13th Sep 2012
My Three Favourite…Roald Dahl Ladies
While For Books’ Sake usually focuses on women writers, sometimes we simply can’t ignore the men. Today would have been Roald Dahl’s 96th birthday, and I know I’m not alone when I say this man defined my childhood.
Jacqueline Wilson taught me about social issues. Enid Blyton took me to The Magic Faraway Tree. Roald Dahl gave me gruesome and occasionally violent tales of various children and horrible adults. Pure entertainment for bookworms young and old.
One of Dahl’s greatest traits was breaking the stereotype that girls were there to be rescued by boys. Many of his most famous protagonists may have been male, but in equal measure the girls kicked as much ass as the boys.
Let’s take a look at my three favourite Roald Dahl ladies…
Okay, so this is a hugely obvious one. Matilda epitomises everything For Books’ Sake stands for when it comes to the little ladies. Super intelligent, a massive nerd (which is so cool right now), and happy to stand up for what she believes in.
In her household Matilda is the only person that has any moral integrity. While Dahl had a habit for making parents the personification of horrible, the Wormwood’s always stood out as the worst to me. Lazy, ignorant, downright abusive – they were just the worst parents I’d ever read about. And I loved Matilda for standing up to them and their immoral lifestyles.
Matilda’s superpower didn’t come from a dramatic event or have any particular gender leaning; she had telekinetic powers because she wasn’t mentally challenged in school or at home. While the film may have changed this aspect, this was perhaps the most important factor of her story.
Intelligence over violence, good beating evil, and at the head of it all is this tiny girl. It is perhaps amongst one of the most important stories that children can read, and despite being written nearly thirty years ago, the story and moral translates perfectly for all ages. Matilda is the perfect heroine for a child of any gender, and the tale remains to be a bloody good read for all ages.
The greatest appeal of the entire Revolting Rhymes collection for readers are the surprising and deviant ending changes from well known stories. Red Riding Hood is beyond my favourite twist of all the poems due to the female empowerment that stood out even as a child.
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers./ She whips a pistol from her knickers./ She aims it at the creatures head/ And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
Little Red doesn’t need a man to come and rescue her from the wolf, and even goes so far as to proudly display her kill in the form of a wolf skin coat. Differing from Matilda, Red Riding Hood uses her wit to physically destroy her predator, and comes off as a hero.
This early poetic adaptation of such a socially ingrained story contains a great message for children; in this telling, Red Riding Hood is independent and can defend herself. Rather than a passive victim, she is a survivor.
Grandmother from The Witches
The witches themselves might be stereotypical caricatures of evil old women, the grandmother in The Witches, and the witches is a refreshing twist from the usual old lady figure.
An intelligent, strong, and aggressively passionate older woman is almost never found in children’s literature. The grandmother provides the best narration of the entire novel, explaining how to recognise a witch with graphic and astounding description.
Cigar-smoking and scary-storytelling, she wise and loveable in a dangerous way. So often the adults in Dahl’s tales are the enemies, but the grandmother of this particular story is probably one of my favourite characters…ever.
As a guardian, she’s a child’s dream. She is unafraid of scaring the living daylights out of her grandson, and believes a sensible child only needs one bath a month. What a hero.
Roald Dahl is clearly one of the world’s most loved and lasting authors. Writers such as Sam Mills, Sarah Thomasin, and Shirley Jackson cite Dahl as an influence, and the echoes and influence of his gruesome style can been seen in modern children’s literature.
But no matter how common the style has become, he was the originator of truly unique fiction that will remain popular with kids of any gender for years and years to come.