The 20th century remembers many writers, but none like Roald Dahl. He left a memorable impression on adults as much as on children through his writing. Have you ever wondered what made Dahl’s writing so unique that his books are still popular?
Roald Dahl was so successful because he incorporated his experiences with strict and cruel adults. Also, Dahl was famous for his innovative writing, including made-up words and spoonerisms. His fictional worlds are full of happy, sad, and scary episodes, making him popular with children.
Dahl’s success as a children’s books writer combines numerous elements. Moreover, many movie adaptations of his books were very successful. Here are six reasons why Roald Dahl was so successful and popular.
1. Dahl Represented the Adult World From His Experiences
Many critics will tell you that great books always have the writer’s personal experiences dispersed throughout them. That’s because when writers use episodes from their life, they can:
- Realistically construct the scene.
- Describe how characters truly feel in certain moments.
This is the first reason Roald Dahl was so successful, as Dahl tapped into his childhood experiences when writing his books. Unfortunately, many of his experiences weren’t particularly happy.
Dahl lost his father when he was just a boy. From then on, he attended good schools but being a mischievous boy meant his teachers and principals would often punish him. In those times, punishment in schools meant receiving a beating. Dahl presented his happy and sad childhood in his book Boy.
He also represented the cruelty of adults in his children’s books. Dahl also saw many instances of cruelty while working as an RAF (Royal Air Force) pilot during World War 2.
Dahl’s books often represent adults as evil, trying to crush children’s characters’ dreams. Good examples are the parents and the headmistress in Matilda, who constantly try to control Matilda through aggressive behavior.
According to Margaret Talbot’s article in The New Yorker, Dahl portrays an adult’s moral weakness through exaggerated physical features, such as:
- Excess body weight
- Large facial features, like a big nose or teeth
- Oily hair
- Unattractive looks
2. Dahl’s Books Are Filled With Innovative Writing
Not many writers can say they changed how books are written — unlike Dahl. The innovations Dahl brought into children’s writing are still in use today. However, when Dahl was busy coming up with these fresh ideas, everyone welcomed this change, especially kids.
Dahl wasn’t a stranger to using spoonerisms in his books. To make reading a more entertaining experience, he would use existing phrases and switch the initial letters of each word in the phrase. For instance, the phrase “jipping and skumping” (“skipping and jumping”) appears in The BFG.
Dahl also had a penchant for inventing new words in his books. These words aren’t just gibberish. Dahl made sure kids would understand these words because he used the sounds from existing similar words and provided context.
An excellent example of a word Dahl invented is “Scrumdiddlyumptious” (delicious food). You can see traces of the word “scrumptious” in there, but it’s more fun for kids to use long, silly-sounding words.
Lastly, Dahl’s writing style also had a say in his success. He used short sentences without any extra elements. Kids don’t care about countless adjectives—they just want to know what happens next. So, Dahl became famous for his short, witty, usually comical remarks. Unlike other writers, he could say something wise in a three-word sentence.
3. Dahl Represented His Stories From Children’s Perspective
Dahl believed children’s book writers need to sustain the attention of their target audience — children. He thought the best solution would be to tell stories from their perspective. In doing so, he avoided becoming an adult narrator who told stories — Dahl became a child in his writings.
You can see this perspective in Dahl’s descriptions of events and characters, as it’s similar to a child describing what they see. Also, that’s another reason why adult characters are evil. Grown-ups tend to be strict towards children, so these characters become unpleasant to them.
Of course, Dahl wrote adult books, also. If you’re interested in his most famous books and what he wrote in different genres, check out my article “How Many Books Did Roald Dahl Write?”
4. Dahl Incorporated His Unique Comedy Into His Books
Although Dahl’s books are famous for sad or scary moments, they’re also hilarious. The comedic aspect of his writing is another reason why Dahl became so successful. At the time, his style of humor was a novelty in children’s literature.
Like many of his contemporary colleagues, Dahl used silly situations to make children laugh. However, he also relied on words and sentences to create more layered comic elements. Many of his young characters are witty and wise. There’s also the comedic aspect of the sound of the invented words.
Most importantly, Dahl’s humor is an antidote against the different characters’ sad situations. Even in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the four contenders for the factory’s ownership get removed from the factory through humorous methods.
5. Themes of Dahl’s Books Resonate With Readers
Another reason why Dahl was so successful is because of the themes he covered in his books. Whether a book is sad or happy (or both), Dahl always used a limited set of themes, which always focused on children.
The most common themes Dahl wrote about include:
- Children’s wishes and dreams
- The strength of our imagination
- The importance of being and doing good
- The importance of controlling our desires
All of these themes resonate with readers, regardless of the period. These themes are why Dahl’s books remain popular long after his death.
Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature Megan Lambert suggests these themes are essential because the topics in Dahl’s books represent the culture of Dahl’s time and place. They teach important lessons and tell us what’s wrong with our culture.
6. Dahl’s Books Offer Exciting Plots
Whatever you may think about Dahl’s books, you can’t say they’re boring. Dahl knew how to create a unique and coherent plot. This means more mature readers can still enjoy his books.
In a time when children’s books writers wrote books with simple plots to entertain children, Dahl created complex plotlines and characters. Most of Dahl’s characters are deeply developed, and the stories are surprising and well-planned.
Books with weak plots are easily forgotten, meaning Dahl’s popularity with readers indicates his excellent storytelling.
Read More: 6 Reasons Why Roald Dahl Books Are So Good
- Wicked Local: Roald Dahl at 100: Why His Legacy Lives On
- British Council: What Do We Learn from Roald Dahl’s Creative Use of Language
- Google Books: Boy: Tales of Childhood
- Google Books: Matilda
- Google Books: The BFG
- Biography: Roald Dahl
- The New Yorker: The Candy Man: Roald Dahl’s Subversive Storytelling
- BBC News: Roald Dah’s Swashboggling Words Get Their Own Dictionary