Adults who don't like Dahl

Children like Roald Dahl’s stories. Some adults don’t. In the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot asks why, and finds the answer in Dahl’s “willingness to let children triumph over adults.”

He is a modern writer of fairy tales, who intuitively understands the sort of argument that Bruno Bettelheim made in his 1976 book, “The Uses of Enchantment.” Children need the dark materials of fairy tales because they need to make sense—in a symbolic, displaced way—of their own feelings of anger, resentment, and powerlessness. Children also benefit from learning about violence and brutishness in fairy tales, Bettelheim writes, for it counters the “widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in our life is due to our natures—the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly.” Many fairy tales—and most of Dahl’s work—are complex narratives of wish fulfillment. They teach the reader, Bettelheim writes, that “a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence—but if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.” Or, in any case, this is a hopeful fantasy which sustains us all.

Via Alex Russo’s This Week in Education.

Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” movie, starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, is coming out this weekend.

I read “Charlie” to my baby brother, who loved it. As a literalist, I thought it was too over the top, since I’d toured my grandfather’s candy factory twice. Yes, my grandfather was in the candy business. Whoppers malted milk balls were his best-known product. Hey, I never said I had a deprived childhood.

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  1. SuperSub says:


  2. Yeah, Dahl’s books are subversive… as are Shel Silverstein’s. I loved them as a kid, and have no problem with my own kids reading them (once they can read).

    (Heck, it’s easy to read subversion into Dr. Seuss’s books… just consider The Cat in the Hat…)

  3. I enjoyed this article. Dahl suggests grown-ups should spend a week on their knees to remember what it was like to be a kid.

  4. Adults who don’t like Dahl shouldn’t like Harry Potter books either – for many of the same reasons.

  5. BadaBing says:

    Dahl has written some pretty good short stories, some based on his flying experience during WWII. There is also a pretty good anthology out there of Dahl stories that are renowned for their surprise endings. Good for sophomores.

  6. Mike in Texas says:

    I don’t know but the idea of Tim Burton redoing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka seems sacrilegous.

    Maybe it is b/c I don’t like Tim Burton films or Johnny Depp. The previews I’ve seen seem more creepy than entertaining.

  7. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    I’ve seen an advanced screening of the new Burton/Depp Wonka movie and all I can say is….
    to compare Depp’s portrayal with Gene Wilder’s is like comparing carob-coated, sugar-free ‘chocolate’ with Scharffenberger or Ghirardelli chocolate. ‘Nuff said.

  8. “I don’t know but the idea of Tim Burton redoing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka seems sacrilegous.” Unlike Mike, I like Johnny Depp’s performance in various creepy roles and at least some creepy Tim Burton films, but Willy Wonka shouldn’t be that creepy.