Roald Dahl, 1954, by Carl Van Vechten
By DAVID HORSPOOL
Last year the TLS hosted a discussion on the subject of “Overrated and underrated” authors. They are planning to do the same again this year. It’s always easier to think of candidates for the first category than the second. And if you ask me, a prime example is the man in whose name thousands of primary school children are being encouraged to celebrate today: Roald Dahl.
Heresy? As a parent of a primary-age schoolchild, I can attest to the enduring popularity of some of Dahl’s best works (in which category I’d place Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny Champion of the World). And you wouldn’t be surprised to learn I’m all in favour of kids reading, not that dressing up as Mike Teavee necessarily qualifies. But two things bug me about Dahl-mania. First, there are other children’s authors, you know -- even “classic” children’s authors (Kenneth Grahame, Clive King, A. A. Milne, Norton Juster, Michael Bond, off the top of this head) who don’t receive a fraction of this attention. Hasn’t Roald Dahl had enough of a boost from Hollywood without having to corral every child in England to read him or dress up as one of his characters? It sometimes feels as if school literacy programmes are part of some sort of Dahl cult, something that I’m sure would have given the author himself much amusement.