | Screaming Lord Sutch | Eric Idle | Roald Dahl | Joanna Lumley | Keith Allen | Ricky Gervais | Steve Coogan | Sacha Baron Cohen | Stephen Merchant | PG Wodehouse | Flann O’Brien | Samuel Beckett | Kingsley Amis | Tommy Cooper

MORE FANTASY ON HILOBROW: CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM series | 65 Fantasy Adventures | Mervyn Peake | Lord Dunsany | H.P. Lovecraft | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Ursula K. LeGuin | Michael Moorcock | Gary Gygax | Clark Ashton Smith | Frank Frazetta | George MacDonald | John Bellairs | T.H. White | Wilkie Collins | M.R. James | Edgar Allan Poe | Lewis Carroll | Mikhail Bulgakov | Guy Endore | Alasdair Gray | Maurice Sendak | Tove Jansson | L. Frank Baum | Roald Dahl | Abraham Merritt | August Derleth | William Hope Hodgson | Madeleine L’Engle

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Sherwood Anderson |

READ MORE about members of the New Gods Generation (1914-23).